A better bridge across the ‘valley of death’

PSI President and CEO, Bill Marinelli, published an Op-Ed in Defense News with recommendations for improving engagement between the DoD and Small Businesses.

Congress and the nation’s military leaders have perennially expressed frustration with the “valley of death,” the abyss where promising new technologies too often meet their demise before they can be transitioned into major defense programs.

The competitively awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and recently reauthorized by Congress, can play a greater role in bridging that gap.

As the Pentagon’s recently published Small Business Strategy makes clear, small companies are key to helping the U.S. ensure its technological superiority over China and other potential adversaries.

“Despite their significance to the defense mission, the Department of Defense has yet to utilize the full potential of small businesses,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote. The document singles out the SBIR and STTR programs as key entry points for small businesses into the broader defense-industrial base.

The DoD’s own review of the economic impacts of the SBIR program reported a 22-to-1 return on its investment and $28 billion in sales of new technology to the military. In her testimony to Congress in support of reauthorization of the program, the undersecretary for research and engineering, Heidi Shyu, said the “SBIR/STTR programs play a vital role in enabling the U.S. to maintain technological dominance and provide the innovation to allow the U.S. to remain ahead of our adversaries.”

At our company, Physical Sciences, SBIR-funded research and development has enabled us to provide advanced technology to a range of DoD programs. Key SBIR-developed technology, for instance, has allowed us to domestically produce specialized battery systems meant to improve the safety and performance of unmanned underwater vehicles.

This is one example of technology needed for national defense, but so focused it has very limited markets. These kinds of technologies take a long time to mature and face multiple barriers to entry in the cumbersome DoD acquisition processes — what Austin called “a complex web of entry points and intricate regulations.”

Earlier reauthorizations of the SBIR/STTR programs have increased technology transition success by creating pathways to provide the additional funding necessary to successful mature technologies, including the Commercialization Readiness Program and the Rapid Innovation Fund. Acquisition authorities are becoming more adept at recognizing and applying additional SBIR funds to technologies with merit. Congress in September reauthorized the programs for three years, including with some welcome reforms to ensure oversight.

Now, they can be strengthened even further by the Biden administration and Congress.

Read the full Defense News article: https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2023/05/17/a-better-bridge-across-the-valley-of-death/