Since its enactment in 1982 as part of the Small Business Innovation Development Act, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has helped thousands of small businesses to compete for federal research and development awards. Their contributions have enhanced the nation's defense, protected our environment, advanced health care, and improved our ability to manage information and manipulate data.
SBIR targets the entrepreneurial sector because that is where innovation thrives. However, the risk and expense of serious research and development efforts are often beyond the means of many small firms. By reserving a specific percentage of federal research and development funds for small business, SBIR protects the business and helps it compete on the same level as larger ones. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and encourages the commercialization of a budding technology, product, or service, which, in turn, stimulates the U.S. economy.
During the 114th Congress, the SBIR program was reauthorized through fiscal year 2022. During the 115th Congress, the Committee has continued vigorous oversight of the program and has introduced legislation (H.R. 2763, the “Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Improvements Act of 2017) to make much needed improvements to the SBIR program.
Modern communications technology has provided endless opportunities to small businesses. The growth of the telecommunications industry and the advances in the way people communicate with each other in recent history has been nothing less than astonishing.
Because of this rapid advancement, a revolution of sorts for small businesses has occurred as well. Small firms can communicate with potential buyers around the world; family farmers are using wireless technologies to monitor and maximize their crop production; entrepreneurs can launch a website or application from their living room or from just about anywhere; and with the use of the now commonplace smartphone, can accept payments from just about anywhere there is a wireless signal. Most importantly, these new technologies provide the gateway and opportunity for economic growth and job creation.
Small businesses, particularly ones in rural areas, depend on new telecommunications technologies to compete across town and across the world. The nation’s small telecommunications providers traditionally supply the bulk of broadband services to the most rural parts of America, and it is no easy task.
For instance, it is certainly worth the investment to connect broadband to a densely populated urban area, with homes, apartments, businesses, and people all converging in a relatively small area. It’s not uncommon to have hundreds, if not thousands, of potential subscribers in a one square mile area. In rural areas, where family farms dot the landscape acres and acres apart from each other, and towns of populations of 300 represent the center of the community, the bang for the investment buck isn’t quite as large. Unfortunately, this simple geographic fact of population density has led to a rather large disparity of 39 percent of our rural Americans not having access to high speed telecommunications capacity, compared to only 4 percent of Americans who live in urban areas. Progress has been made over the past few years, but more needs to be done to put us on par with other industrialized nations.
A cyber attack can destroy a small business.
The ever changing dynamic of information technology is altering small business operations and establishing a highly competitive marketplace in the 21st century. Advances in technology provide a number of tools to help small firms increase their productivity, efficiency, and overall success. However, the movement of information from paper to digital has resulted in greater opportunities for criminals and cyber threats and the risk of theft and manipulation of sensitive and valuable information has increased significantly. The Internet Crime Complaint Center within the United States Department of Justice recorded 288,012 cybersecurity-related complaints in 2015. This is an increase of over 1500 percent from the year 2000. As small business reliance on information technology products and services grows, they face an even greater threat from cyber attacks. Although many federal agencies provide cybersecurity resources for small businesses, there is a lack of coordination between the various agencies to ensure that small businesses can access these tools to protect and combat cyber attacks in an efficient and effective manner.
Cybersecurity remains a priority for the Small Business Committee. As the Committee has learned, the various federal agencies tasked with providing small businesses with cybersecurity resources must be better coordinated to drive down duplicative resources and processes and more efficiently and effectively support small business cybersecurity efforts. Additionally, the Committee recognizes the evolving threat of cyber attacks and is continuing to work with stakeholders to better protect small businesses through greater collaboration, education, and innovation.