Statement of the Hon. Jason Crow on “The Innovation Pipeline: From Universities to Small Businesses”
Washington, February 11, 2020
As Chairman of the Innovation and Workforce Subcommittee, I see every day how much value comes from innovation and entrepreneurship. For decades, the United States has led the world in innovation, in large part because of our commitment to funding research and development at our nation’s universities.
Every year, hundreds of patents are developed on our nation’s college campuses. Products like lifesaving drugs, groundbreaking medical devices, and advancements in agriculture are the result of collaboration among faculty, students, and the business community.
These innovations – only made possible by public investment – are needed now more than ever as technology is rapidly changing every sector of the economy. However, as more and more states cut funding for research-based universities, the federal government’s role in supporting innovation at our nation’s colleges and universities is more important than ever. For an economy as large and diverse as the United States, the only way for sustained economic growth is through innovation that results in new solutions or improvements in products or services.
For this reason, the U.S. Government has made federal R&D funding a priority since World War II. And those investments have paid off. Federal R&D funding is responsible for approximately 30 percent of all new US patents each year. However, the U.S. is one of the only OECD countries that has decreased public investment in R&D over the past 25 years. This threatens our leadership status for innovation in the world. In my view, we should be supporting efforts to increase investments in research and development particularly at our colleges and universities where our next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs are being formed.
We embrace technology transfer programs, where government, academia, and the business community work together to transform research into innovative new products in medicine, technology, agriculture, and manufacturing. These programs have a proven track record of growing the economy and creating jobs.
Between 1996 and 2015, technology transfer has created over $1.3 trillion in gross industrial product and more than 4.3 million new jobs. Many of the things we use every day, such as the touchscreen or the doppler radar, were developed in university labs with federal R&D money.
But research and development funding is only one part of the equation. Bringing an idea from a university lab to consumers is no easy process. There are numerous steps involved – from developing a business plan, to doing market research, to licensing the technology and securing venture capital funding.
Fortunately, universities and nonprofits are working all around the country to make this process easier. By providing space in incubators and accelerators, universities and innovation intermediaries can cultivate emerging technologies and leverage their vast networks for fundraising and mentorship. The knowledge available to entrepreneurs in these environments can help them through the so-called “valley of death” – where the technology is not yet perfected, investors are hesitant, and so many startups fail.
A great example of the success of the intersection of small business and federal R&D are the SBIR and STTR programs, also known as America’s Seed Fund, which work to commercialize cutting-edge technology. Over the last three decades the SBIR program has boasted significant return on investment and has generated billions in tax revenue. A study of the Navy and Air Force SBIR/STTR program shows that the 6.25 billion dollars in SBIR funding garnered 8.8 billion dollars in tax revenue, and 92.1 billion dollars in overall economic impact.
We know that a small businesses’ ability to change and adapt in the pre-launch process make them especially attractive for innovation transfer. Many large companies are unlikely to take the risk associated with a new product, but with many months or even years of development, startups plant the seeds for greater investment. It is exactly that investment that drives a product towards widespread commercialization and fuels the growth of the economy.
Many of the technologies discovered through this process would not be widely available were it not for federal investments at our universities working with small businesses to foster growth in the communities and regions to which they are connected. This ensures that innovation and entrepreneurship taking place on campus will create jobs locally and grow regional economies.
My goal on this Committee is to leverage the resources of the federal government to help rebuild and develop the Main Streets of our country. Whether it is a tech startup in Kansas, a medical device company in Colorado, a pharmaceutical research firm in Philadelphia, or any small business in any city or town across the country, we know these public private partnerships accelerate innovation, provide jobs, and develop communities.
I hope that today’s discussion will shed light on the many benefits of the innovation pipeline taking place at our nation’s universities and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress so more small businesses can bring their best innovations to market.