05.12.11

Sheldon Speaks in Support of Small Business Innovation Programs

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Thank you, Mr./Madam President. I rise to express my disappointment with this body’s failure to move forward with the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer reauthorization.

The SBIR and STTR programs, as they are known, are key components in our nation’s commitment to being a global leader in research and development. If we allow these programs to expire, as they are scheduled to do at the end of this month, we will forfeit one of the best tools we have to support innovation.

Big companies do not hold a monopoly on big ideas. Small businesses, however, often lack the resources necessary to get a good idea off the ground. The SBIR and STTR programs have a long track record in helping small businesses leverage federal support into innovative new technologies. Products developed with assistance from these programs can be found inside everything from the B 2 bomber to the electric toothbrush.

I am proud to say that some of these innovations were made in my home state of Rhode Island. Since the SBIR and STTR programs were created, Rhode Island companies have received 277 awards and almost $100 million in federal support.

One of those companies is EpiVax, a biotech firm located in Providence. EpiVax focuses its work in the field of immunology and has received several SBIR awards over the years. Its most recent grant supports research on the development of a Type I diabetes treatment. Other projects have included a hemophilia therapy and an improved Tuberculosis vaccine.

SEA Corp. is another Rhode Island company that has benefited from both SBIR and STTR grants. Located in Middletown, SEA Corp. is a veteran-owned engineering firm. In 2000, they received an SBA award to develop launch systems for the Navy. They have taken the same kind of inflator that is used in automobile airbags and reconfigured it to shoot objects as large as a 750-pound torpedo. SEA Corp. is now adapting that technology to launch unmanned aerial vehicles from ships and submarines.

I’m proud of these innovative Rhode Island projects and the contributions they’ve made to our country. For Rhode Islanders, though, their most significant impact has been in the jobs they’ve helped create. EpiVax has grown to 22 employees at their facility in Rhode Island, and SEA Corp. employs 330. At a time when my state continues to suffer from 11% unemployment, we cannot overlook the importance of these jobs and the role played by the SBIR and STTR in supporting them.

In Rhode Island, we have put special emphasis on promoting the “knowledge district” concept. Leaders like Brendan McNally, the director of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, have worked to bring together early-stage ventures and to foster an environment of collaboration and innovation. A handful of RI-CIE businesses have received SBIR awards and many others have expressed interest in taking advantage of the grants to help their companies grow. If we fail to reauthorize these programs, great companies like EpiVax and SEA Corp. and so many others in Rhode Island and across the country may no longer have the resources to devote to developing the next generation of cutting-edge technologies and to create high-quality jobs in those fields.

It is clear that America must renew its commitment to being the world’s leader in research and innovation. It is more than just a matter of national pride – it is an important part of creating jobs and securing our country’s long-term economic well-being. The reauthorization bill would strengthen the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs and help preserve America’s position as a leader in innovation.

I was discouraged that so many of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle voted to block the reauthorization of these vital programs. Simply put, this should not be a partisan issue. Given the importance of these programs to small businesses across the country, I hope that my Republican colleagues will come back to the table so that we can work together to pass a bipartisan reauthorization bill.

I thank the chair and yield the floor.