The Senate has voted unanimously to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs for eight more years and make several changes to the programs that provide monetary awards to small businesses.

On the controversial topic of allowing large venture capital firms to control companies in the SBIR program, the bill offers a compromise, the National Small Business Association noted. At the National Institutes of Health, companies controlled by large VCs will be able to obtain 18 percent of the awards. At the other 10 federal agencies participating in the SBIR program, the figure will be limited to 8 percent.

The Senate bill also would prohibit bypassing the Phase I “proof of concept” stage of SBIR, and would cap award sizes at $150,000 for Phase I and $1 million for Phase II, an increase from the previous caps of $100,000 for Phase I and $750,000 for Phase II. In accordance with an amendment by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, which was agreed to by the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, the allocation of agency R&D funds to SBIR will be gradually increased from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

The legislation now will go to a conference committee of the House and Senate, where the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills will be negotiated and compromised. Some of those differences are significant, including the role of large VCs, award sizes, and the increase in the SBIR allocation. It is possible that agreement between the House and Senate may not be reached before the SBIR program is set to expire on July 31. In that case, the two chambers are likely to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the SBIR going until the differences are settled, according to the NSBA.

Both the NSBA and its technology council, the Small Business Technology Council, actively supported the Senate bill, including Snowe’s amendment to increase the allocation of funds to the program.

In addition to unanimous passage of the SBIR, the Senate also unanimously approved reauthorization of another program that provides money to small businesses, the Small Business Technology Transfer program. Like the SBIR, the program has been reauthorized for another eight years, making the new sunset date Sept. 30, 2017.

“This is a shot in the arm for small businesses in Massachusetts and throughout the country,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a senior member of the Small Business Committee.

An amendment from Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was included in the bill to prioritize federal funding for energy, water quality, domestic security and transportation projects.

“I am pleased the Senate passed my amendment to help guide federal funding to research and development projects that address our nation’s needs,” said Feingold in a statement. “By prioritizing energy, water, domestic security and transportation projects, federal funds will help stimulate small business innovation and job creation, particularly in areas where Wisconsin is a national leader. Not only will this help get people back to work in the short term, it will also address some urgent domestic challenges facing our country.”

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