TSC Panelists Discuss Role of Research Funding in Moving Innovation from the Lab to the Marketplace
March 13, 2014
On March 13th, The Science Coalition hosted a luncheon briefing with the House Science and National Labs Caucus highlighting TSC’s recent report “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0,” which identifies 100 companies created from federally funded research. The panel included the founders of two of the companies highlighted in the report as well as an expert in technology transfer and a representative from industry. They discussed the role of universities in translating discoveries to benefit society and to create economic benefits, the challenges entrepreneurs face in bringing their innovations to market, and the essential role that federal funding plays in supporting the basic research that leads to transformational discoveries and marketable innovations.
Caucus co-Chairs Congressmen Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA) were on hand to kick off the session.
“The idea behind this caucus is really to educate members of Congress of the importance of the science ecosystem; how research universities, our laboratories, industry, all work together. And how without one functioning well, all suffer,” said Congressman Hultgren.
Both members emphasized the importance of maintaining federal research funding in order to keep America at the forefront of innovation and discovery.
“If we are going to retain our global leadership position, we can’t do that on the cheap,” said Congressman Fattah. “We have to make the investment, have to be committed to big science, and we have to be committed to basic scientific research.”
The panelists were Dr. John Swartley, associate vice provost for research and executive director of the Center for Technology Transfer at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Ronald Ruth, professor at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and founder and chairman of the board of directors at Lyncean Technologies, Inc.; Dr. Sivalingam Sivananthan, professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the founder of EPIR Technologies; and Paula Collins, vice president of worldwide government relations for Texas Instruments.
Panelists discussed the important role federal funding plays during all stages of the research process, and the specific challenges facing researchers when moving their innovations from the lab to the marketplace. They emphasized that the funding on the two ends – at the fundamental stage and at the point they were trying to “bridge the gap” between research and commercialization was particularly important. Basic research grants allowed the type of “blue sky” work that led to their discoveries to begin with, while the later grants, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, helped make up for a lack of venture funding.
According to University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Swartley, “VC funding doesn’t exist for the types of companies we are spinning out. SBIR is critical … because these technologies are so early stage that the venture funds are not interested.”
Paula Collins from Texas Instruments discussed many ways that industry is partnering with universities and the government to support the development of new technologies, but emphasized the vital role of the government in this process. “Funding basic research is a fundamental role of the federal government. It won’t get done on the scale it needs to without the federal government’s involvement.” She also cautioned that decreasing research budgets in the United States would have negative consequences.
“The stakes are higher than ever,” she said. “Other countries have the U.S. playbook and are using it. Now is not the time to pull back.”