Feature - New funding for new ideas

Opinion - New funding for new ideas

Image courtesy owaisk_4u, stock.xchng

A common complaint heard in Europe is that funding for research and development lags far behind that of the United States. In particular, the US public sector spends $50 billion per year in procurement for R&D, which is 20 times higher than in Europe, and accounts for 50% of the investment gap between the US and Europe. Even taking into account large investments in defense, the US expenditure in R&D is still four times higher than that of Europe.

One of the engines behind this R&D expenditure in the US is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR, established in 1982, reserves 2.5% of federal funds from the research budgets of 11 different federal agencies for use in encouraging small businesses to maximize their technological potential. These projects comprise feasibility studies and early prototype development - often the riskiest and most expensive stage of a start-up or a small business. If the initial research shows promise, further funding is available from non-SBIR channels.

SBIR contracts are typically small ($100,000 for the feasibility study phase and $750,000 for early development phase). According to David Connell, a proponent for the adoption of the SBIR approach in the UK and the author of a report on the subject, this is "the world's largest seed capital fund."

This deep ultraviolet light-emitting diode was developed through the DARPA SBIR program. Image courtesy DARPA

On the other side of the pond

Along these lines, The Netherlands have started their own SBIR program to encourage innovation in start-ups and small and medium enterprises, announced André Roos, the Dutch SBIR project leader, at a workshop in Brussels on 16 June 2009.

The workshop was organized by the European Commission to stimulate interest in their related initiative, Pre-Commercial Procurement. Khalil Rouhana, head of unit strategy for ICT Research and Innovation, outlined the efforts of the EC in the last two years to promote pre-commercial procurement among EC Member States. The ball is now in the Member States' court to implement these programs at the national level.

Recently, the US Senate Small Business Panel passed a bill that would increase the SBIR contribution by 40%, from 2.5% to 3.5% over 11 years, while the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program - a similar scheme for university start-ups - would grow from 0.3% to 0.6% over 6 years.

It is clear that, for Europe, there is plenty of room for similar opportunity, especially as new technologies for distributed computing, like clouds, and their integration with the existing grid infrastructures, require novel research into software and services.

-Panos Louridas, Greek Research and Technology Network (GRNET), for the e-IRGSP2 project. This article is a result of the latest e-Infrastructure Reflection Group workshop that took place in Prague during May this year. For more information, click here.