Bipartisan, bicameral bill from Sens. Coons, Risch, Smith, Gardner & Reps Luján, Fleischmann, Hultgren, Lipinski supports small business innovation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), James Risch (R-ID), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) today introduced the Promoting Small Business Innovation through Partnerships with National Labs Act, which allows small businesses to gain access to premier facilities at the national labs, spurring innovation and stimulating the culture of private-public collaboration.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy. However, the cost of investing in necessary but expensive capital equipment often prohibits small businesses from pursuing truly innovative ideas and developing groundbreaking products. In order to address these challenges, this bill authorizes a small business voucher program that will allow small businesses to conduct feasibility studies and analyze the innovation potential of new technologies by accessing facilities and expertise at the national labs. The bill also streamlines the application and approval process for vouchers, eliminating barriers that prevent small businesses from exploring the potential of new technologies.

“Small businesses are at the forefront of creating innovative solutions to the problems that face our nation,” said Senator Coons. “Often, small businesses need access to unique facilities and resources to succeed in developing truly groundbreaking products. This bill provides businesses with access to world-class facilities and experts to help strengthen the ecosystem of small businesses innovation in the U.S.”

“American small businesses have led innovation for generations, creating lasting solutions in the fields of science, medicine, technology, and more,” said Senator Risch. “Utilizing the unique assets and expertise of our national laboratories, this bill provides additional resources for entrepreneurs to research and test their latest advancements. In my home state, the Idaho National Lab has been a leader in public/private partnerships and serves as a great example of how well this collaboration works.” 

“Minnesota has a long history of innovation. When I host roundtables and meetings across the state, I’m struck by the many ways Minnesotans are addressing important issues and developing innovative products, and having more access to DOE laboratory facilities and expertise will help,” said Senator Smith. “As a former small business owner myself, I want to make it possible for more small businesses in Minnesota and across the country to access the resources they need to ensure their businesses create good jobs, grow the economy, and help them and their families thrive.”

“Connecting small businesses to our national labs will lead to more innovation from American businesses on Main Street,” said Senator Gardner. “The Promoting Small Business Innovation through Partnerships with National Labs Act is a bipartisan, commonsense approach that will give our small businesses the tools they need to be competitive and succeed in the global economy.”

“National laboratories and small businesses play a key role in ensuring America’s continued technological leadership,” said Representative Ben Ray Luján. “As challenges to our global competitiveness, national security, and environmental vitality continue to evolve, it is critical that small businesses have greater access to lab facilities and expertise. This legislation will make it easier for small businesses to access lab technologies and resources, streamline partnership agreements, and offer innovation vouchers that may be used at labs and research facilities.”

“The influence of small business on the development of our nation is anything but small,” Representative Fleischmann said. “This bill marries the entrepreneurial strength of small businesses with the unparalleled resources and expertise of our national labs. In my district, Oak Ridge National Lab is home to several state-of-the-art user facilities, such as the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, and I am happy to play a part in this effort to enable the types of public/private partnerships that grant small businesses access to facilities like this one, and drive our nation’s innovation ecosystem.”    

“Small businesses are the engine of the American economy, and many need access to the ground-breaking technology and research produced at our national labs like Fermilab and Argonne in Illinois,” said Representative Hultgren. “Increasing access and collaborative opportunities will ensure a small business owner with an idea can take advantage of technological capabilities nearby, and foster future innovation and growth.” 

“Our National Labs have world-class facilities that can significantly lower the barriers to starting new science- and technology-based companies. For example, Argonne National Lab, in my district, has a nanofabrication facility that can produce incredibly small electronics with circuit components 1/1000th the width of a human hair,” said Representative Lipinski. “Technologies developed there could become central to next-generation computers or wireless equipment. No small business could afford to build a facility like this, and yet, by partnering with a National Lab, they can access the tools they need to bring their best ideas to market.” 

A one-pager on the bill is available here

The text of the bill is available here

“I applaud Senators Coons, Risch, and Gardner and Congressmen Lujan and Fleischmann for introducing the Small Business Voucher bill which will streamline the way small businesses access taxpayer-funded expertise and world-class facilities of the DOE national laboratory system. Supporting small businesses through cutting-edge science and technology at the labs strengthens the country’s innovation ecosystem and its national competitiveness,” said Jetta Wong, Senior Advisor for Northern California Operations, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

“Small businesses often lack access to research facilities that would allow them to explore innovative ideas. DOE’s small business voucher pilot programs are important tools to stimulate innovation and lower barriers to research for small businesses, while at the same time maximizing the value of the national labs to the American public. These pilot programs have already proven to be successful and should be extended to all national labs,” said Stephen Ezell, Vice President, Global Innovation Policy, ITIF.  

“The Department of Energy and our 17 national labs have enabled the United States to be a leader in clean energy innovation. To maintain that leadership, however, we not only need a well-funded DOE, we need one that can partner with America’s small businesses and help these private sector innovators get their technologies into the market. We’ve seen enormous success with the GAIN initiative at the Office of Nuclear Energy, which has helped the advanced reactor industry in the U.S. grow from 48 projects in 2015 to 75 projects today. Expanding small business vouchers at DOE is a smart policy that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of national clean energy R&D,” said Josh Freed, Vice President for Clean Energy, Third Way.

“I applaud Senators Coons and Risch for their proposal to allow small businesses to receive vouchers to access National Labs’ facilities. I’ve worked at the National Labs in the past and have witnessed firsthand how they are a great resource of intellect and capabilities. However, I also saw that a connection to the marketplace was missing. This small business voucher program will close that gap, allowing small businesses to collaborate with the National Labs so that research can successfully move out of the lab sand into the marketplace,” said Stephen Grot, Owner, Ion Power, and Delaware Small Business Owner.

“NCET2 applauds the leadership shown by Senator Coons and Senator Risch in the ‘‘Promoting Small Business Innovation through Partnerships with National Labs Act of 2018, and we support the passage of this act. Allowing small business the opportunity to use cost-effective vouchers at national labs for the development and commercialization of needed innovation is important to advance U.S. economic competitiveness and to provide high value jobs,” said Tony Stanco, Executive Director, National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2). 

“BPC Action is proud to support the Promoting Small Business Innovation Through Partnerships with National Labs Act which would expand opportunities for small businesses to harness the resources and expertise at our nation’s renowned national labs. Technology innovation drives economic productivity and growth. Providing our workers with access to resources and guidance to develop new products and services benefits all Americans by helping to grow US businesses and create jobs across industries and the nation,” said Michele Stockwell, Executive Director of BPC Action. 

“The U.S. national laboratory system has a tremendous variety of cutting edge infrastructure and world-leading scientists and engineers.  Making that capability available to small businesses throughout the U.S. will help spur innovation and keep the U.S. in a leadership position in emerging energy technologies.  Expanding these private-public partnerships is smart advocacy,” said Dr. Todd Allen, Energy & Sustainability Thrust Lead, Grainger Institute for Engineering, University of Wisconsin. 

“As a small, growing startup with big goals to be the world leader in portable energy storage, Inergy does not yet have the specialized technical tools in-house such as a micro-grid testbeds or a battery testing chamber to test our nano-grid software or our experimental lithium batteries. Getting access to the Idaho National Lab’s facilities, which have those resources, will not only allow Inergy to bring its solutions more quickly to market but also increase revenues and grow our workforce. Inergy wholeheartedly supports this voucher program,” said Sean Luangrath, CEO, Inergy, and Idaho Small Business Owner.

“This bipartisan legislation would foster small business technological innovation. The GridWise Alliance has always advocated for a variety of means by which to spur innovation that will contribute further to the transformation of the electric system,” said Steve Hauser, CEO, the GridWise Alliance.