U.S. Senator Tina Smith, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Small Business Innovation with Energy Department National Labs

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/27/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) along with Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), James Risch (R-Ind.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced bipartisan legislation to allow small businesses to gain access to premier facilities at the Department of Energy (DOE) National Labs to spur innovation and the culture of private-public collaboration.
The Small Businesses Partnering with National Labs Act of 2019—which has a House companion bill introduced by Reps. Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.)—will allow small businesses to analyze the innovation potential of new technologies by accessing facilities and expertise at National Labs to mitigate the steep cost of investing in necessary but expensive capital equipment, which can often prohibit small businesses from pursuing truly innovative ideas and developing groundbreaking products. The bill also streamlines the application and approval process for vouchers, eliminating barriers that prevent small businesses from exploring the potential of new technologies.

“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.”

“Small businesses are at the forefront of creating innovative solutions to the problems that face our nation,” said Sen. 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 business 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 Sen. 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.” 

“Our economy is driven by innovation and a desire to create. But far too often, the tools, research, or space needed to innovate are out-of-reach for small businesses,” said Rep. Luján. “This legislation will make it easier for small businesses to access lab technologies and resources by streamlining partnership agreements and creating vouchers to be used at labs and research facilities – ensuring that small businesses and national laboratories continue to be technological leaders in the United States.”
“This bill combines the entrepreneurial strength of small businesses with the incredible 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 the Spallation Neutron Source, 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 these, and in turn, help to drive our nation’s innovation ecosystem,” said Rep. Fleischmann.
“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 U.S. advanced reactor industry 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, Senior Vice President for Clean Energy, Third Way.
“BPC Action is proud to support the Small Businesses Partnering with National Labs Act of 2019 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, Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Department Chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, University of Michigan.
You can access a summary of the bill here and text of the legislation here.