Lab to Market: When One Plus One Equals Three
When you want a plant to grow, you provide water, light, and fertilizer. When you want an economy to grow you provide capital, labor, and innovation.
In today’s global markets, companies that don’t innovate generally don’t survive for long. To keep your current customers and earn new ones, you must continually look for ways to be faster, cheaper, better . . . or all three.
At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) we specialize in helping industry find those “Wow!” innovation ideas that create jobs and raise everyone’s standard of living.
We do this in lots of ways under an approach we call lab to market. We develop new measurement tools and standards to make sure new products can be measured fairly against established ones. We advance basic science to enable new technologies. And we work collaboratively with industry researchers in our laboratories to help them bring new research tools and knowledge back to their companies to be commercialized into new products.
We also have another tool for fueling innovation at small businesses, seed money. Commerce is one of 11 agencies with extramural research and development funding that makes awards to small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to perform research supporting the agency’s mission. Awards can also be made to businesses to commercialize innovations, including innovations already developed by federal research and development programs.
For example, at NIST, Phase I grants through SBIR provide up to $100,000 over six months to demonstrate that a proposed research effort is feasible and likely to successfully advance a commercially promising technology. NIST is currently seeking applications for SBIR awards that address specific technologies in a wide range of fields including advanced manufacturing, climate change and clean energy, cybersecurity, health care, and bioscience.
NIST’s Phase II grants are based on successful completion of phase I SBIR projects, can total up to $300,000 per company over 2 years, and are designed to help a company further advance a technology toward commercialization. After successful completion of Phase II, these new technologies have additional benefits for future government purchases. In some agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, funding amounts can be even higher, up to $1 million.
Previous NIST small business innovation award recipients have developed:
- Ultrasensitive detectors capable of sensing single particles of light with applications for advanced fiber-optic telecommunications systems (Princeton Lightware, Inc.)
- A machine tool appropriate for both factory and office environments that can shape metals and plastics with micrometer (millionth of a meter) accuracies. (Atometric, Inc.)
- A real-time quality control testing and live feedback system for making thin-films that promises to improve yield and lower cost for the nanomaterials and touch sensor industry. (PaneraTech, Inc.)
Many more companies have established Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with NIST and other the Department of Commerce (DOC) agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to work collaboratively on advancing new technologies they ultimately hope to commercialize back at their home institutions. The Department of Commerce has thousands of these public-private partnerships annually.
A new report summarizes these CRADA and other lab to market activities for DOC. In 2014, for example, 47 new invention disclosures were filed by DOC agencies, 25 new patents applications were submitted, and 18 new patents were issued.
The ideas from NIST’s new inventions helped spur innovation at companies like Geometrics, which recently announced it plans to work with Texas Instruments to develop and produce chip-scale atomic magnetometers. These ultraprecise devices can measure magnetic fields at very low levels to detect concealed weapons, locate underwater pipes and cables or vehicles near restricted location perimeters, and even record health information about heart and brain functions.
So it turns out that public-private collaboration can also produce some truly innovative equations.
1 + 1 = 3
Federal innovation + industry innovation = new products, markets, and jobs