If you like numbers and acronyms, you will like this article. SSTI (State Science and Technology Institute), a national nonprofit network of practitioners and policymakers dedicated to improving the economy through science and technology, recently published SBIR Phase I proposal and award statistics by state for 2008. They also have similar data going back a few years.
Being an Excel addict, I copied and pasted the data into a spreadsheet and was able to parse interesting tidbits from the larger meal of information. For instance, in 2008 the overall success rate for all Phase I SBIRs was just under 17%, somewhat better than research grant success rates at most NIH institutes, with which I am painfully familiar.
The percentage of SBIR applications that were awarded ranged from a low of 9.4% at the DoT to a high of 24.1% at the NIH (more than twice the rate of RO1 investigator-initiated research grants in 2008). Other agencies awarded grants at the following rates: DHS (9.6%), DoD (14.9%), NSF (15.4%), USDA (17.4%), NASA (18.4%), and DoE (18.7%). The raw data can be found on the SSTI web site.
Also interesting is the total number of SBIR grants awarded by the different agencies. In 2008 a grand total of 3555 Phase I awards were made by all participating federal agencies. By far, the DoD made the most awards at 1825, more than half the total number of awards. Trailing way behind were NIH (739 awards), DoE (280), NASA (276), NSF (224), USDA (77), DHS (28) and EPA (25). Other agencies, such as NOAA, are not included here because they awarded so few SBIR grants they had minimal impact on these analyses.
As I played with the spreadsheet and filtered the data in different ways, I learned a few other things. The top ten states with the most awards are the following in descending order and with the total number of awards in parentheses: California (688), Massachusetts (476), Virginia (224), New York (195), Colorado (182), Maryland (156), Texas (140), Pennsylvania (129), Ohio (120) and Florida (102). Wisconsin came in at a mediocre number 24 with a total of only 37 awards in 2008.
If these data are taken as a measure of the success by which each state translates new technology into business, then Wisconsin (#24) is well behind Michigan (#12), Alabama (#13) and even New Mexico (#14). Illinois comes in at #18 and Minnesota at #22. Compared to other Big 10 states, Wisconsin is just ahead of Indiana #25. Iowa trails at #35. If you think about it, SBIR success pretty much follows Big 10 football and basketball success with Michigan and Ohio on top, while Wisconsin is in the second tier with Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. A cynical observer might conclude that sports success predicts technology business success. But, that seems to only work in the Big 10, since Massachusetts, with no sports powerhouses, is in the top two of SBIR grant winners from almost all agencies (more on that below).
At face value it may be surprising that states like New Mexico and Alabama are more successful than Wisconsin at winning SBIR grants (ok, so New Mexico also kills my sport’s success analogy). And these states are consistently more successful than Wisconsin at winning SBIR grants. From 2005-2008 Alabama won 103, 79, 72 and 73 grants—a declining trend. During the same period, New Mexico SBIR awards were more constant with an uptick in 2008, numbering 57, 60, 56 and 67.
In contrast, Wisconsin enjoyed an upward trend from 2005-2007 with a downtick in 2008, with 36, 42, 49 and 37 SBIR awards, respectively. But, the reality that Alabama and New Mexico are more successful than Wisconsin in this regard needs to be tempered by the fact that different states focus on different technologies and may be more competitive in different areas. For instance, in Wisconsin, the number of SBIR awards from each federal agency in 2008, with the success rate in parentheses, is as follows: 1 award from NSF (6.7% success), 1 from USDA—surprising for an ag state, (8.3%), 10 from DoD (14.7%), 2 from NASA (11.8%), 20 from NIH (29%), 2 from DOE (13.3%).
Wisconsin is trending up in NIH supported SBIRs with 13, 19, 22, and 20 grants over the years 2005-2008. Over the same period, DoD grants were fairly consistent in Wisconsin, numbering 8, 10, 13 and 10. Clearly, Wisconsin is spinning out more life science related tech business than technology business from other industries, with defense-related technology business springing up at about half the rate of biotech business.
Compare Wisconsin’s strong emphasis on life sciences to what is happening in Alabama and New Mexico. Alabama’s 2008 SBIR portfolio is as follows: 2 grants from USDA (40% success rate), 56 from DoD (16.7% success), 4 from NASA (10%), 7 from NIH (18.4%), 4 from DOE (30.8%). Clearly Alabama focuses on defense and lags behind Wisconsin in biotechnology transfer.
In 2008 New Mexico also focused on defense as well as space and energy related technology transfer. This state won the following SBIR grants: 5 awards from NSF (19.2% success rate), 2 from USDA (40%), 1 from DOT (50%), 24 from DoD (14%), 13 from NASA (32.5%), 5 from NIH (14.7%), 14 from DoE (41.2%). The state has consistently done well with energy grants since 2005, but the NASA grants awarded in 2008 represents a 2-3 fold jump from previous years.
One take home message from these analyses is that if you are an engineer or chemist, go to New Mexico, if you are a biologist, Wisconsin is a better place to find a job.
Room to improve in Wisconsin
Clearly, in 2008, biotech was the strength of WI SBIR success—with more NIH SBIR awards than awards from all other agencies combined. Wisconsin was 11th in the country in the number of NIH SBIR grants, behind the usual suspects. The top 10 in order were, CA, MA, MD, NY, TX, NC, PA, CO. MI and WA. But after CA (140 biotech SBIR grants) and MA (with 103), which together won 33% of all the NIH SBIR grants, there is a sharp drop in the number of SBIRs awarded by NIH. For, instance, coming in at number three, MD only won 43 SBIR grants from NIH. So, Wisconsin, while ranking near the top 80th percentile for NIH awards with 20 grants, is further behind the leaders than its ranking suggests.
Interestingly, CA and MA are also in the top two for NSF, DoD, NASA, and DoE SBIR awards. It is no accident that many of the elite research universities in the US are found in these states and it is these academic elites that feed the new technology pipeline that leads to new business development. Together, these data point to the reality that investment in quality research universities pays large dividends in developing technology businesses—a lesson that Wisconsin cannot afford to forget, but sometimes tries to forget. This state has one elite research university and it pays huge dividends. Without the UW-Madison, which spins off the lion’s share of biotech and health related (and other) technologies, we would be much farther down the line spinning out new technology businesses.
One question is how can the state get the UW-Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, Marshfield Clinic and other institutions to move up in R&D status to help make Wisconsin more competitive in generating life science technology businesses? Another question is what would it take to make Wisconsin more successful in translating engineering, energy, defense and agricultural technology into state businesses?
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