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From Lab to Market: Accelerating Research Breakthroughs and Economic Growth

Earlier this month, President Obama announced his 2015 budget, a roadmap for accelerating economic growth, expanding opportunity for all Americans and ensuring fiscal responsibility. The budget supports the President’s Management Agenda to deliver a 21st century government that is more effective, efficient, and supportive of economic growth. One key element of the President’s Management Agenda is accelerating the transfer of Federally funded research from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace – a “Lab-to-Market” agenda.

The Federal Government spends more than $130 billion on research and development (R&D) each year, conducted primarily at universities and Federal laboratories.  This investment supports fundamental research that expands the frontiers of human knowledge, and yields extraordinary long-term economic impact through the creation of new knowledge and ultimately new industries – often in unexpected ways.

At the same time, some research discoveries show immediate potential for commercial products and services, and the President is committed to accelerating these promising technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace, based on closer collaboration with industry. The fruits of this Lab-to-Market process, also known as “Technology Transfer” or “R&D commercialization,” are everywhere – for example, Federal laboratories developed much of the battery technology that makes electric vehicles possible, university researchers helped bring to market a breakthrough drug that effectively cures certain forms of leukemia, and Google was born as a Federally funded university spin-off company.

That’s why three years ago, as part of the White House Startup America initiative, President Obama signed a memorandum directing all Federal agencies with research facilities to accelerate this kind of Lab-to-Market activity.  Some innovative recent examples include:

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) announced the National Incubator Initiative for Clean Energy (NIICE), a $3 million program to fund up to five specialized business incubators that help entrepreneurs commercialize clean energy technologies.  NIICE will also support a national organization to coordinate these efforts.
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) recently awarded $1 million to Arizona State University (ASU) to create the Pracademic Center of Excellence in Technology Transfer (PACE/T2), which will help DOD transfer technologies developed at its defense laboratories to the marketplace.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) teamed up with the Avon Foundation for Women to establish the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge, an opportunity for multidisciplinary teams to develop business plans and start new companies based on ten unlicensed breast cancer inventions developed at NIH’s National Cancer Institute or at an Avon Foundation-funded university lab. Ten winners were announced on March 5 in recognition of their promising business plans and pitches, and these winners have been invited to launch a startup, negotiate licensing agreements, and raise seed funding.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program provides entrepreneurship training for NSF-funded scientists and engineers, pairing them with business mentors for an intensive curriculum focused on discovering a demand-driven path from their lab work to a marketable product.  For example, I-Corps enabled Professor Ayanna Howard of the Georgia Institute of Technology to launch a startup based on her research, which will help people with disabilities interact with computers

The President’s 2015 budget goes further, proposing $25 million to grow the NSF I-Corps program as well as $6 million to support greater interagency collaboration on Lab-to-Market efforts.  As part of the President’s Management Agenda, progress will be measured in pursuit of a new Lab-to-Market Cross-Agency Priority Goal to accelerate and improve the transfer of new technologies from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace, including by:

  • Optimizing the management, discoverability, and ease-of-license of the 100,000+ Federally-funded patents;
  • Increasing the utilization of Federally-funded research facilities by entrepreneurs and innovators;
  • Ensuring that relevant Federal institutions and employees are appropriately incentivized to prioritize R&D commercialization;
  •  Identifying steps to develop human capital with experience in technology transfer, including by expanding opportunities for entrepreneurship education; and
  • Maximizing the economic impact of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

These actions promise to significantly increase the American people’s return on investment in Federally-funded research, by ensuring that more discoveries in the laboratory make the leap to the marketplace – creating more effective drugs, more resilient crops, and more powerful clean energy solutions.  We look forward to working together with the government, university, and industry communities to advance the President’s Lab-to-Market agenda.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

Charina Choi is a White House Fellow at OSTP