Technology Acceleration: Federal-State Economic Development CollaborationsDecember 9, 2015
- Topic Overview
Technology acceleration is defined as integrating technology into the products, processes, services and business models of existing companies to solve existing problems in the commercial marketplace or to help the private sector pursue opportunities that will result in growth. Technology acceleration is an ideal for economic development that incorporates the entire innovation continuum, including technology transfer, transition, diffusion, deployment, and product or process implementation. The issue has focused largely on technology acceleration in manufacturing because that sector is so closely tied to research, development, and innovation. The nation’s long-term ability to innovate and compete in the global economy relies on the ability of companies to translate new technical ideas into product opportunities.
Technology acceleration has largely focused on efforts to move ideas, inventions, processes, and people from universities and the national laboratories to the marketplace. These institutions have tried to develop capacity to help companies access the knowledge and capabilities of their researchers and research. The challenge is that the core purpose for research in this environment tends to focus on basic research while companies need access to more well developed and focused research aimed at specific problems that they encounter. Another challenge is that commercial applications of technologies are often not apparent to business owners, and the complexity of identifying and deploying technologies from labs usually requires assistance form intermediaries.
- Federal Role & Priorities
In 2007, Congress passed (and in 2010 reauthorized) the America COMPETES Act to provide a national policy focused on federal research and the importance of research in high-risk, high-reward areas as well as the need to commercialize that research into the private marketplace. With the Departments of Defense and Energy at the forefront of the effort, federal labs and universities have long sought to share their research with commercial actors (a “push” strategy) while retaining some ownership (and economic value) to demonstrate their worth to policymakers investing in that research. At the same time, a national effort has been underway to find a “pull-oriented” strategy for companies that have technical problems with existing or new products that may be solved with the help of researchers in labs and universities. In fact, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) was created in 1988 as just such a vehicle until MEP found that most small manufacturers had many more significant challenges than required attention before seeking new technologies. More recent efforts have recognized that commercialization issues are typically technology specific OR are industry specific. Industry must be involved in setting the broader research agenda for scientists in government or academia in much more direct ways.
- Major Federal Programs & Activities
Federal efforts currently are focused on creating a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), funded with resources from DOD, DOE, and other agencies. The Institutes enable companies to collaborate with researchers to solve problems the impede “scale-up” of new technologies into products. The Federal government serves as a catalyst by helping to fund the NNMIs and coordinating public and private investment in targeted emerging advanced manufacturing technologies (www.manufacturing.gov). The Institutes are at America Makes (Youngstown, Ohio), Institute for Advanced Composites Mfg Innovation (Knoxville, Tenn.), The Digital Mfg and Design Innovation Institute (Chicago, Ill.), Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (Detroit, Mich.), PowerAmerica (Raleigh, N.C.), the American Institute for Mfg Integrated Photonics (Rochester, N.Y.), and Flexible Hybrid Electronics (San Jose, Calif.).
At the firm level, NIST MEP has invested in technology scouting and in matching services to help small firms make connections to technologies and related resources. MEP has explored alternative models for technology acceleration and invested in pilot projects (such as the Manufacturing Technology Acceleration Center/M-TAC) designed to encourage individual centers to explore technology needs in key industries.
Many agencies are sponsoring initiatives and have come together to create accelerator challenge grants to address multidisciplinary efforts to foster innovation (see www.challenge.gov). For instance, the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) focused on high-priority research challenges, and the Defense Innovation-Technology Acceleration Challenges (DI-TAC) focused on accelerating technologies in alignment with war-fighter needs. Other approaches include DOE’s Small Business Voucher program that helps small and medium-sized enterprise access DOE labs.
- State Role
NIST MEP is an on-going program and the efforts of the individual Centers are greatly influenced by state investments and state direction. Meanwhile, the NNMI network is industry-led but states are often directly involved as investors and partners. Each Institute is designed and implemented in partnership with industry, academia, non-profit organizations, states, and start-up federal funding. For both MEP and NNMI, this cost-shared, collaborative approach reduces the cost and risk of refining, validating and commercializing manufacturing technologies that will improve the competitiveness of existing industries and spur the creation of new industries. Further, some states have leveraged federal and other funding sources to advance innovation. For instance, Tennessee is collaborating with the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) on a $2.5 million voucher program (RevV) to make ORNL researchers and facilities available to private companies. Introduced in Connecticut and Minnesota, states provide these vouchers as small lines of credit or grants for small companies to purchase services from public knowledge providers to help introduce innovations into their business operations.