Program on Innovation and Small-Medium Enterprises (PRISM)

January 18, 2019

Need: The health and well-being of the U.S. economy is a function of its competitiveness in global markets. That competitiveness, in turn, depends on innovation. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a critical role to play in creating the innovations that lead to competitiveness.

While academic literature has given particular attention to the role of SMEs in innovation, federal and state policymakers have not been able to make appropriate use of academic findings for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Policymakers are unaware of relevant findings.
  • Policymakers cannot work through academic language to ascertain guidance for policy.
  • Policymakers find it difficult to align and integrate findings from disparate sources into a coherent whole.
  • Important research questions remain unanswered.

Mission and Effort: PRISM aims to address these issues through:

  • Providing a platform for working papers and policy-oriented research aimed at connecting to policy-makers around issues of current concern.
  • Carrying out research that addresses important gaps in knowledge.
  • Periodically host convenings of researchers and policymakers to facilitate relationships, communications, new research, and the translation of that research into policy.

Candidate Areas of Focus include:

  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR). The SBIR program has been a hotbed of policy innovation over the past 5-10 years. What do we know about what worked and what did not? How can this flagship program be improved?
  • Scientists and engineers as entrepreneurs. While some scientists and engineers have developed highly successful businesses, the difficulties in making the transition from scientist to founder and then entrepreneur are well known, and a lot of promising technologies die before even reaching the market as a result. There is a need to evaluate the multiple programs that train scientists and engineers and extract best practices.
  • Sources of capital. Is there a shortage of early stage capital, especially in some sectors, some geographical regions, and for women and minority founders? Conversely, have large new companies recently emerged without VC funding? When and why does this happen?
  • Predicting gazelles. Can we use economic data sources to identify gazelle characteristics – and companies that are more successful than gazelles?
  • Younger innovators. Recent evidence suggests that Gen-X and younger Millennials are forming companies at a much lower rate than the immediate preceding generations. Why – and what can be done to address this important, distinctly negative development?
  • Clusters, small business, and innovation. States in particular have invested significant funding in efforts to grow innovative businesses from the ground up (e.g. Edison and other Ohio initiatives). Can we yet draw any conclusions about the impact of these efforts on the long-term sustainability and growth of small innovative companies?
  • Geography of innovation. Are flyover states appropriately served by government innovation programs? Are there significant VC and angel “deserts?” If so, what can be done to improve opportunities?
  • Sector analyses. DOD, NIH, and DOE are the three largest agency funders of innovative research. But commercial success looks very different at each and follows different pathways. Can we develop better models for success at the sector level?
  • Incubators and accelerators. While there is a substantial literature emerging in this area, there may be policy specific issues that need to be surfaced.


Andrew Reamer, Research Professor, is an expert in national economic development policies, with a particular focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. He has served on the congressionally-mandated National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, advised the Obama Administration on competitiveness strategies, co-authored and evaluation of the federal SBIR program for NSF and the Brookings brief that led to the creation of the federal regional industry clusters program, and provided regional economic strategy consulting services for 20 years. His new compendium of federal efforts to support entrepreneurship will be published by the Center for American Entrepreneurship in 2019.

Robin Gaster, Visiting Scholar, is an expert on Federal innovation programs and program assessment and evaluation more widely. He was the lead researcher on the National Academies multi-volume study of the SBIR program from 2004 to 2016 and continues to provide evaluations services to SBIR agencies. He was the principal investigator on the recent CORES study, an effort to use administrative data for the first time to evaluate outcomes from the SBIR program (funded by NSF, sponsored by SBA, in conjunction with Census). Previous clients include Deloitte and Touche and other large consulting companies; NGOs such as Brookings, EPRI, and EPI; foreign governments (including Finland and Sweden); and private sector firms in multiple sectors such as Houghton Mifflin, Siemens, and TEPCO.



Andrew Reamer - Research Professor