Congress should create an “Innovation Voucher” program operated by NIST.
Almost a dozen countries—including Austria, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Sweden—use innovation vouchers (ranging in value from $5,000 to $30,000) to spur R&D, new product development, and innovation activity in traded-sector SME firms by enabling them to “buy” expertise from universities, national laboratories, or public research institutes for assistance with preparatory studies, analysis of technology transfer, analysis of the innovation potential of a new technology, etc. The vouchers both spur innovation in SMEs and stimulate knowledge transfer from universities and research institutions to SMEs. In the United States, innovation vouchers could be introduced at either the federal or state level, but Congress should facilitate their introduction by authorizing $20 million to NIST to fund a pilot program operated by select states that agree to match the funding dollar for dollar. As a potential source of funds to keep this option revenue-neutral, one option would be to take 0.5 percent of the current allocation to national laboratories to fund the vouchers.