Why? A Federal Funding for Research Case

Been exploring “What Matters” and “Starting with Why” over the last few weeks on this blog and thought it would be interesting to do some case studies on topics that are of particular interest to innovators.  Things like:

  • Why Federal Funding for Research?
  • Why Patent Law?
  • Why Quality Systems and Regulations?

Federal Funding.  Why?

As an academic and entrepreneur, it’s my opinion that federal funding for research is looked at as a zero-sum game.  There’s this finite pot of money, shrinking, that has a growing number of researchers competing for dollars.  Maybe that’s more like a negative-sum game.

What if we could raise all ships?  What if we could grow the pot of money?

Here’s another question:
Why research for the sake of research?

There’s no question that basic science research, especially that happening in academia, should not be biased by external commercial pressures.

But why does federal funding for research exist at all?
Is it for promotion and tenure?  Is it for keeping our technology company doors open with an SBIR grant?

Why would any government, anywhere in the world, take it’s tax payers dollars and grant them to support basic science research?

My opinion…, why, is for the return on investment.

And what is that return?
I’m thinking: the health and wellbeing of our citizens and to improve the economy of our nation.

Interestingly enough, the NSF and the NIH both have programs to promote innovation:

The NSF I-Corps program prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory, and accelerates the economic and societal benefits of NSF-funded, basic-research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization.

The NIH C3i Program is designed to provide medical device innovators with the specialized business frameworks and essential tools for successful translation of biomedical technologies from the lab to the market.

Why do they have these programs?

Imagine an NIH Program Officer making a case to our federal government to keep the program funded.  What is the case they are making?

The Mission and Goals of the NIH include:

  • enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness
  • enhance the Nation’s economic well-being
  • ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research

So…, is the case they are making to point to examples that show the investment made in a grant returned enhanced health and improved economy for our nation?  I’m thinking so.

How hard do they have to look to find these examples?

While research for the sake of research protects scientists from biasing their work based on commercial pressures…  Don’t those same scientists have an obligation to use those federal funds considering the potential for commercialization?  (in other words… an obligation to the mission of the funds)

I think the NSF I-Corps program and the The NIH C3i Program both were implemented to increase the success rate of basic research that results in commercial products to improve our economy and health.

Imagine if every researcher that wrote NIH and NSF grants did it with this higher purpose, this higher “why“, in mind.

Would the results of that research lead to more commercialization?

Would that increased commercialization lead to a stronger case for that Program Officer to keep the program funded?

Can you imagine a world where the politicians allocating federal funding simply can’t ignore the return on investment from the NIH and NSF?  Where the improvement to our economy and our health is easy to trace back to that federal funding?  Where the pot of money available to basic research is growing?

I can.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic.

Health & Happiness for All