Public-private partnerships in innovation have transformative potential. Operation Warp Speed accelerated development, testing, production and distribution of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. Eight companies received a portion of $11 billion to rapidly develop vaccines, with many others and development partners receiving indirect funding.
The result was unprecedented alliances leading to the creation, testing, approval, production and global distribution of effective vaccines in record-breaking time, paving a path out of the pandemic and restoring humanity. It was the paragon of transformative public-private partnerships.
Partnerships are not just for big companies. Too few entrepreneurs realize the potential or tap public-private partnerships to advance their businesses. Federal and state programs offer significant funds to small companies to support innovation, product development and expansion.
Many entrepreneurs mistakenly think public-private partnerships offer too little money to matter, are too difficult to access and too constrained to operate. As a result, entrepreneurs miss out on millions of dollars of nondilutive working capital and further customer opportunities that may bring tens — or hundreds — of millions in revenue.
Public-private innovation partnerships are powering small businesses every day. In Greater Cleveland, several companies are thriving due to these partnerships.
- ZIN Technologies, a contractor that provides and operates space facilities in orbit for NASA, received a significant NASA contract for several missions and then added 125 positions supported by a state Job Creation Tax Credit.
- SPR Therapeutics, a medical device start-up, has received more than $30 million in federal grants and contracts from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. This funding supported product development and clinical trials, including work on its innovative nerve stimulation and pain management platform, now sold commercially.
- Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing advanced high-performance thermoplastics technologies through a $2.5 million partnership with the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration and others. This was facilitated by America Makes, itself a public-private partnership for additive manufacturing technology. RP+M has since grown, working with the institute, serving the aerospace, defense, medical, automotive and other industries.
These are just a few examples of small and mid-sized businesses utilizing public-private partnerships to innovate and grow. Businesses wanting to access funds must commit to learning, pursuing and managing these partnerships. Key success factors include having an accountable executive, developing a roadmap and timeline, building key partner relationships and understanding how to compete for funds.
Chambers of commerce and industry groups can help connect businesses with resources. Many host seminars for companies looking to learn about opportunities in the space, health, defense and homeland security sectors. There are specialized nonprofit organizations that connect federal agencies to small private companies, such as Wright Brothers Institute in Dayton.
With recent federal legislation, funds available to support businesses and innovation have grown significantly. The money is out there, and businesses should tap this capital and access these resources for their transformative potential, both for innovation and for company success. ●
Baiju R. Shah is President & CEO of Greater Cleveland Partnership