Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cleantech SBA Roundtable - Hosted by CREED and CCIA in Golden, CO

On Thursday, August 11, 2011, the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development (CREED) (http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2011/1450.html); the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) (www.coloradocleantech.com); Dr. Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy (http://www.sba/gov/advocacy/858/3177); Mike Landweber, Director of Regional Affairs for the Office of Advocacy; and John Hart, Region VIII Advocate for the Office of Advocacy covering the states of CO, WY, UT, MT, ND and SD, hosted a small business round table at CREED's facility in Golden, CO.  The sole purpose of the meeting was to provide a forum to discuss regulatory challenges facing small business in this region. 

The Office of Advocacy was established to represent the views of small entities before federal agencies and Congress and is an independent office within the U.S. Small Business Administration in order to give small entities a voice in the rule making process.  Dr. Sargeant, a co-founder of a start-up that was eventually acquired, is particularly well suited for this role as he brings the small business perspective to the table. His experience with and passion for small business was apparent in his responses to each of the challenges highlighted by the participants.

Three general themes were consistently expressed by the businesses present: (1) lack of access to capital; (2) the need to streamline and update regulations to address current issues and new business models; and (3) the competitive disadvantage created by federal agency matching requirements relating to how the regulations define the criteria for matching contributions and whether the SBA could be used to fill in any gaps to level the playing field for the small business in competing against large business.  Among other things discussed, one suggestion was to provide carve outs for small businesses for government solicitations.

Dr. Sargeant acknowledged that long latencies in the regulatory process hinder progress and they are acutely aware of the need to find a safe way to bring products to market.  The Office noted that through Executive Order 13563, the Obama administration directed a retrospective analysis of existing rules in order to consider how best to promote analysis of rules that may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or repeal them in accordance with what has been learned. The Executive Order exemplifies the problem facing cleantech small business in that the regulations need to catch up to innovation in addition to being clear, certain and predictable so that businesses can succeed.  Through Mr. Hart and this region's Office of Advocacy, small businesses in this region have the opportunity to participate in identifying outmoded or inefficient regulations specific to their business models. 

Another recurring theme throughout the discussion as emphasized by Mr. Hart, was the need for companies to have a certification mechanism to provide a tool that emerging technologies can use to prove commercial scale marketability.  For example, China promotes commercialization by providing "Competency Centers."  These Centers provide the infrastructure for companies to test their product under commercial conditions in order to provide the data that these companies need to take steps towards market acceptance and actual market integration.

From my perspective, one thing was clear from the round table discussion: The Office of Advocacy was on a fact finding mission to learn first-hand from small business the regulatory challenges that they are facing.  The time was spent listening to small business and comments from the Office were focused on discussing efficient pathways to use to effect change.  The next step is to identify and advocate for solutions. 

1 comment:

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