Small businesses often lack the tools and resources needed to commercialize innovative products in early stages of development. For small business owners, the inability to access new technologies could prevent them from advancing their business. Moreover, while some small businesses have considered 3D printing, the majority of small- and medium-sized business owners have yet to fully incorporate 3D printing into their supply chain. Some states have encouraged 3D printing adoption by creating an innovation voucher program or establishing grant funds that small businesses can use to pay for equipment and consulting services from technological experts.
The New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program is a successful model that has helped 2,341 businesses gain access to technology at the Sandia or Los Alamos National Labs through a competitive application process that matches qualified businesses to scientists at the national labs. The state government provides funding for the program, enabling the national labs to connect to local businesses and bolster the state’s economy. In Tennessee, the state created a $2.5-million innovation voucher program whereby manufacturers of varying sizes can “purchase” services from the national lab. Local businesses consult Oak Ridge scientists to test and develop new materials and improve manufacturing processes.
While both of these examples focus on connecting small businesses to national labs, states can modify the programs so that vouchers could be used at universities or other advanced research institutions. By connecting small businesses to innovative local institutions, state leaders can give small businesses the diverse tools and resources needed to incorporate 3D printing in their supply chain.