Millennium Challenge, SBA Agree to Apply U.S. Tech to Global Issues

Shot of Sterile Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Laboratory where Scientists in Protective Coverall's Do Research, Quality Control and Work on the Discovery of new Medicine.

Shot of Sterile Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Laboratory where Scientists in Protective Coverall's Do Research, Quality Control and Work on the Discovery of new Medicine. gorodenkoff/istockphoto

Small businesses will be able to pilot and scale their technologies to various countries' needs in energy, agriculture and other sectors.

Modern technologies that can help close nation-specific gaps in sectors like energy, sanitation and health are set to be pinpointed, piloted and scaled through a new partnership between the Small Business Administration and Millennium Challenge Corporation.

The two aim to collectively advance emerging technologies via their resources and realms—and connect U.S. small business innovators with international markets—under a new memorandum of understanding signed Friday.

“It takes a network of capabilities and organizations to create lasting impact, especially when your goal is reducing poverty through economic growth,” Senior Director of MCC’s Finance, Investment and Trade Team Alexander Dixon told Nextgov in an email Monday. “By harnessing the power of technology innovation across the U.S. government, this partnership really represents a smart, whole-of-government collaboration that maximizes the impact of taxpayer investments while creating a more secure and prosperous global society.”

Established by Congress in 2004, MCC is an independent agency that distributes grants to and forms partnerships with developing countries that align with U.S. ideals. The agency broadly confronts some of the most pressing challenges those nations face, such as supplying electricity, clean drinking water, health care or transportation infrastructure. 

The SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation coordinates the government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer—or SBIR/STTR—programs across agencies, which total more than $4 billion a year to small businesses in research and development awards. SBA, under that role, contributed to the creation of MCC’s new Innovation and Technology Program, or ITP. The program aims to provide private sector technology solutions for developmental impact and commercialization, directly to the corporation’s programs and partner countries.

“MCC continuously pursues partnerships that improve our ability to reduce poverty and foster economic growth in developing countries. Given the history of technology cultivation in the SBIR and STTR programs, SBA was a natural partner for [ITP],” Dixon said. “Together, MCC and SBA are uniquely positioned to bring market-ready, localized solutions to our grant programs while creating a path for private sector investments—critical elements in long-term economic development.”   

The two entities previously hosted a virtual roundtable honing in on technologies in the water, agriculture and irrigation sectors in November. They convened a second event around the signing of this new agreement to bring together stakeholders from the climate resiliency and energy sectors to discuss opportunities that might fit with needs in MCC’s partner countries. The corporation through ITP, according to Dixon, intends to focus on core problems holding back certain economies by issuing funding required to access, adapt and transfer proven technology solutions from the U.S. government’s SBIR/STTR programs to partner countries.

“This not only solves a problem but also unleashes a country's true innovation potential. Through this MCC is a conduit—linking U.S. technology and business partners with developing economies around the world,” he said. “The U.S. has long been a world leader in innovation and this MOU is about promoting and leveraging this so that MCC partner countries can benefit.”

The partnership is fresh, but those involved expect to see results fairly quickly, Dixon noted. Pointing to plans in the pipeline, he explained that by integrating ITP into the planning process for the upcoming MCC-Tunisia compact, officials will be able to facilitate proven, off-the-shelf solutions to address water constraints and enhance the country’s agriculture sector. Compacts are essentially five-year grant agreements, proposed and carried out by partner countries. 

“But this is just a start,” Dixon said. “The goal is to incorporate ITP across our portfolio, providing access to the incredible breath of U.S. technology in critical sectors like energy, health, and climate.”

This pursuit also appears to align with broader federal priorities. A fact sheet from President Joe Biden’s recent climate summit confirms that MCC committed more than 50% of its program funding to climate-related investments over the next five years.