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Feb 9 -- The Small Business Administration (SBA) invites comments by April 7, 2024 on its proposal to conduct a survey of cluster administrators, small businesses, and partner organizations including Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESO) who participated in the SBA's Regional Innovation Cluster (RIC) Initiative.

Through the RIC Initiative, the SBA is investing in regional clusters—geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, academic institutions, service providers, and associated organizations with a specific industry focus—throughout the United States that span a variety of industries. The three primary goals of the initiative are to (1) increase opportunities for small business participation within clusters, (2) promote innovation in the industries on which the clusters are focused, and (3) enhance economic development and growth in cluster regions. To achieve these goals, the clusters provide a host of services to the target population of small and emerging businesses within their regional and industry focuses. Services include direct business advising and support and sponsoring events, such as networking opportunities with investors, partner organizations, ESOs, and other stakeholders in the regions. This information collection is necessary for the SBA to understand the progress of the RIC Initiative towards achieving its goals.

The evaluation consists of two key components: an implementation evaluation and an outcome evaluation. The implementation evaluation focuses on how the Initiative is implemented across the fourteen clusters and on the services that each cluster provides to its small businesses. The outcome evaluation focuses on short and intermediate-term outcomes linked directly to the cluster services, as well as on long-term business outcomes that can be reasonably expected to result from the short- and intermediate-term outcomes. The short-term outcomes include the satisfaction and the perceived effectiveness of the program for business management and growth. The intermediate-term outcomes include development of new products, commercialization of new technologies, marketing and export services, improved access to capital, and industry integration. Long-term outcomes include increased revenue and employment. Over the previous years, evaluation results have helped to track the program performance outcomes and provide suggestions for program improvements to better facilitate innovation and small business growth. Furthermore, the evaluation survey data helped the SBA to better focus cluster activities on local contexts, particularly for rural and agricultural small businesses. This data will not be used to evaluate the effectiveness of an individual cluster.

The data collection effort involves three types of RIC Initiative stakeholders: small businesses, partner organizations, and cluster administrators. Small businesses participating in the cluster will be sent an online survey to provide data about their cluster participation experiences, satisfaction with the program and its components, the performance of their firms with respect to a variety of outcomes, and the role of cluster participation in the achievement of these outcomes. Similarly, partner organizations will be asked to complete an online survey to provide data about their experiences with the RIC Initiative. The questions include reasons for the RIC participation, collaboration with and support for small businesses, and the role of cluster participation on key organizational outcomes associated with the RIC Initiative participation. Small businesses and partner organizations will also be interviewed once a year to obtain information on barriers, facilitators, and other local influences on cluster and ecosystem engagement, best practices to facilitate innovation, and suggestions for potential cluster improvements (among other topics). The cluster administrators will be asked to provide participant rosters, which provide the framework for the surveys that the small businesses and partner organizations are sent. The administrator survey requests information about the services they provided to these two groups of stakeholders, and their operations in general. Cluster administrators will also be interviewed once a year to obtain information about how their operations have evolved, the adjustments they made, best practices, issues encountered, and the lessons learned.

SBA RIC Program: https://www.sba.gov/local-assistance/regional-innovation-clusters
Draft data collection instruments and technical documentation: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/4dd2khd0zajm6fneos1j3/h?rlkey=u5j33jpjh01xiomlgrm0dkx5p&dl=0
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2024-02641

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