Small Businesses Building a Clean Energy Future (Naval Energy Forum)

Speech Date: 
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Speech Location: 
As Prepared For: 
Karen Mills, SBA Administrator

Good morning everyone.  Thank you for that kind introduction Rear Admiral (Philip) Cullom. It's great to be here with all of you.

If it hasn't already been said this morning, I'll say it now.  Happy Birthday to the U.S. Navy.

On this date in 1775, our Continental Congress enacted America's first-ever naval legislation.  It authorized the formation of a Naval Committee, and the procurement of the first 2 vessels to help fight our Revolutionary War for Independence.

Back then, they didn't need to set aside any contracts for small businesses - All businesses were small.

I like to think of that Naval Committee out walking around town with a wheelbarrow to find what they needed for those first 2 boats - from weapons... to sails and oars... to food for the men on-board.

We've come a long way, but I think small businesses today still have that same sense of pride as they probably did back then.  They love the chance to serve their country by putting their products and services in the hands of the U.S. Navy.

Just out of curiosity, how many small firms do we have here today?

I'm here today because - even after all these years - the Navy community still gets it.  Whether it's Navy itself or one of its prime contractors - you actively search out those small, innovative businesses to work with - especially when you're dealing with renewable or alternative energy, or energy efficiency.

  • You do it because it improves Navy's combat capability… so our servicemen and women don't have to protect as many supply routes or spend precious time refueling their ships.
  • You do it because it saves the Navy money… so that Navy's plans aren't hamstrung by unpredictable swings in energy prices.
  • And you do it because you know that America's entrepreneurs and small businesses often have just the right solution to your energy problem.

Today, we need to make sure these small businesses have every possible opportunity to help the U.S. Navy stay on the cutting-edge.

Before I turn it over to Secretary Mabus, I'm pleased to announce two ways that we've been working through our MoU to do that over the past year.

First, we addressed a problem of access and opportunity.

Unlike larger firms, many small clean-energy firms don't have the staff or the time to dig down and research for various federal opportunities that might help them grow and create jobs.

With Secretary Mabus’ direct support, Navy worked to change that.  They launched this site in a matter of just a couple months.     

It compiled and listed all of Navy's clean energy opportunities so that small businesses could easily find them and compete for them.  It was a simple idea that made a big difference in the lives of small, innovative firms.

Navy led the way.  And what we thought was, "Hey, Why can't we do this across the federal government?"

So we did.

Today, I'm proud to say that this great idea that started right here with the U.S. Navy... has gone government-wide. 

It’s a new, government-wide portal –  Now, all of these clean energy opportunities are in one single location.

And it's not just green contracts…

  • It's green grants.
  • It's green patent information – so small firms can find intellectual property information and licensing opportunities.
  • And it's all of the green programs across the federal government that can help them grow and create jobs.

This is a win-win.

Federal agencies benefit from a greater chance of getting connected to the right business that can help meet a specific clean-energy need.  At the same time, small businesses benefit from greater transparency and more opportunities to scale up.

This is a good step, and we can do even more - which brings me to the 2nd area where we've been working together very closely.

When I heard about Secretary Mabus' plan to have 50% of Navy's energy consumption - both afloat and ashore - to come from alternative energy sources by 2020, I thought, "Wow. That's ambitious."

Then I met him - and I became a believer.

Already, I’ve heard of your progress.  Navy led the way with its first hybrid ship launched last year.  And right now, Navy is doing biofuel certifications for all ships and planes – with the goal of having them done by next year.

Small businesses are contributing to those milestones in many ways - small and large… direct and indirect.

To ensure that they continue to build on that progress, we need to shore up programs that are proven to work.

I’m talking about the Small Business Innovation Research program.  How many folks are familiar with SBIR?

This highly-competitive program draws out the best-of-the-best in Research and Development, providing $2.5 billion each year government-wide to the most promising small firms.  About one-fourth of R&D Magazine’s “top 100” innovations in past years were SBIR-driven products.

And, today, more than one-fourth of Navy SBIR opportunities are in clean energy. 

  • I heard about one Navy SBIR awardee who found a way to eliminate the need for battery power on helicopter-damage tracking systems.  Big businesses couldn’t find the solution, but the small business could.  Today, pilots flying in sandstorms in the Middle East now benefit from this technology. 
  • On the other side of the world, another Navy SBIR awardee created a system of high-tech buoys off the coast of Hawaii.  They use built-in pistons to harness the motions of waves, and bring that power back to the Navy base on the mainland.

Right now, the Administration is working closely with Congress to ensure long-term reauthorization of SBIR.  That’s what we need.

  • Your Secretary knows how important that is.
  • I know how important that is.
  • And small businesses know how important that is.

We're going to keep the pressure on Congress to get the job done.

In closing, it's clearer than ever:

Today, small, clean energy firms are helping us out-build, out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world.

  • They’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
  • They're reducing our long-term energy costs.
  • They're strengthening the U.S. Navy and our national security overall.
  • And, they're ensuring that we leave a better world for the next generation.

Thank you all for embracing the spirit of that first Naval Committee created by Congress 236 years ago today.

Together, Navy, the SBA, and everyone in this room can continue to help America's small businesses do what they do best – drive innovation and create jobs.  Thank you. 


It’s now my pleasure to introduce someone you know very well.  In 2009, he was sworn in as the 75th Secretary of the Navy with responsibility for the Navy and Marine Corps.  He’s responsible for almost 900,000 Sailors and Marines, nearly 300 ships, and nearly 4,000 aircraft.

As Secretary, he made energy reform one of his top priorities, along with excellence in acquisition and unmanned system development.

He graduated from the University of Mississippi, holds a Masters from Johns Hopkins, and a law degree from Harvard.  He has served as Governor of Mississippi and Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He also served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer onboard the USS LITTLE ROCK.

On a personal note, he has been a critical partner in advocating for small businesses.  He knows that they have the cutting-edge ideas to help our warfighters around the world.  And it’s been a true honor and pleasure to work closely with him.  Please help me welcome America’s distinguished Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus.    ###