The U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a field hearing last week in Lau rel to discuss the role of small businesses in the cybersecurity efforts of the United States.

What follows are excerpts from the testimony:

Jennifer Walsmith, senior acquisition executive for the National Security Agency

The small-business community plays an important and integral role in strengthening our cybersecurity efforts and programs.

The mission of the NSA Office of Small Business Programs is to ensure that small businesses, including veteran-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVOSB), historically underutilized business zone (HUBZone), disadvantaged and women-owned concerns have maximum practicable opportunity to participate in NSA acquisitions. The Department of Defense small-business performance goal for NSA is 25 percent of prime contract dollars. As of June 30, 2011, NSA’s small business performance is 17.33 percent. We are working diligently to increase our small-business utilization.

Charles Iheagwara, chief marketing and business development officer for Unatek, a Largo cybersecurity firm that does work with government agencies

All over the country, there is growing evidence that small businesses are playing an important role in national and local economic development. [Small Business Administration] data demonstrate that small businesses provide a majority of new jobs and produce much of the creativity and innovation that fuel economic success.

The growth of many medium- and big-sized firms is made possible by the entre­pre­neur­ship of small businesses. Thousands of medium- and big-sized companies have grown from mergers and acquisitions of highly entrepreneurial small businesses.

The government, in its efforts to support small businesses in cybersecurity, should address obstacles that prevent them from increasing their contribution to the overall growth of the USA.

Such initiatives should [include] a legislative mandate that stipulates a certain percentage of small-business share of all federal contracts pertaining to cybersecurity. Low-interest loans to support innovation or niche projects. [Greater] access to information, counseling and business.

Sarah Djamshidi, executive director of the Chesapeake Innovation Center, a business incubator located in Annapolis

In most parts of the Washington, D.C., region, including Maryland, a significant gap exists between entrepreneurs creating viable early-stage companies and viable small businesses capable of bringing technology-based products to the marketplace. The gap exists for a number of reasons:

(1) [A shortage of qualified cyber experts];

(2) An inadequate amount of seed and early-stage funding for technology and product development, as well as for start-up and working capital;

(3) Many technology entrepreneurs are not sufficiently educated in business-related topics.

[The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and the Chesapeake Innovation Center] have closely examined many of these obstacles, and have developed a comprehensive plan to accelerate the growth of the technology companies, via unique programs, here in Anne Arundel and in the surrounding region.

Recommendations:

1. Increase the amount and types of funding available to small businesses to continue innovation, create jobs and secure our nation.

2. Increase the amount of support that is available to small businesses. Support public-private partnerships as one of the successful mechanisms.

3. Better collaboration between federal, state, counties, academic institutions, fund agencies, venture capitalists, the private sector and different members of the entrepreneurial community to foster innovation in this key area, cybersecurity.

Today, it seems that our efforts are fragmented.