May 12, 2020
The "Shark Tank" initiative put forward by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Lamar Alexander is underway, and if the plan goes as intended it could play a significant role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Blunt (R-Mo.), who chairs the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS), spoke with me Friday about the effort to couple private sector ingenuity with federal government backing.
Two different pieces of legislation signed into law, including the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, are funding the "Shark Tank" approach to the tune of $1 billion. The initiative is named after the popular ABC series that features entrepreneurs who pitch business ideas to "shark" investors.
The Blunt and Alexander initiative is designed to solicit ideas to address coronavirus that fall under one of three categories: testing, therapeutics or vaccine.
While in most venture capital cases the investor wants to minimize failure, in this case the senator said if we're not experiencing some level of failure then we're not fully exhausting all the potential ideas to address the virus.
"I was at the White House yesterday meeting with the team they've put together internally to deal with this, Sen. Alexander from Tennessee and I were, and you know, our view was that we want to be sure that they understand that we're prepared to tolerate some failures here," Blunt said. "That if we don't have some failures, we're probably not pushing the envelope as much as we need to. And the whole concept of the 'Shark Tank' is to have people, largely it's going to be research laboratories and medical groups, but even individuals come to the 'Shark Tank' with ideas."
By casting a wide net, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) group will filter the ideas in a way that allows the United States to move quicker on medical breakthroughs than we otherwise would, Blunt said, adding solutions that go forward would be ready 30 or 60 days earlier than they would otherwise.
"This is a case where the difference in something that's available mid-August is dramatically better than something that's available that solves one of your three problems in mid-September. And mid-September is better than mid-October would have been," he said.
The senator said NIH has already had 1,087 applications in the week it has been accepting applications.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of NIH, is leading the 'Shark Tank.' Along with medical experts, the panel will include business experts who understand the production side of operations.
The senator is hopeful the federal government would have joint partnership efforts underway through the "Shark Tank" by July 4.
Sen. Blunt provides a realistic perspective to our national policy while upholding basic conservative principles. His 'Shark Tank' initiative is poised to play a significant role in our recovery. And quite frankly, it would be good to see this type of approach in other areas of government. Unleash the private sector and fund the best ideas to solve national challenges.
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