Living in the small business and start up world for 15-plus years, I’ve observed much. Including the never ending hunt for government grant money from clients looking to capitalize on this perceived gift opportunity. The fact is, for the typical for-profit business, this gift opportunity is mostly a mirage. Except when it comes to SBIR, otherwise known as the Small Business Innovation Research program supported by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
I recently had the chance to attend an SBIR Road Tour event that made a stop in Columbus. This well-attended event on July 22 at the Ohio State University was full of great information and opportunities. It was a full day of panel discussions focused on SBIR programs from various government agencies, superb networking, and a chance to directly communicate with the agency SBIR program managers.
The SBIR program has been around since 1982, allocating $2.5 billion in funding awards this year to small companies to accelerate and commercialize various technology. Eleven federal agencies currently participate in the SBIR program, with each administering its own program within Congressional guidelines.
So, my Top 3 takeaways from this event:
- There are three well defined phases for SBIR funding awards. Phase 1 is the research and development phase focused on validation of the technology, with a maximum financial award of $150,000 for the 6 month time period. Phase 2 is the next step if the research and validation efforts from Phase 1 are positive and worthy of further development. Phase 2 allows up to $1million in total awards over the 2 year period to continue the research and development. Phase 3 is the final step when the small company gets into commercialization mode, taking action on the research and development done in the previous two Phases. Phase 3 doesn’t come with further SBIR funding, although some agencies will assist with other funding avenues as needed.
- Meeting and establishing a working relationship with the relevant agency Program Managers is vital. It’s important to understand what problems an agency is trying to solve through high-tech innovations. And who better to work directly with than agency Program Managers highly attuned to the agency initiatives and goals.
- SBIR funding opportunities are not designed for the everyday main-street businesses (think retail, restaurants, personal services), but rather those small companies seeking to advance technology that works on a bigger national scope. Some basic examples include technology that serves to improve heath, national security, big data, and the environment.
This was my first time attending an SBIR Roadtour event, and I have to say I was impressed. As a small business, having the chance to talk one-on-one with an SBIR Program Manager, is a tremendous opportunity for my clients. In fact, I had three clients attend this Roadtour that got to meet with various agency Program Managers. All three found it very fruitful and are moving forward with the SBIR process.
I really like the mission of the SBIR program, which is “…to support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of Federal research funds in critical American priorities to build a strong national economy.”
That is one mission I think we all can easily support.