mikeVinje

Small Business Innovation Research

At this very moment, there are over $2.6 billion dollars up for grabs. The catch? Help NASA, or one of eleven government agencies, further develop their research capabilities with a technology or product that has the power to revolutionize the world. The path to receiving a share of these federal funds starts with a long standing, yet lesser-known program.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is a seed fund program that is awarded to small businesses with new or novel technology to explore, develop or commercialize further. You don’t necessarily need to be the next Thomas Edison, since NASA is also looking for “small-t” technology ideas, which can include putting a twist on existing technology. Also part of the same solicitation is the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which requires that the small business utilize a research institute as a partner.

Past examples of this cross market pollination include tractor manufacturers applying innovative seat technology for use by fighter jet pilots, or learning techniques from the agricultural industry to grow food in outer space.   

Just like the window of opportunity for a rocket launch opens and closes, so too does the timeframe to submit for a NASA SBIR award, and that time is right around the corner. The application process has traditionally opened in mid-November and will close at the end of January. 

Florida and the Innovation Gap

As a state, Florida has consistently participated in the NASA SBIR/STTR programs, but not to the degree that should be possible. The state has a good supply of innovative scientists and engineers, but they have not submitted their share of proposals compared to other states. For example, the state of California has just two times the population of Florida, yet, in recent years, it has had 10 times the amount of SBIR/STTR applications.

The Space Coast is known for having one of the highest concentrations of engineering and high tech talent anywhere. Programs like the NASA/EDC Tech Docking initiative are helping to uncover that innovation on the Space Coast. Somewhere in this region are ideas that NASA would like to fund.

It Starts with an Application

The application process is straightforward but detailed and competitive. To apply, you must submit a proposal in response to an agency solicitation and a particular topic. One tip to stay competitive is to consider working with a SBIR consultant. These independent experts are skilled in the grant application process and can guide your company through from beginning to end. The process should take anywhere from 3-10 weeks depending on your level of experience with government proposals. The main criteria for eligibility are that your company has less than 500 employees and that you have a full-time person dedicated to research or development of the product or technology you are submitting. Participants should view the full set of application steps and guidelines at sbir.nasa.gov.p

The Unknown Perks

So you made it through the multi-phase process. Now what? Well, for starters, there are some attractive benefits that come along with being an SBIR award recipient. In addition to the funding, NASA’s annual share for 2016 is over $200 million, you earn valuable government contractor experience which clears the way for future partnerships, and status as a sole source provider to the government for the technology you develop.

A principal goal of the SBIR/STTR programs is to help your company enter the marketplace and diversify your customer base to include non-governmental users as well. This way you benefit from increased revenue and NASA benefits from having an improved supplier base. And last but not least, there’s the chance to say your company single handedly helped the world’s largest space agency solve a technology challenge.

Uncovering Opportunities

These next few months are the most important for a new company participating in the NASA SBIR program. My recommendation for any research and technology company is to look at last year’s solicitation. Pick five or more keywords that help describe your technology and see if NASA has a history of funding research in that area. If you have found a good fit, get with an individual or organization that can assist you with the process. If you’ve got the next great technological achievement in the works, or one being used elsewhere that could advance space exploration, share it with us. NASA just might be interested in funding your development the rest of the way.

With over $200 million in NASA project funding, we can virtually guarantee you’ll have better odds filling out an SBIR application than buying a lottery ticket, but time will soon be of the essence.

For more information: sbir.nasa.gov

About the Author

mike-VinjeMike Vinje is the small business technology manager and SBIR/STTR lead at Kennedy Space Center and also manages the NASA/EDC Regional Economic Development Technology Docking program.


This article appears in the December 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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