Since 2006 I have had the pleasure of working, in a limited role, with the National Science Foundation. The NSF participates in the SBIR/STTR grant programs which are coordinated by the Small Business Administration and mandated by the U.S. Congress.
According to the SBIR website, “The mission of the SBIR program 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.”
This means that if you think you have a great idea for a technological or scientific innovation, and the know-how and team to commercialize the idea, then the U.S. Government, through this program, might fund the research and development of the idea and help you get to the point where you can actually bring your product to market.
The government’s stated objectives in providing these grants are to:
- Stimulate technological innovation in our country;
- Meet Federal research and development needs of many U.S. Government Agencies; and
- Increase private-sector commercialization of innovations that are funded by Federal funding.
Does it work? Well, you tell me. Since the beginning of SBIR, over 400,000 scientists and engineers have participated in the program. During that time, $21 billion has been funded through the program resulting in 50,000 patents being approved by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
To me, the second bullet above, meeting Federal research and development needs of many U.S. government agencies, is the greatest benefit to come out of the program. Many of the technologies that we have seen introduced in our military activities have come from this program. Many advances in medicine and healthcare have come from the program. Many of the advances we have seen in education or mobile technology have been funded by SBIR.
Agencies that participate in the SBIR program include:
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Commerce – National Institute of Standards and Technology
- Department of Commerce – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- Department of Transportation
- Environmental Protection Agency
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- National Science Foundation
The SBIR is structured in 3 phases:
- In Phase I technologists can receive awards of $150,000 for 6 months. This award allows them to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R&D efforts and to determine the quality of the awardee organization before additional awards are considered.
- In Phase II, awards can be made of as much as $1 million over a 2 year period. This award allows the awardee to, in most instances, complete the R&D.
- Phase III is all about taking the innovation to market or in the Government’s language, “commercialization.” While SBIR does not provide funding in Phase III, funding can be provided through the budgets of the Federal agencies. In many cases, Agencies like the Department of Defense will fund the continuing development of new innovations with the sole objective of being the first user once development is complete. In other words, once you have completed the development of the technology, you don’t have to go find customers for it because the agency that funded the idea is going to be your customer.
So, now that you are interested, the next question is, are you eligible to participate in the SBIR program? Again, according to SBIR.gov, “Only United States small businesses are eligible to participate in the SBIR program. Businesses must meet all of the following criteria at the time of Phase I and II awards:
- Organized for profit, with a place of business located in the United States;
- At least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in, the United States, or
- At least 51 percent owned and controlled by another for-profit business concern that is at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in, the United States; and;
- No more than 500 employees, including affiliates.”
Please don’t think this is easy money. It is not. SBIR budgets are very limited and the competition to participate in this program is fierce. However, if you think you have a really innovative idea, the SBIR program is something that you should absolutely investigate.