Last week’s SBIR Road Tour at The Alexandria in Torrey Pines was a great opportunity to meet and talk with a host of federal agencies. They were there to offer insights about how the SBIR/STTR programs can help fund innovation and potentially, your company. The day was filled with great presentations along with opportunities to meet one-on-one with agency representatives. Federal agencies, through the SBIR/STTR programs, want to fund innovation. They are looking for innovations that help forward the goals of their respective agencies while also providing broad market value. Did you know GPS was a technology originally funded through the federal government?
During the tour, we learned a few things through our discussions with various agencies that will help you through the process.
Know the agency
Each agency’s funding is aimed at strategic areas of their work. Know these areas well and determine if your company or idea fits. Also, don’t look just at the obvious agencies. For example, while life sciences often go after NIH funding, there are opportunities with the USDA for life sciences work. Put yourself in the shoes of the agency, know what they are looking for and know their business. Each agency has a budget. Get to know the agency well so that you can develop a reasonable ask in your proposal.
Know the type of funding
Funding is either contract- or grant-based. Some agencies offer one form (e.g. Department of Defense does contracts), some offer both. Grant-based agencies want to fund ideas. They want to be the first funding source once you’ve exhausted your friends and family. Contract agencies want to see more stable businesses with a track record for completing work according to their schedule and budget.
Follow the requirements
Many companies are disqualified unnecessarily because they don’t read and comply with all of the requirements. Some agencies cap the number of proposals one company can submit per funding cycle. The solicitations outline all of the important details. Have someone who didn’t work on the proposal compare your response against the requirements to make sure you didn’t miss anything. A lot of disqualification can be easily avoided.
Start the registration process early
There’s nothing worse than having a winning proposal and not being able to submit because you don’t have the right registration numbers, like a DUNS. The federal government requires multiple registration numbers and some of those processes can take a few weeks. So start that process as soon as you are interested in pursuing these opportunities. The North San Diego SBDC in Carlsbad is a great place that will help you get all the registrations you need.
Pick up the phone
Every agency has a program representative. Call them and talk to them. They are there to help fund innovation and want to interact with interested entrepreneurs and businesses. Speaking with program officers will help you understand the agency better and position your proposal to better fit their needs (see Lesson #1).
Don’t submit on the last day
Just like our own networks at the office, federal technology systems can go down. If you wait until the last day to submit, and there is a problem transmitting your work, there is no time for a remedy, you’re out. In addition, some agencies will offer you feedback if your application is missing something through the submission process. If you wait to the last minute, you can’t act on this invaluable information.
There are plenty of resources available to help innovation get off the ground. Did you know you can access a national network of Federal laboratory space through the Federal Laboratory Consortium? Did you know the National Institute of Standards and Technology has SBIR funding and works in areas like cybersecurity? Have you researched your customers, competitors and kept track of your patents? Take advantage of all there is to help your innovation become a reality and to help your business grow to new heights.