The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2024 America’s Seed Fund Road Tour kicked off in Florida Wednesday, Feb. 7, to an audience of nearly 200 small businesses and business support organizations interested in learning more about the $4 billion distributed annually by federal agencies supporting high-risk, high-tech research and development.
The Corridor was honored to host the first of 16 stops on the tour, during which 25 federal agency representatives from 16 federal agencies and programs shared best practices and insight about SBIR/STTR awards. The event also provided a platform for more than 80 small businesses to meet one-on-one with federal agency award administrators about their specific technologies and related funding opportunities.
In case you missed it, here are highlights from the agenda and links to learn more.
Representatives from 16 federal agencies and programs each presented a four-minute pitch about their organization, the types of awards they offer and tips for engagement:
Introduction to Finding Support and Help
Led by Brittany Sickler, the SBA’s director of ecosystem development, a panel of experts shared tips for seeking agency support.
- Jonel Hein, District Director, North Florida District Office, U.S. Small Business Administration
- Jaime Camelio, Program Director, I-Corp, National Science Foundation
- Jack Henkel, Senior Cluster Manager, Florida High Tech Corridor
- Entrepreneurs are often so heads-down in their work that they forget to work on the business. Both are equally important.
- Make time to identify and leverage the resources around you, and look for opportunities to engage in new networks.
- There are many support organizations in your community, and they exist to help you. Take advantage.
Flexible Funding – The Granting Agencies
Led by Nancy Kamei, SBA program development specialist, agency representatives discussed how best to work with agencies that use grants as their funding vehicle.
- Megan Stokes, Contractor Support, Navy SBIR/STTR Programs, U.S. Navy
- Daniel Carroll, AFVentures Director, AFWERX
- Adam Sorkin, Small Business Policy Manager, National Institute of Health
- Michael Vingi, NASA SBIR/STTR Support, NASA
- Some SBIR/STTR awards are “grants” and some are “contracts.” A grant SBIR/STTR opportunity is very broad and allows the company to determine the specific technology to be developed in the proposal.
- Grant requirements can vary widely between agencies. Be sure to understand agency-specific requirements and evaluation criteria.
- Seek guidance from the agency and business support organizations that can help you navigate the application process (such as those from our “Finding Support and Help or “Ecosystem Building” panels).
- If you don’t win, request feedback. Some agencies always provide feedback, but others do not (e.g., the Department of Defense does not unless it is requested). These notes can help you decide to either resubmit or identify a new path forward.
Inside the Head of an Evaluator
Led by Erick Page-Littleford, the SBA’s Acting Director and Program Manager for America’s Seed Fund, this discussion provided helpful SBIR/STTR application tips from the perspective of proposal evaluators.
- Melinda Coffman, SBIR/STTR Program Manager, S. Department of Agriculture
- Genevieve Lind, SBIR Program Manager, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Candace Wright, SBIR/STTR Program Lead, Missile Defense Agency
- Panelists emphasized the importance of adhering to application guidelines and formatting requirements. Seemingly small mistakes, or not strictly following guidelines can cause a proposal to be rejected as “non-responsive.”
- Most evaluations consider three main components of the proposal, although weight on each element varies depending on agency and phase of the award:
- Technical Innovation
- The impact of your technology.
- Why your solution is better than what currently exists.
- The Submission Team
- Illustrate that your team has the experience, qualifications and resources to execute the proposal.
- This is less of a priority in Phase I and contract awards, but grows in importance in Phase II and when the agency is not your primary customer.
- Letters of support from industry, academic and government partners can be influential.
- Technical Innovation
Led by Carol Ann Dykes Logue, Central Florida Tech Grove director, this discussion demonstrated how various business and entrepreneurial support organizations are collaborating to make The Corridor’s regional ecosystem an ideal place for small businesses pursuing high-tech research and development.
- Dawn Hayes, CEO, StarterStudio
- Kara Vernon, Florida Apex Accelerator at UCF
- Shannon Pastizzo, USF CONNECT
- Thriving ecosystems foster business growth and innovation.
- The Corridor’s ecosystem has many resources and a robust support network for entrepreneurs at varying stages of business growth.
- There is value in having many organizations participating in the ecosystem; panelists warned against working with anyone who promotes their organization as a “one stop shop.”
SBIR/STTR Success Stories and Awardees
Led by Jack Henkel, this discussion highlighted the success of several small businesses who have pursued and secured SBIR/STTR funding thanks to the help of The Corridor and its ecosystem partners.
- Roccio Frej Vitalle, CEO, Improving Aviation
- James Cooper, Director Business Development, Design Interactive
- Raj Dutta, CEO, Silicon Assurance
- James Hickman, Chief Scientist, Hesperos
- SBIR/STTR funding is valuable for de-risking technology, gaining early startup momentum and attracting further investment.
- Use the resources available in our ecosystem to ensure SBIR/STTR success. For example, incubators and accelerators can help keep costs low and provide valuable insights.
- Finding the right fit with an SBIR/STTR agency and topic is an important factor in a successful proposal, especially for companies new to the SBIR/STTR program.
- Strong commercialization plans are important to help win Phase II SBIR/STTR awards and maintaining strong relationships with funding agencies.
For more resources and information about SBIR/STTR support, please contact us.