Did you know there’s a multi-million dollar public investment fund where small business concerns can get access to seed capital? And they are encouraged to use that seed capital to commercialize their ideas with relatively little strings attached? It’s called the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, and it might just be the opportunity your startup is looking for.
We are big fans of the SBIR program but wanted to learn more, so we invited Geoff Orazem, CEO/CSO of Eastern Foundry, to join us for a one hour webinar on the topic. Not only has Orazem’s team at Eastern Foundry won a few SBIR grants themselves, but they’ve also helped other startups successfully navigate the three-phased process and earn funding to develop technologies and products with value to both the government and commercial marketplace.
While the three phases of the program are easy to understand, Orazem emphasized the criticality of a so-called “phase zero” during which interested applicants should take a close look at whether their solution or idea is a good candidate. Although SBIR grants have been awarded to some ideas that you might not think have government applicability (clothes made from spider web being one example), it’s still important to identify your ideal agency customer and determine whether they have an open solicitation related to what you’re trying to develop. If they don’t, you can create what is effectively an unsolicited proposal, but that’s a tough sled according to Orazem.
So who is an ideal SBIR candidate? Graduate students are one population because of the degree of research and exploration they’re already doing, but so are startups that happen to find a problem they are solving is also of interest to the government. While there can be a degree of kizmet here, if a startup discovers their solution has some public sector applications, it’s worth exploring whether SBIR opportunities exist or are coming down the pike (even if that would require a degree of reprioritization). Orazem suggests creating a short, two-page pitch that you can share with agency personnel to get feedback. If your idea is attractive, it just might lead to a future SBIR opportunity.
SBIR grants can provide valuable seed money to advance products that have viable commercial applications, but may not have the near term “return on investment” that traditional venture capitalists might need to see before they write a check. This can be very compelling for the right type of company, but as with every opportunity you need to do your diligence. Start by watching our webinar, and then continue your study with excellent learning resources from Eastern Foundry.
They’ll help you validate whether SBIR is right for you, and then take you through the phase zero process so that any application you do submit won’t result in wasted effort.
Check out the webinar recording above and watch other relevant videos from Public Spend Forum on our YouTube channel!