SBIR: Federal R&D Grants for Small Companies

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FuzeHub is currently presenting an SBIR Workshop Series to help guide companies in securing R&D grants from the federal government. The next one is February 10th in Binghamton, and a subsequent workshop will be held in the Capital Region. Here’s some background for companies that may not be familiar with the opportunity behind this effort.

What is SBIR/STTR?

The U.S. government is one of the largest sources of early-stage technology financing. Congress requires federal agencies with large research budgets to allocate about $2.5 billion annually in grants to small companies to undertake R&D for products and services that have the potential for commercialization. This is known as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, along with its sister Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program.

The Department of Defense and various branches of the military are the largest issuers of these grants, and they solicit proposals very specific to technologies that DOD needs developed. Other major providers are the Department of Health & Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. Some departments solicit proposals very specific to their technology needs (e.g., the Army) while others invite proposals under broader topics or open topics. The Small Business Administration provides overall coordination.
Applicants may pursue Phase I SBIR awards for six-month projects to “establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts,” and these are generally capped at $150,000. Phase II awards are for continuation of Phase I projects, and only made to those that were able to demonstrate significant scientific and technical merit as well as commercial potential. They are generally capped at $1,000,000 over two years.

Would you qualify for an SBIR grant?

Is your company undertaking research on a new product or process that you hope to ultimately take to market? You might be a candidate for an SBIR grant if that product is aligned with the needs and interests of key federal agencies. Ask yourself if you meet these other eligibility criteria:

  1. Interest in and committed to 3+ years of research, with potential partnerships at a university.
  2. Truly innovative idea that has major market potential, but may not be technically feasible (which Phase I will prove/disprove), for which it would cost approximately $100,000 to test its feasibility.
  3. Topics applicable to defense, health, manufacturing, energy, agriculture, aerospace, education, homeland security, and environmental quality.
  4. At least 51% U.S. owned.
  5. Fewer than 500 employees.
  6. Principal Investigator in the company has the capabilities and background to carry out the technical aspects of the research.

New York companies bring home these grants every year

In 2015, 152 small New York State companies brought home 152 SBIR/STTR awards totaling about $100 million. Examples of recent New York State awardees include:

  • NASA award to Schenectady-based Automated Dynamics for new technology enabling additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composites.
  • Awards to Long Island-based ReliaCoat Technologies for various innovative thermal spray coatings (e.g. for marine gas turbines).
  • NSF award to Syracuse-based Avatar Sustainable Technologies for turning paper mill waste into bioproducts.
  • Several awards to Peekskill-based Bettergy for new high-performance batteries.
  • Awards to New York City-based Widder Bros. for insecticidal fabrics.

New York MEP can help

 FuzeHub can help connect you to an SBIR expert in our network to help you consider and apply for these grant competitions.
More broadly, the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (New York MEP), of which FuzeHub is a part, has offices across the state that assist small manufacturers with the kinds of projects that come before, during, and after an SBIR grant.
As our federal partners at the National Institute of Standards and Technology put it: “MEP Centers provide a variety of support throughout the lifecycle of an SBIR project. As an R&D project evolves, MEP services take on a different character tracking the maturity of the technology from proposal preparation through the conduct of the research to its commercialization.” MEP centers can accelerate your company’s technology transition, introduce you to competitive manufacturing principles, help design your manufacturing process, or connect you to suppliers and contract manufacturers here in New York State.

Your next step

Watch these excellent online tutorials. Get to know the SBIR website and click through to the microsite for the agency most closely related to your technology area. Find an open solicitation with a topic that your technology can address. Look for opportunities to meet that agency’s program managers when they travel to the northeast.
Fill out an online FuzeHub request telling us what your next obstacle is, and we’ll connect you with an SBIR expert or other appropriate resource.

The bigger picture: America’s Seed Fund

In various forms, federally-subsided R&D has historically been a major engine of American innovation and enabler of American ingenuity. SBIR is part of this legacy, funding a higher percentage of early stage seed finance than private capital—rightfully calling itself “America’s Seed Fund.” It often funds technologies that are too risky and early stage for venture capital to bet on, and that eventually find their way into our lives—whether in your Roomba or your iPhone.


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