Staying Alive Through Small Business Research Grants—A Primer

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how the technology would meet or exceed the government’s requirements and demonstrating the technology’s  value. It is crucial to show how the technology is needed and that there are customers.

—The SBIR and STTR programs were scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. The House of Representatives introduced legislation, called HR5819, to succeed the existing programs, and the House overwhelmingly approved it. But the bill stalled in the Senate over one particularly controversial provision that would open the SBIR program to venture capital firms of any size, including corporate venture. So Congress extended the deadline for the existing program to March 30, 2009, but the new Congress must pass a new bill by March 20 to ensure a seamless transition.

Stewart, from SPAWAR, explained that the Department of Defense accounts for about 40 percent of all SBIR grants. For the Navy, that amounts to about $310 million annually in SBIR grants.

—Stewart says SPAWAR awarded about $36 million in SBIR grants in the last fiscal year and is expected to award $41 million this year. SPAWAR’s SBIR and acquisition programs are coordinated, and the topics for its SBIR solicitations are written by Navy employees who understand existing problems and the need for new technologies. The Pentagon conducts three solicitations a year for SBIR grants and two for STTRs.

Fagaly of Quasar Federal Systems, who has also sat on panels that review SBIR proposals, says, “We’re looking for something that’s going to make a big difference. Other points he made:

—Defense Department solicitations “tend to be very specific and mission-oriented,” Fagaly said. In contrast, solicitations issued by the National Institutes of Health tend to be very broad—and the NIH occasionally accepts unsolicited proposals. The investigators who are participating in a proposal are often key, especially for NIH grant solicitations. “I’ve seen research grants awarded more on the basis of who is doing it, rather than what the topic is.”

—“The most important thing about submitting your proposal is to meet the deadline,” Fagaly said. “And you should always assume the server will go down on the day the electronic application is due.”


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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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