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ASBTDC Launches Free Summer Series to Prepare Small Companies to Compete for Federal SBIR Funding

Employees at the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center small business owners in Arkansas. Photo by Ben Krain.
The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center is a statewide economic development program based at UA Little Rock. Through its network of offices, ASBTDC works with all types of for-profit businesses, from home-based to high-tech. Clients receive one-to-one confidential consulting and cutting-edge market research at no charge, or they can expand their expertise by participating in low or no-cost events. Photo by Ben Krain.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is offering a free summer series designed to help small businesses win federal funding for research and development of innovative technologies with the potential for commercialization. 

ASBTDC is offering a virtual accelerator and live webinars this summer, all at no cost, to give tech-based Arkansas small businesses and entrepreneurs opportunities to explore the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding program. SBIR awards early-stage funding to help small companies pursue the commercial potential of innovative technologies.

“This is essentially free money – the federal government isn’t seeking any form of ownership of your company, and it’s not a loan to be repaid,” said Rebecca Todd, innovation specialist at ASBTDC. “Research-based companies that are in the early stages of developing new technology are generally not strong candidates for funding from traditional sources, such as a bank. The SBIR program was created to offer these ventures a way to secure seed capital that could be used to create and fully vet their innovations so that, by the time they exit this program, awardee companies are ready to sell directly to customers. All that is required to win is a great idea for a new technology that aligns with the interest of at least one federal agency and meets a specific customer need.”

Eleven agencies fund innovative research that supports their unique missions and objectives. Therefore, their SBIR programs have different requirements, deadlines, and research topics.

The accelerator and webinars delve into SBIR programs at four agencies: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense.

SBIR Summer begins with the Lab2Launch Accelerator the week of July 11. The accelerator is for early-stage Arkansas companies seeking a first SBIR/STTR grant or contract. Over eight weeks, the program covers topic selection, budget preparation, technical writing and editing, market research, and more.

The fully online accelerator program will focus on the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After the program, ASBTDC will work one-on-one with Lab2Launch program participants to finalize their proposals by the USDA’s Oct. 6 submission deadline. Those interested may visit this link to apply.

“USDA is interested in improving quality of life for rural America,” Todd said. “So, there are tons of great ideas that might fit into the Rural and Community Development topic area, ranging from healthcare to employment to education. Unlike some of the SBIR agencies, the USDA allows its SBIR awardees to pay for marketing activities through many of its topics. So, these companies are able to really hone their sales and marketing strategies from the very beginning of their SBIR projects.”

The SBIR Summer webinar series includes:

“Ask Me Anything!” with NIH’s Dr. Stephanie Fertig, 10-11:30 a.m. July 12
Introduction to the USDA SBIR Program, 10-11:30 a.m. July 19
Introduction to the NOAA SBIR Program, 10-11:30 a.m. Aug. 16
Participating in DoD’s SBIR/STTR Programs, 9-11 a.m. Aug. 25

A grant from the Small Business Administration’s Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership program supports ASBTDC’s services for innovative, technology-driven small businesses. Thanks to FAST, the center is able to offer the summer series to Arkansas entrepreneurs and companies at no charge.

In 2021, ASBTDC client CelluDot won a National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer grant after participating in the Lab2Launch Accelerator program. CelluDot was awarded the grant to demonstrate feasibility of its patent-pending biopolymer technology, BioGrip™, for reducing herbicide drift.

“ASBTDC has been a huge resource for CelluDot right from the beginning,” said CelluDot CEO Joseph Batta-Mpouma. “Their staff assisted us with market research, which helped us identify some key industry trends in the agrochemical space. In 2020, we participated in the NSF cohort of their Lab2Launch accelerator program, which was extremely valuable in learning the details of the SBIR/STTR application process and simply keeping us on track.”

If an Arkansas small business wins SBIR funding, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has a SBIR Matching Grant. Created to leverage the federal SBIR program and stimulate innovation and growth among the state’s technology businesses, this program provides matching grants of up to $50,000 for Phase I and $100,000 for Phase II SBIR awards.

“These companies need a lot of money to get innovative new technologies ready for the market,” Todd said. “Luckily, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has a matching grant program that can provide extra state funding for companies when their research and development projects are  between Phase I and Phase II of the SBIR program or help bring the product to the market after Phase II funding ends.”