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Wisconsin to host SBIR Conference

Milwaukee, Wis. - Wisconsin will host its first SBIR National Conference in November, connecting state and regional technology businesses to the agencies that distribute more than $2 billion annually in federal innovation and technology grants.

While the agenda for the fall conference is still being developed, and speakers have yet to be confirmed, the event will be held Nov. 6-9 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Milwaukee and Madison have hosted local and regional SBIR conferences in the past, but this conference has a national spotlight. "This is the first time Wisconsin, maybe even the Midwest, has hosted this conference," said Joe Hill, senior vice president of the Medical College of Wisconsin Research Foundation. "All federal agencies that fund SBIR-STTR grants will be at the conference."

SBIR stands for Small Business Innovation Research, and STTR stands for Small Business Technology Transfer, and as their acronyms suggest, they exist to support research and development in small, emerging companies. There are 11 federal agencies that distribute Phase I and Phase II grant money under these programs, which are coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Those agencies include the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the National Science Foundation.
The NSF will be the sponsoring agency for the fall conference.

Middle of the pack

In 2004, the most recent year statistics are available, Wisconsin ranked 24th among the states in attracting SBIR grants, and 19th in attracting STTR grants.

That year, state businesses received 42 Phase I SBIR grants totaling $6.6 million, and 17 of the larger Phase II awards worth a total of $13.5 million.

On the technology side, Wisconsin companies received seven Phase I STTR awards worth a total of $1.4 million, and three Phase II awards totaling $1.8 million.

California and Massachusetts were ranked 1 and 2, respectively, in each category. California businesses, for example, received 886 Phase I SBIR grants for a total of $101.8 million, and 442 Phase II SBIR grants totaling $313.9 million.

Clearly, Wisconsin officials would like to improve on the state's rankings and dollar amounts. The Wisconsin Department of Commerce submitted the winning bid for this fall's conference, and securing it was a three-year process.

"We're very excited to have this conference," said Tony Hozeny, a spokesman for the department, "but nothing [about the program] has been finalized yet."

The question now, Hill said, is what kind of conference will it be? Typically, officials from the various federal agencies will talk about the SBIR-STTR programs for their respective agencies on the conference's opening day. Beyond that, workshops have been held on everything from submitting successful grant proposals to securing financing for the commercialization of products after SBIR funding has been spent.

Hill, who is the chairman of a steering committee that is putting together the conference agenda, said while the Milwaukee conference is national in scope, it will be tailored to companies in the Midwest.

"We'd like to structure the conference so that it meets the needs of small businesses in our region," he said.

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