26 May Wisconsin technology companies awarded over $24 million in government funding
Grants increase more than $1 million from 2003
MADISON, Wis. — Forty-five Wisconsin small businesses will be honored June 1 at the 2004 Technology Awards Banquet for receiving over $24.6 million in federal research and development grants. The awards, held in conjunction with the Wisconsin Entrepreneursï¿½ Conference in Milwaukee, recognize small business technology transfer (STTR), small business innovation research (SBIR) and advanced technology program (ATP) awards doled to Wisconsin companies from Oct. 1, 2002 to Sept. 30, 2003.
Top award winners this year include Stratatech Corp., which earned over $4.8 million in federal grants, Virent Energy Systems, which won approximately $2.2 million, and Orbital Technologies Corp., which won $1.39 million.
This year, Wisconsin businesses won $1.31 million more in funds than the previous grant period, with seven companies receiving over $1 million each. In comparison, 35 companies were recognized for $23.3 million over 15 months in 2003.
Regionally, Dane County leads Wisconsin in number of awards and award dollars, but other portions of Wisconsin are showing signs of progress. Although all but one of the top 10 companies are located in Dane County, 14 grants, totaling over $3 million, were given to companies located in the greater Milwaukee area and south-central Wisconsin, as compared to six in 2003.
“A number of companies outside the Dane County area were able to appreciate the awards. [It is] very gratifying to see the reach of the program,” said Tony Hozeny, communications director for the DOC. The program is “having more success because of heavier promotion and Gov. Doyle’s ‘Grow Wisconsin’ plan. The governor talked about the need to secure more federal funding — and we’ve gone up from the previous year in every measure.”
Another significant trend, according to Hozeny, is the increasing number of Phase II grants. In addition to these awards usually being larger, he said, the recognition Phase II award-winning companies receive helps market their products and services.
“That’s why it’s significant that this year we got 25 Phase II awards and only 21 in 2003. Because not only has the program been willing to invest in the early stage, but it’s able to come back and have enough confidence in research — to further commercialization efforts. It’s a good sign for Wisconsin,” he said.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s influence on the state’s economy is evident. According to Andy Cohn, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundationï¿½s government and public relations manager, five of the top 10 award winners have licensed technology from the university through WARF.
In comparison to other states, Wisconsin has usually been about average in terms of winning federal funding. But Hozeny believes there are a number of governmental initiatives working to help Wisconsin break away from the pack. The new Bureau of Entrepreneurship and legislative bill 255, which is designed to increase venture capital resources in the state, are both helping access funds and commercialize products, he said.
“There are new resources that companies can access, we want to see our Wisconsin companies gain a greater share of SBIR funding. Itï¿½s a very important source — a billion and a half annually ï¿½ and for this kind of work, itï¿½s the largest federal funding program. We want our companies to have every advantage in accessing this capital,” Hozeny said.
Each seed fund has a different review process at federal and state level, and depending on the agency supplying the grant, SBIR, STTR and ATP proposals are either peer reviewed or examined by agency scientists. The grants are designed to prove the technological feasibility and credibility of applicant proposals and achieving one is a testament to a company’s science.
“The people who are doing the reviews of these awards are usually peers within that scientific field, so they have better perspective on the technology,” said Greg Lynch, partner at Michael Best. “It is recognized within angel and early stage venture communities if a company is able to attract those types of investments.”
Some are viewing the strong showing of federal grant awards by Wisconsin’s small businesses as a positive indicator of the state’s economy.
“In the last year, under Gov. Doyle’s leadership, we’ve really gotten focused in our state on economic development and trying to get our economy back on track,” said State Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles. “The economy is ready to pick up and get stronger as we’re making good policy decisions and choices — we’re creating a climate here to really encourage more people to start in Wisconsin. I think it’s the same with the SBIR and STTR successes — people are starting to start businesses, are starting to think about starting businesses and get on the road to starting a business.”
SBIR/STTR workshops will be held at the Entrepreneursï¿½ Conference June 1 as part of the SBIR track. Participants registered in the SBIR-workshop track may schedule one-on-one meetings with federal program managers to discuss and clarify areas of research interest and successful grant application techniques.
Kristin V. Johnson is the associate editor of WTN. She can be reached at email@example.com.