07 May Ten tips for navigating the federal funding maze
Competing and winning federal research and development (R&D) awards is a high-contact sport. Researching the agencies, laboratories, systems and business processes can be overwhelming.
I have learned a few things along the way that may be valuable to companies considering federal funding to support their innovative R&D efforts through 15 years experience in the “school of hard knocks,” and consulting with many companies in the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and its cousin, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. It is vitally important to understand the federal government acquisition processes and systems; and then to develop strategies and tactics that will produce the kind of results you desire.
Many businesses — both startup and existing — consider federal funding. Navigating the federal R&D arena can be overwhelming and time consuming and requires persistence, tenacity and patience to be successful. These ten strategies and tactics can help businesses better navigate and understand the federal R&D arena before jumping in with both feet.
- Make a strategic business decision to pursue federal R&D funding. If you do things right from the very beginning, you will count your blessings later. Develop a plan and stick with it to increase your success. Establish a sound financial management system.
- Do your homework and develop a plan. Understand your scientific and technical strengths and weaknesses. Start with a great idea, concept or project that has strong military or commercial potential. Conduct a thorough scientific and technical review to assess the value of your idea, concept or project against the state-of-the-art project. Is your widget better, faster, cheaper? What problem does it solve? What is the significance of your idea, concept or project?
- Get to know the customer. Research and understand the federal agencies that have funded or intend to fund research in your scientific field. Pick up the phone, send an email and talk to them to learn their needs and mission requirements.
- Develop a realistic timeline for your efforts. Navigating and tackling the federal R&D arena takes time and effort. Be smart, savvy and strategic in all that you do.
- Get to know the people, or “press the flesh.” Attend scientific symposiums and conferences; consult with university researchers to gain knowledge and access to facilities, equipment and expertise that you will need for your project. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team, so consult government, industry and academia to assemble the best team possible.
- Ensure there is a strong match or fit between your idea, concept or project and the federal agency and its research interests. Too often, proposals are submitted blindly to the federal agency without any interaction between the company and the agency. That is not a good strategy. Go back to Tip 2, do your homework.
- Leverage the resources in the state. Wisconsin has made important investments in many programs, services and expertise to assist companies with their efforts in the SBIR and STTR programs. Take advantage of these resources. You’ll be glad you did.
- Don’t go it alone. Use other funding sources besides SBIR and STTR to fund your business and technology developments efforts. Outside investments, purchase orders, letters of support are all important when pursuing SBIR and STTR funding.
- Know you commercialization strategy early. Knowing your potential market opportunities and customers is vitally important to starting and growing your business. The same is true in SBIR and STTR. Understanding the market and its opportunities is vitally important to winning the second phase of funding and, possibly, sole source contracts in Phase III – commercialization.
- Don’t give up. Persistence and tenacity is important. The federal SBIR and STTR programs are highly competitive, and if you don’t succeed the first time, try, try again! With each try, you will gain invaluable knowledge and experience to become a better candidate for funding through the SBIR and STTR programs.
These funding programs provide critical financial investment to entrepreneurs and innovators in the state and the nation. Those who persevere in the federal funding arena ultimately reap the rewards of increased revenues, introduction of new products or services, patents/intellectual property and more. Those companies and their resulting technology commercialization efforts will have far reaching societal, economic and scientific impact in our economy and our lives.