The National SBIR/STTR Conferences are the most important SBIR/STTR events for new and intermediate small businesses that want to learn about, and compete for funding opportunities in the SBIR and STTR programs. For decades, the biannual National SBIR Conferences were held in the spring and fall each year in different parts of the country.
In 2007 the federal agencies quit financing these conferences and left the job to the states to bid on and host these national conferences. The states and their organizations also bore the total responsibility for the logistics and financial risk of the conference. This worked out pretty well until the last few years when uncertainty in the program's future and state's diminishing budgets threatened these conferences.
At a time when states were reluctant to commit resources to host these national conferences, along came Ms. Kedma Ough, with a vision and goal to bring the Fall National SBIR/STTR Conference to Portland, Oregon in November of 2012. Although Ms. Ough was able to get some state organizational partners such as the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network (OSBDC) and others to participate, it was Ough's MIPO (not-for-profit) organization that bore the financial risk.
Ough staked her reputation to commit to doing this conference in spite of the tenuous circumstances surrounding the SBIR/STTR programs. It wasn't certain that there would continue to be an SBIR or STTR program because of the lack of congressional SBIR/STTR program reauthorization. In addition, a powerful US congresswoman pressed to let SBIR and some other small business programs lapse. Ough continued to have faith that the programs and the small business community would prevail, so she kept full speed ahead, in spite of the fact that for the first time in a decade, there would be no Spring National SBIR Conference.
Other challenges arose such as the GSA meeting debacle(s) where several federal agencies spent lavishly and foolishly on conferences. This caused a knee-jerk reaction on the part congress and the agencies to terminate or reduce federal conferences and travel. That action severely threatened her Fall National SBIR Conference, and many of the federal agencies stated they could no longer guarantee their participation, which would have been disastrous for the conference.
The financially safest route would have been to simply cancel the conference early enough to limit the penalties and loss, but Ms. Ough wouldn't hear of it. She knew of the great value this conference would bring to innovative small businesses not only in her state of Oregon, but throughout the nation.
The fact that there hadn't been a National SBIR Conference in a full year, made Ms. Ough even more determined to make the Fall National SBIR/STTR conference in Portland a reality. Her determination paid off, and the conference not only met expectations, but exceeded them as well. It was a unique and splendid conference with good attendance (including many new companies and participants), excellent sessions, great networking, most of the agencies participating, and it brought about an increased awareness within the state of Oregon as to the importance of supporting the SBIR and STTR programs.
Ms. Ough was a relative newcomer to SBIR and had attended her first National SBIR Conference in Reno Nevada in the fall of 2009. It was at that conference that she learned the importance of the SBIR and STTR programs to small business and innovation, both fields she had been working in for many years outside the SBIR arena. As a result of attending that conference, Ms. Ough knew she had to bring a national SBIR/STTR conference to Oregon, a good technological state that had previously been less than stellar in supporting SBIR and STTR.
Kedma Ough would not want to take credit for the success of the 2012 Fall National SBIR/STTR Conference. However, she lead the way and built a network of state partners that came together, worked tirelessly, and put on an excellent and unique National SBIR/STTR Conference. In spite of all the dynamics and threats by the agencies and the federal government to possibly having to cancel, Ough chose to stay the course because she knew the risks but also the benefits for nation's innovative small businesses and American competitiveness.
Congratulations to Kedma Ough, the 2012 SBIR Person of the Year.
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