SBIR Insider Update - January 21, 2019
Dear SBIR Insider,
This first SBIR Insider issue of 2019 finds a good deal of the government still closed down with no resolution in sight. We'll take a look at how this is affecting SBIR solicitations at some of our agencies.
This is not a simple black and white issue. Some agencies have furloughed their employees but still have active contractors doing work, while others have also "furloughed" their contractors. There is also the issue of where an agency has furloughed both their employees and their contractors BUT allow(ed) you to submit your proposal via an open portal such as GRANTS.GOV which is still open and running.
Lets look at these variables and how they "may" affect you. The following is opinion only based on past experience. You should always follow the instructions stated in the solicitation you are responding to.
Current SBIR/STTR Solicitation Situations
1. DHS – This is a bit of a conundrum. DHS is furloughed but proposals are due January 23, 2019 (12 Noon est). Their website (https://sbir2.st.dhs.gov/portal/SBIR/) states:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s website and social media networks will not be actively managed during the lapse in funding. This website was last updated on December 21, 2018 and will not be updated until after funding is enacted. As such, information on this website may not be up to date. Transactions submitted via this website might not be processed and we will not be able to respond to inquiries until after appropriations are enacted. We will not be able to respond or update social media until after funding is enacted.
However, as of last week, DHS's SBIR contractor (REI) who operates DHS's SBIR submission web site and their SBIR help desk, told me submissions were operating normally and without interruption. So that would "indicate" the submission deadline is still in force. We won't know until the furlough is over.
On the other hand, the shutdown which started December 22, 2018, has caused hardships and uncertainty about the solicitation, and it usurped the privilege of small businesses being able to ask questions of the DHS federal officials (which was supposed to be allowed until January 9, 2019). That would have enabled the small businesses to sharpen up, and better focus their proposals which are due January 23, 2019 (12 Noon est).
It should also be noted that the SBA's SBIR.GOV website requires a new company to register prior to submitting an SBIR proposal (to any agency) and it is also quasi-furloughed with the statement: "This website will not be updated during a lapse in federal funding. Content on this website will not be current or maintained until funding issues have been resolved." Will SBA acknowledge your company as registered for SBIR/STTR? This is a requirement.
Bottom line is to submit your proposal by January 23, 2019 (12 Noon est), and take screen shots and printouts to support the fact you complied, or tried to comply. We'll see what DHS elects to do when they return. They are good people running a good program, but this situation was not of their doing.
2. NASA – NASA's 2019 SBIR/STTR Phase I solicitation was supposed to open on or about January 7, 2019, but since NASA is one of the affected agencies, they too are on furlough. However, NASA wanted to be able to move fast once the budgets are passed, so they want you to be ready as well.
To help facilitate this, on January 14, 2019 NASA posted a draft of their "proposed" topics. Similar to the DHS model explained above, NASA's contractor is still working while the actual federal professionals who run the program are furloughed.
You can go to NASA's SBIR site at https://sbir.nasa.gov/ to find the link to download the topics. If you're a slow website reader (as am I) and the picture with the link changes before you can click on it (I hate that kind of thing), you can go directly to https://sbir.gsfc.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/2019_Draft_Research_Topics_0358219.pdf to download the 197 page document. It's also available near the bottom of the page.
(Note to early birds: Some who went to NASA's site early, saw a posting of the their draft solicitation. This was done in error and has been removed from the website..)
3. NOAA – The NOAA solicitation was released in its final form on November 20, 2018 and closed January 8, 2019. Although the NOAA SBIR website closed down on December 22, 2018, their solicitation and submission vehicle was GRANTS.GOV, and that stayed current and operative through the closing date of January 8, 2019.
However, due to the furlough there was no NOAA assistance available for the last two weeks of the solicitation. Also, if you chose "late in the game" to partner with a federal entity such as the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) entity, you may be out of luck as they were closed down also and couldn't finalize an agreement after Friday December 21.
NOAA runs a fine program and I know they will get back to speed quickly when the government reopens. We hope to have favorable reporting for you at that time.
4. USDA Phase II – The USDA posted FY-19 Phase II solicitation on Dec 21, 2018, with a due date of March 14, 2019. Although much of the USDA including their SBIR is furloughed, their proposal mechanism is GRANTS.GOV and that's wide open. Also, their SBIR website is quasi-open at https://nifa.usda.gov/phase-i-phase-ii-solicitations
With a closing date of mid-March, there shouldn't be a problem with submissions.
5. Dept. of Education – It is now anticipated that the 2019 ED/IES SBIR Phase I program solicitation will be released on or around January 31, 2019, with a due date 45 days later. They are not affected by the shutdown. https://ies.ed.gov/sbir/
6. Department of Transportation – The DOT posted their FY-19 SBIR Pre-Solicitation Announcement on January 9, 2019 with no hard opening or closing dates. They did offer the following topics they expect to be included:
DOT is not affected by the shutdown. https://www.volpe.dot.gov/work-with-us/small-business-innovation-research
7. DoD & NIH – Open and business as usual, almost...
The uncertainty of the remaining budget deals are causing some uneasiness in agencies that currently have their budgets. There is some concern about possible "budget adjustments" that could affect how agency budgets are spent. This may be more of a longshot but we are in some "unique" times.
Woes for Small SBIR Businesses During this Budget Crisis
We have started to receive some calls from small businesses who stated they are receiving notifications of delay or possible cancellations of their phase IIs. Our larger small businesses can usually, but painfully weather the storm, but many of our small firms cannot.
In talking with some of our most successful SBIR business founders, one of the most frightening situations many of them faced at one time or another was "making payroll." This could be touchy until these budgets get settled.
I can tell you that most of our agencies' SBIR program people want to do all they can (within reason) to help out, but the contracts shops are usually the problem, being overworked, understaffed, with some being incompetent. They will certainly be stressed when they return to work.
In our last SBIR Insider we discussed how important it is to educate our new freshman class of congressmen and senators. Under the proper circumstances they may be able to help get your funding back on track. Also belonging to an industry group such as SBTC (sbtc.org) adds strength in numbers when small business issues need to be addressed on the Hill.
Complaints from New SBIR Applicants
We occasionally get an earful from new SBIR applicants who are discouraged and suspicious about the program. Most of these are from good people who had a bad experience and/or didn't understand the complexities of working with the government.
One gentleman who recently contacted me wanted to know if SBIR was a wired mechanism for a few larger organizations, and how could a very small business compete with the resources of these bigger small businesses.
We cited many examples but he had an "unenlightening" experience with an agency debrief and was told they rejected his submission because it wasn't the allowed 15 pages. I Immediately assumed he was long winded (like me) and went over the limit, but that was not the case. He claims (and I have no reason to doubt him) that they told him it must be 15 pages. Occasionally a program person may misspeak and I suspect that was the case here.
I asked how many pages was his submission. He stated 4 or 5 pages. I told him (as a former proposal reviewer) that if a submission was too sparse and short on the details we needed to make an evaluation, we'd often reject it. If it wasn't important enough for the applicant to put the work and time into the submission, it wouldn't be important enough for some of us to review.
Also, he had no knowledge about the commercialization aspect of the program, nor did he include any of that in the submission. I don't attribute this to his failure, but I think in some way it is our failure in not doing a good enough job at outreach and education for newbies. Some people come into SBIR believing because they are a small business, they'll get the funding.
We have some excellent trainers and outreach people in our states and I'd like to help make it easier for these newbies to find them. Start them off with some plain talk, i.e., If you think working with the government and getting SBIR funding is quick and easy, you better go somewhere else.
If you're doing SBIR training (either independently or state/local/fast) drop me a note and send me a brochure of your services. Also, please check your listing on SBIR.GOV to make sure it is correct.
Flowers While You Can Still Smell Them
In response to last month's Insider, I heard from an important SBIR voice from the past. It made me think you should know about some of these people who helped perpetuate SBIR and keep it healthy.
The person in question is Mr. Gene Watson, a serial entrepreneur from Wyoming. Gene played an important role in supporting SBIR not only in Wyoming, but on the Hill, sharing his contacts and working with SBTC and others to successfully fight off the early 2000 blitz by the VC community to (in Gene's words) "grab the low hanging fruit of SBIR funding" from the small business community. He kicked some serious "posterior" in a Senate Small Business Committee Hearing. He baited the hook, the VC took it, and Gene simply smiled at Senator John Kerry (committee chair) and said "I rest my case!" It was a collective effort, but we won that battle.
Gene wanted to remind me, I wasn't that old. Gene is now 91 years young, and was always a distinguished presence and asset to the SBIR community. Thank you Gene!
I don't want to drown you in Insiders, but I wanted to get this one out now due to the timing of the solicitations during the shutdown.
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