Dear SBIR Insider,
As promised we are now doing more frequent and hopefully shorter newsletters for you. We have significant issues to report on ranging from a potential loss of 22% of STTR funds for small businesses, to the changing of the guard in the Senate for small businesses.
We will also look at universities and their struggle with diminishing R&D grant money. This is affecting many university relationships with small businesses and the SBIR/STTR community.
We'll start with an update of opportunities and tools.
In this issue:
O NIST, Where Art Thou?
It turns out that the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) SBIR solicitation, originally scheduled for October 2013, was finally released today, February 19, 2014 with a closing date of May 2, 2014.
Even more stunning than the solicitation's delay is the fact that NIST has now changed from an SBIR "Contracts" program to a Grants program! That means those of you who have been looking for NIST's SBIR on FedBizOpps, better change to Grants.gov! Actually the NIST arrangement is listed as a "Cooperative Agreement" There are different rules and procedures for the grants program vs contracts, so please read the solicitation closely.
In addition to NIST's traditional research style topics (-R) of which there are 14 in all, NIST also has Technology Transfer (TT) topics that are part of a system conceived by former NIST SBIR program manager and SBIR champion Clara Asmail.
This year we find NIST departing from pre-selecting certain technologies for this TT effort. Instead they are returning to Ms. Asmail's original design which is to let you search NIST's database of technologies that require additional research and innovation to advance them to a commercial product. You can submit your proposal on one of those technologies, receive an SBIR award to do the R&D and bring it to commercialization. If successful you must negotiate a license from NIST, presumably at favorable terms.
Now that NIST is in the "grants" mode, you can submit a proposal electronically through grants.gov or the old fashion NIST way, via hard copy. The address for the solicitation is http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=251550. The solicitation closes May 2, 1014.
DoD FY-2014A STTR Released
The DoD has issued a prerelease of their FY2014.A STTR solicitation with a total of 64 topics from the Army (18), Navy (25) and Air Force (21). The solicitation opens and proposals will be accepted starting March 5, 2014 with a closing date of April 9, 2014 at 6:00am EST. Complete details are available from the DoD SBIR site at: http://www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/sbir/solicitations/sttr2014A/index.shtml
DoD FY-2014A STTR Partnering Site Opens
As most of you know, STTR requires small businesses to partner with a "research institution" such as a university, Federally Funded R&D Center (FFRDCs) including National Laboratories, and other non-profit research institutions . Although the small business is still the prime contractor, the research institution must have a minimum of 30% to a maximum of 60% of the research effort, with the small business having not less than 40%. These numbers are based on a "single" research institution, not multiples!
Our SBIR Gateway has just opened its STTR Partnering site to help you find a partner for one or more of the DoD's STTR topics.
The site is for Small businesses, universities, FFRDCs, and other non-profit research institutions, all of whom can easily select topics to let potential partners know of their interest in specific DoD STTR topics. The topics are divided into Army, Navy and Air Force sections.
Go to http://www.zyn.com/sbir/partnering and click on "Select Topics". Since the site is just now started, we don't have many entries yet. It's a good time to get your organization listed.
When you go to the partnering list, you merely click on the "View" link beside each topic to see who has listed themselves as interested. Hopefully you'll see a research institution or perhaps a small business partner on your topic of choice.
Get Notices of SBIR/STTR Solicitation Openings
We can't fill the vacuum created by the loss of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's SBIR Alerting Service, and the SBIR Insider is not published frequently enough to give you a fast "heads up" when a solicitation opens, so we created a free SBIR/STTR solicitation notification service for you.
You can sign up to have the SBIR Gateway notify you when SBIR/STTR solicitations are released. We will also provide some background on the solicitation. Just go to http://www.zyn.com/sbir/scomp.htm and enter your email address. The list is private and not shared.
We have also just opened our SBIR Insider Twitter Feed which will also give you a heads up when solicitations open or when significant SBIR news comes available. No, I won't do silly tweets such as what I had for dinner, only the business of SBIR. You can sign up at www.twitter.com/sbirinsider or if you have the Twitter App, our address is @sbirinsider
It's all pro bono and it is free of advertising.
Universities - Their Struggle with Diminishing R&D Grants, & How it Affects STTR
Small businesses are not the only ones affected by the reductions in SBIR/STTR funding. The university community is feeling the pinch in many areas of federal grants, including R&D. However, we hear that some of the biggest most powerful universities are doing quite well, in contrast to average and smaller institutions who are struggling.
These reductions are bringing about some changes, and new concerns on the part of many of our universities who participate in SBIR. The University community is not a monolith, nor is the internal structure and mindset within any particular university.
In past STTR partnering sites we've hosted (such as the one listed in the previous article) we had a good representation of universities listing to partner on topics. Over the past year the university listings have been greatly reduced. Could it be the universities were "shopping" the small businesses instead of listing themselves?
In order to find this out, I talked with several universities who were known to partner in STTR. They would only talk "off the record." What it boiled down to was the universities were mainly interested in partnering with "themselves", meaning their own "spin off" professors in small businesses that the university could "count on" and "perhaps" control. Some have become quite adept at structuring an entity to be, or appear to be eligible for STTR.
Recently I pushed this further (not wanting to lose my sources) and they described another wrinkle that is perhaps an unintended consequence of SBIR reauthorization. Under the new rules a small business can partner with a university on a phase I STTR, and if successful the small business can apply for the phase II under an SBIR, thereby cutting out the university altogether.
I cannot document that this has happened, but I can tell you the thought of it happening is making a good part of the university community uncomfortable, and thus they consider more "partnering with their own."
STTRs done properly with good partners are good for the small business, the research institution, and the country. But, the powerbrokers within the universities' upper echelon don't see it that way. They would like STTR gone, or drastically diminished, and they have been working this angle for years. See the next article for details.
Transfer Act of 2013 Would Transfer Millions From Small Businesses to Universities
Historically, the "elite" of the university community have fought against the SBIR and STTR programs. Powerful university lobbyists would design bills and bring them to congress, often times to have SBIR/STTR reduced, refocused toward academia, or totally done away with.
Of note is the fact that even way back, these forces tried to get Roland Tibbetts (the author and father of SBIR) fired from his position at NSF! They were not successful. It's a great story I'd love to share with you sometime.
Often times these elite powers try to find a way to accomplish their goals using proverbial "cloak and dagger" routines. Such was the case when these folk succeeded in getting SBIR/STTR removed from the NIH portion of the Recovery Act. Hard to believe you say? Take a look at the following:
In a Senate Hearing on SBIR, February 17, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) made the following statement:
"If you don't think the universities and large tech firms don't have some "sway" here, take a look at the recovery act and see the exemption that was put in for the SBIR programs. That was a major disappointment and ... we are still wondering today how that came about."
Well, they (the elite university lobbyists) are at it again, this time with a bill known as H.R.2981 - TRANSFER Act of 2013. This bill, cleverly written by the lobbyists for the elite universities is cloaked to appear to have merit in helping universities, but it quietly derives all its funding by stealing it from the STTR program!
The bill has 22 cosponsors in the House, as well as several of the "elite" university organizations who are funding the lobbyists to get this bill through.
The Small Business Technology Council (SBTC) wrote a letter to the Senate which offered some of the following comments: (see http://sbtc.org/?p=1469)
"We are strongly opposed to transferring funding from the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a successful small business program with a 21-year track record of achieving effective university technology transfer to commercial application, to this unproven, untested program for a select group of already well-funded universities."
"The TRANSFER Act reduces the funds going to the STTR program by $80 million, nearly 25% annually. That is the equivalent of approximately 120 Phase I and 60 Phase II awards being removed from STTR, as well as from small businesses and universities that have developed actual technology transfer projects."
Another organization, the Small Biotechnology Business Coalition (SBBC) also wrote a letter to congress, with 200 company signatures, but much milder in tone and somewhat supporting of the bill except for the method of funding: (see http://www.smallbiotech.org/take-action )
"While we strongly support the intent and goals of the TRANSFER Act, we urge improvements to the bill language that would give small business entrepreneurs a greater role in the effort to drive commercialization of federal funded research conducted at our nation’s universities and federal labs. Most importantly, we do not believe that this new initiative should result in any reduction of funding available to small businesses under the statutory SBIR or STTR allocations."
Your SBIR Insider's view is that nothing is going to happen quickly on this bill due to our dysfunctional congress. However, the university lobbyists who wrote the bill and are still covering the Hill to get it passed, and are hoping to get it inserted into a "must pass" bill under the radar. They will not allow the intent to be changed by SBBC or anyone else. It's goal is to get a significant amount of the STTR program's money back to the "elite" universities.
Does it go unnoticed that currently in STTR the universities can have a minimum of 30% of the STTR funding to a maximum of 60%?
You may be under the impression I don't like universities. Nothing could be further from the truth. I often participate with them and try to support them. They are raising our future leaders, improving our health, and contributing many other things, but sometimes the human element even gets to them.
The fact is that "size matters," and that carries over to universities as well. Many of the top universities believe the smaller ones are less relevant and soak up valuable resources. To protect the majority of funding from going strictly to the "elite" universities, programs such as EPSCoR were developed. Small businesses (especially in rural and undeserved states) have a lot in common with EPSCoR supported universities.
Passing the Torch
Senator Maria Cantwell is now "officially" the chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Senator Landrieu will remain a member of the committee, but she moved on to become the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Congress is currently on break, so we'll have a report on that change in the next issue.
I'm so grateful to those of you who wrote to me in response to my article about my mother's passing, and the story of her supporting my father's "crazy" innovations. I received several hundred emails and I've been trying to answer them all individually. I'm still working on them, but I wanted you to know how much your thoughts meant to me and my family.
Don't forget to check out the National SBIR Conference (June 16-18, Washington DC area) web site at http://nationalinnovationsummit.com/program/National_SBIR_Conference.html
Until next time…..
40 Alderwood Dr.
Sequim, WA 98382
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