The Space Vehicle on Main Street -- Part One
The Space Vehicle on Main Street -- Part Three
Federal grants are an overlooked option for bootstrapping startups
by Robert A. Adelson, Esquire NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program cycles begin with the issuance of an SBIR Program Solicitation for Phase I proposals. This Solicitation presents basic information about the SBIR program: eligibility requirements, instructions for preparing and submitting Phase I proposals, information on the evaluation of proposals including selection factors and procedures, and considerations related to subsequent Phase II and Phase III activities. Naturally, this document is devoted primarily to describing NASA’s R&D needs in the areas covered by the Solicitation.
The owner/manager of the smaller business and the entrepreneur will find NASA has simplified and streamlined the SBIR program by implementing a significant portion of the program via the Internet. The SBIR/STTR Website [http://sbir.gsfc.nasa.gov/SBIR.html] embodies information on past NASA SBIR selections, how to participate in the program, selected SBIR success stories, a searchable archive of past SBIR abstracts, and a complete online listing of current Solicitations include full documentation to facilitate submission of proposals via email. The NASA SBIR 1997 Program Solicitation can be accessed directly at: http://sbir.gsfc.nasa.gov/SBIR/sbir97/solicitation/
Interestingly, these Solicitations do not comprise rigid contract specifications. Rather, they present the following seventeen general areas of technology (topics) in which NASA has current interest and welcomes innovative contributions:
1.0 Aeronautics Technologies
2.0 General Aviation
3.0 Supersonic Transport Technologies
4.0 Materials and Structures
5.0 Teleoperators and Robotics
6.0 Mission Operations and On-Board Autonomy
7.0 Spacecraft and Sensor Platforms
8.0 Satellite and Space Systems Communications
9.0 Multi-spacecraft Systems (New Millennium)
10.0 Interferometry Missions Technology
11.0 Large Aperture Space Telescopes
12.0 Earth Remote Sensing
13.0 Instrumentation, Sensors, and Optics
14.0 Space Transportation and Propulsion
15.0 Fuels and Propellants for Reusable Launch Vehicles
16.0 Technologies for Human Exploration of Space
17.0 Space Applications and Micro-Gravity Sciences
These SBIR topics and 89 subtopics offer a broad range of opportunities for smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. Each topic is divided into subtopics that describe certain technical problems and program requirements in which innovative R&D solutions are desired. Subtopics include current and foreseen agency program needs and priorities. All subtopics are candidates for project selection; there are no quotas for the selection of Phase I proposals in any subtopic.
A companion to the SBIR program is the Small Business Technology Transfer Pilot (STTR) program. This program is directed at the core of the US economic competitiveness problem: an inability to translate US leadership in basic research, and many areas of applied science, into economic advantage. Initiated in 1994, this new program is designed to transform the nation's $40.0 billion annual investment in university and Federal laboratory research into new technologies that can advance US productivity and international economic competitiveness. STTR is aimed specifically at technology transfer, representing a significant new opportunity for the small business sector. Under STTR, each federal agency whose total research and development budget exceeds $1.0 billion annually initiates a three-year pilot program to study the effectiveness of commercializing research that has originated at universities, federally-funded research laboratories and development corporations, and non-profit institutions.
The STTR program is designed to supply funding at the most critical point in technology commercialization -- before investors are willing to make risk investments, but after government research funding sources consider the product too commercial to fund. Awards of up to $100,000 and one year duration are being made to winning Phase I proposals. Successful projects can then compete for a Phase II developmental effort for up to $500,000 and two year duration.
NASA has chosen 35 research proposals for immediate negotiation of Phase I contracts as part of the 1996 STTR Program; this solicitation closed on January 25, 1996. One hundred and one separate proposals were submitted by 76 small, high-technology businesses from all sections of the United States. Research topics included: General Aviation, Access to Space, Advanced Technology for Space Science, and Human Exploration and Development of Space.
All Proposals were peer-reviewed for both technical merit and commercial potential. Six NASA field centers participated in these evaluations. Each of the 35 selected proposals is being awarded a fixed-price contract valued up to $100,000 with 12 months to complete their Phase I projects. The STTR program requires small businesses to conduct cooperative research and development by partnering with a research institution. At least 40 percent of the work must be performed by the small business itself, and at least 30 percent must be performed by the research institute.
Do these SBIR and STTR programs work? More than 1,500 smaller businesses and entrepreneurs have been awarded Phase I or Phase II SBIR contracts since the inception of this program. Descriptions of 25 Selected Successes range all the way from an "Automated Robotic Assistant for Surgeon" through an "Ice Detection Sensor System" to a "Solid-State Data Recorder." Representative current SBIR Phase I contracts include "Airbourne Multispectral Fire Sensor" (NAS 2 14363) with Physical Sciences, Inc. in Andover, Massachusetts, for $69,000, and "Microwave Regenerable Air Purification Device" (NAS 2 14374) with the Umpqua Research Company in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, for $70,000 -- both awarded by the Ames Research Center on February 14, 1996.
Today, NASA’s SBIR and STTR programs are offering attractive opportunities for a wide array of smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. Do these programs work? From more than 1,500 companies, we hear a resounding "Yes!"
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