Submitted by Jayne Armstrong, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Iowa District Office
America’s strong economy depends on small business innovation. America’s Seed Fund, coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, sparks innovation from the idea stage into commercially viable technologies and products.
Established in 1982, America’s Seed Fund invests federal research funds in critical national priorities. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program offers equity-free funding through 11 federal agencies to support early-stage funding of technologies to the commercialization stage. Along the way small businesses are connected to funding sources, expertise, technology transfer and licensing resources, and training through the Lab to Market Hub at beta.www.sbir.gov.
In addition, the Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) program connects small businesses and innovators to research institutions, including universities and federal research laboratories.
The federal government invests in the small business’s idea and gives it the freedom to run its business with no equity or intellectual property ownership by the government. Success is in the numbers. The SBIR/STTR programs created an average of 65,578 jobs annually, while funding an average of 4,000 businesses for $4 billion in federal funding each year. Since inception Iowa companies have received 535 awards, including 20 in 2022.
Participating federal agencies include the USDA, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Environment Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Transportation.
The innovations are endless. NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover program, which is fascinating America’s imagination, is currently supported by eight SBIR technologies. Among Iowa’s 20 SBIR awards in 2022, Pathovacs Inc., located in the Iowa State University Research Park, is working with the NIH to develop a simple at-home test for the hepatitis C virus. Quantcad LLC in Iowa City is helping NASA develop a high-sensitivity isotopically purified all electrical chip-scale atomic magnetometer.
Small businesses apply for awards to develop their ideas that meet the federal agencies’ research needs. Phase 1 awards fund the proof of concept for the innovation over six to 12 months with awards varying from $50,000 to $275,000. Phase 2 awards expand the research and development over two years with awards ranging from $400,000 to $1.8 million. During the final Phase 3 stage, the small business commercializes the technology through private sector sources and federal contracting programs.
Some states offer “Phase 0” matching funds to cover the proposal development stage. Iowa Economic Development Authority offers grants up to $50,000 through BioConnect Iowa to spur economic development opportunities.
The SBA, as the sponsoring agency of America’s Seed Fund, acts as a liaison to the participating federal agencies, guiding them to the implementation of the SBIR/STTR programs. The SBA also monitors and reports its success to Congress. Its ecosystem includes accelerators, technical assistance centers, APEX Accelerators (formerly known as Procurement Technical Assistance Centers), and organizations nationally that support the research and development to commercialization process.
America’s SBDC Iowa was recently awarded SBA funding under the Federal and State Technology (FAST) partnership program to coordinate the SBIR/STTR programs across Iowa and the Growth Accelerator Fund to support its Rural Business Innovators program. Other SBA-funded accelerator initiatives have included New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo) and the Entrepreneurial Development Center in Cedar Rapids. IEDA’s BioConnect Iowa also offers extensive expertise through its wide range of programs and services.
Iowa innovators and small businesses can learn more at the upcoming America’s Seed Fund Road Show on July 21 at the FFA Enrichment Center on the Des Moines Area Community College Ankeny Campus. Check-in and registration will begin at 7:15 am, followed by the program from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Hosted by America’s SBDC Iowa, the event will feature panel discussions and one-on-one meetings with SBIR/STTR agency program managers. Registration details are coming soon at iowasbdc.org.
Iowa’s small business community continues to have influence by strengthening America’s economy through innovation and technological development.