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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the
November 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
For Small Business, Free (Almost) Money
If you have a technology business, your best chance
at getting "almost free" money is through the Small Business
Innovation Research (SBIR) program. It is the federal government’s
largest R&D grants program targeted to the small business community,
says Randy Harmon, director of the Technology Commercialization
Center, part of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center
of Rutgers Graduate School of Management.
Princeton Multimedia Technologies on Witherspoon Street, Discovery
Semiconductors on Princeton-Hightstown Road, and Vectramed Inc. on
Plainsboro Road are among the Princeton area firms that have taken
advantage of these SBIR grants.
Aiming to help New Jersey’s high tech businesses get more SBIR money,
the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) gave the Technology
Commercialization Center (TCC) $100,000 under the Federal and State
Technology (FAST) program. With this and a matching amount from the
New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, TCC is staging
training programs focused on different aspects of the grant process.
The first training is set for Wednesday and Thursday, December 12
and 13, at the Rutgers Fiber Optic Materials Research Center in
The topics will be Phase I proposal development and cost proposal
preparation. The final program, on Tuesday, February 5, will cover
Phase II SBIR proposals. Cost: $60 per day or $95 for two days. Call
973-353-1923 (or E-mail: email@example.com).
"The odds for the SBIR grants are very good," says Harmon,
"one in eight for Phase I and two in five for Phase II. Under
Phase 1 you can get up to $100,000 for `proof of concept’ work. For
Phase II, some agencies go up as high as $750,000 for proof of concept
and developing a prototype.
The first workshop on proposal writing will cover both SBIR and Small
Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants. STTR funds often work
better for academic researchers who can’t meet the SBIR requirement
that the principal investigator spend at least 50 percent of his or
her time on the grant project. Nevertheless, STTR grants have the
unusual requirement that 30 percent of the funds must go for a
with a nonprofit institution.
The STTR program is the poor sister of SBIR, Harmon says. Nationally,
STTR funds amount to only $60 million compared to the $1 billion SBIR
treasure chest. In contrast, STTR grant monies cap at $500,000.
you can get an awful lot of development done and get the technology
to the point where you are limiting more and more risk, so it is a
great prospect for equity financing," says Harmon. "In today’s
economic environment, this program becomes even more significant."
At the second workshop, entrepreneurs will learn how to avoid an
Those who fail to follow through on the fine print of their proposals
could be penalized for charging the government too much — or
to justify an expenditure. They will also learn about the cost
and government accounting requirements.
The FAST workshop sponsors include the NJSBDC (which operates in
with the federal SBA and the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth
Commission), the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology,
and Rutgers Graduate School of Management. Hale and Doerr is the
law firm sponsor.
Harmon majored in industrial labor relations at Cornell,
Class of 1975, and has an MBA from Rutgers. Most recently, he headed
the Technology Help Desk at the Rutgers business incubator in New
Brunswick. After six years in charge of the incubator there, he left
to open TCC at the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at
43 Bleeker Street in Newark.
"Over the last few years I have been serving more businesses
the incubator than inside," says Harmon. "We decided last
spring to launch the Technology Commercialization Center, and I moved
up to Newark about four weeks ago." He administers these
services funded by FAST monies:
of 15 to 20 proposal writing consultants. "While we have
offered proposal writing services in the past, we have had great
maintaining a pool of qualified consultants," says Harmon.
SBIR proposal writers are generally very entrepreneurial and the best
ones have little or no time for consulting."
Experienced business plan consultants, Harmon believes, could easily
be trained to help write strong SBIR proposals. "This will result
in stronger business models and business plans for the companies that
develop and submit proposals and improve the likelihood that the
developed under SBIR will be commercialized," Harmon says. Gail
and Jim Greenwood of the Greenwood Consulting Group will train the
consultants and provide follow up support.
The TCC is choosing a consulting firm to provide technical marketing
services to small sci/tech businesses. Working from the company level
up, the consultant will assess a company’s technologies and core
competencies and then identify federal research programs and
that participate in SBIR and are interested in these areas. Then the
consultant will help the entrepreneur contact the research program.
"Such networking has resulted in the generation of future SBIR
proposal topics and other collaborative agreements for the New Jersey
company," says Harmon.
Working from the government agency "down," the consultant
will try to match any future SBIR grant solicitations with the
and capabilities of firms registered in this state.
"SBIR funds are inarguably the best source of risk capital
to help fund the development of promising new technologies,"
Harmon, "and it is the closest thing to `free’ money."
Even if your business is not an SBIR candidate, you can take advantage
of Harmon’s Technology Help Desk and his consulting services.
service, has been around for years. Call 800-432-1TEC (432-1832) to
get one-stop access to business development information, guidance
in commercializing new technologies, information on grants and
and referrals to a statewide and national resource network. "We
help clients identify and implement the steps required to take a
concept and develop it into a sound business," says Harmon.
is available on an ongoing basis, at each step of the development
entrepreneurs launch and finance their technology-based businesses
and establish themselves in the marketplace. "As entrepreneurs
prepare to go after equity financing, the NJSBDC will review and
their business plan to identify steps that they can take to strengthen
their plans, strategies and business model," says Harmon.
will help them make a stronger first impression on prospective
and improve their prospects of success."
Needed services might be with market entry strategy, business plans
and strategy, financing strategy and equity financing, approaching
equity investors, research and development grant proposals, financial
projections, and strategic business partnering.
In particular, he says, entrepreneurs may need help in coming up with
strong PowerPoint presentations. There’s nothing worse than poorly
— Barbara Fox
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