Money may not make the world go round, but it does keep companies innovating. The Small Business & Technology Development Center has made formal a longstanding relationship with BBCetc., an Ann Arbor-based development consulting company with a specialty in helping businesses secure federal grant funding for commercialization and growth.
The partnership will utilize BBCetc.’s extensive background in federal research grant proposals and the SBTDC’s statewide organization and presence to assist companies with writing proposals specifically for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer federal research grants.
The SBIR/STTR program, which is run by the Small Business Association, provides $2.5 billion in research and development funding to small companies. Since 2001, BBCetc. has brought $50 million to Michigan. Unfortunately for West Michigan, however, most of those dollars end up on the east side of the state. Since 2008, only one West Michigan-based company has received SBIR/STTR money: sci_Zone, in Holland.
“SBTDC, because of their broad reach, can help disseminate the information and push the trainings out to the greater technology development community,” said Lisa Kurek, managing partner with BBCetc. “We’ve been working collaboratively for years, but we decided to strengthen the collaboration and become much more strongly aligned.
“I work very closely with SBTDC’s tech council in particular and then they help network us out to all of their regions, and that makes sure we can bring training programs across the state. We’re the content experts. They are the link to all of the potential client companies in the state of Michigan,” said Kurek.
BBCetc. will offer an SBIR/STTR grant assistance program to help companies learn how to become more effective in obtaining grants. The service is free unless a company receives a grant, in which case BBCetc. would receive a flat-rate fee. The fee for phase one grants is $1,500; phase two is $5,000.
Kurek said one of the keys for a company to be successful in obtaining grants is simply to use the help that is out there.
“Most people are so confident in what they’re doing that they neglect to take advantage of the help resources, because they don’t think they need it,” she said. “Getting help is really critical. Our statistics, the SBTDC’s statistics show that if you take advantage of the help, you’re two to three times more likely to be funded.”
Kurek also noted timing as a factor that many companies overlook.
“The biggest enemy of most entrepreneurs is not getting this started soon enough,” she said. “We see it time and again. Qualified companies with extremely potential projects that should be very well suited for getting these federal funds — and they don’t start the process early enough.”
As a result, Kurek said, many companies hit a wall due to lack of funding.
Phil Tepley, technology team coordinator of the Michigan SBTDC, has been promoting the services of BBCetc. for some time.
“For years I have required that clients attend a BBC workshop if they wanted one-on-one consulting from us for SBIR work and they’ve never written SBIRs before,” he said. “The real value in this is, one, we meet more often. This helps us reach out beyond the tech team to the SBTDC network as a whole.
“Why this is particularly important is a lot of companies — manufacturers and engineering firms specifically, and a lot of them that have been automotive-based — may have these side projects they’ve been working on, but have never been able to launch because they don’t have the funding and they don’t know about SBIR.”
Along with SBIR/STTR federal money, the 21st Century Jobs Fund also offers funding through the Emerging Technologies Fund. The EFT matches up to 25 percent/$25,000 of phase one SBIR/STTR grants and up to 25 percent/$125,000 for phase two grants.
ETF awards are only available for life sciences, alternative energy, homeland security and defense, advanced automotive, and manufacturing and materials. And while the SBIR/STTR grants are specifically for research and development, ETF awards must be used to bring funded projects to commercialization.
“If a company receives an SBIR and meets all our requirements, then we can give them some additional money. The idea is SBIRs provide money that you can only spend on research and development, and you’re not allowed to spend it on commercialization activities like marketing,” said Tepley.
“There are some companies that say, ‘Hey, I could get $100,000 from the federal government, but what good does it do, because in order to get anywhere with this, I would have to spend another $25,000 on patents.’”
Kurek said between the ETF and the partnership between BBCetc. and the SBTDC, Michigan has one of the stronger systems in place for entrepreneurs.
“BBC doesn’t just do work here in Michigan, we do work in other states, and I can tell you with the collaboration between BBC and the SBTDC, we have one of the strongest SBIR/STTR assistance programs,” said Kurek.
“When you combine the assistance, the training and the (ETF), Michigan has one of the most robust SBIR/STTR assistance programs in the country. We just need to get our entrepreneurs engaged with it and we need to get them engaged early.”