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SBIR Impact - March 2007

SBIR Impact is a quarterly newsletter for small businesses interested in the USDA-SBIR program and for institutions and organizations that support the small business community and rural America.

Program Update

Topic Focus

Impacts

Resources

Reminders and Deadlines

Meetings

SBIR Staff and Responsibilities

Feedback

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Phase I panels are complete and funding recommendations have been made. Project directors who submitted proposals should have received word via phone or e-mail about their recommendations. If you submitted a FY 2007 phase I proposal and have not been informed about the status of your proposal, contact us at sbir@csrees.usda.gov. Information about the recommendation status of a proposal will only be made available to the project directors and/or authorized organizational officials. Information about new grantees will be posted on our abstracts page as soon as awards are made official, around May 1. We caution companies that have been recommended for an award about publicizing this information before the grant is made official. Grants are not official until a thorough administrative review of each recommended proposal is complete.

The USDA SBIR program is in the process of recruiting and hiring a new program specialist. This position should be filled shortly. As a reminder, general questions about the USDA SBIR program, as well as all interim and technical reports, should be sent to sbir@csrees.usda.gov in order to ensure timely responses.

The next USDA-SBIR Request For Applications (RFA) is tentatively scheduled to be released on June 1, 2007, with a closing date of Sept. 5, 2007, for phase I proposals. All FY2008 proposals must be submitted electronically through Grants.gov. Note that the registration process for submitting applications electronically can take as much as one month to complete, and registration must be finished prior to submitting a proposal. If you intend to submit an application, you need not wait until the RFA is published but can begin the registration process immediately.

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The Forests and Related Resources topic area has been a part of the USDA SBIR program since its inception. The Forest Service is part of USDA, and thus the scope of the USDA SBIR program goes beyond production agriculture to include research on all aspects of forestry, better ways to make use of our forest land resources, and better ways to utilize the woody resource that is harvested from these lands.

The primary objectives of the Forests and Related Resources topic area are to develop environmentally sound techniques to increase productivity of forest lands; to develop improved methods for harvesting trees; to protect forest lands from pathogens, insects, and wildfires; and to develop new products or technologies to increase the use of wood.

In FY 2007 research was supported in five main areas:

Growth and Yield - Developing better methods for growing trees, for protecting trees against pathogens and insects, for improving harvesting methods that have a reduced impact on the environment, and for developing systems to increase the survival of newly planted trees.

Increasing the Utility of Forest-Grown Material - Developing methods to increase lumber yields and the volume of useable wood from individual trees as a way to increase the value of the lumber resource.

Reducing Ecological Damage by Forest Operations - Developing methods for the economical recovery of resources from forests while minimizing the ecological impact of forest harvesting operations.

Control of Wildfires on Forest Lands - Developing better technology for rapid detection of wildfires, for reducing fuel loads in forests, for improving tools and equipment to enhance the efficacy and safety of fire fighters, and for improving communication and navigation systems for combating wildfires.

Developing New Products or Technologies to Increase the Use of Wood - Developing new value-added products derived from wood including biofuels, developing new uses for wood products, developing better methods for manufacturing wood products, and developing better methods for testing wood products for performance and durability.

In the past 20 years, the Forests and Related Resources topic area has funded 106 phase I awards and 64 phase II awards. This represents an investment of over $20 million to 96 small businesses in 30 states. To see abstracts of Forests and Related Resources Projects, please visit the USDA SBIR Abstracts page.

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Forests Concepts has received several USDA-SBIR grants supporting its work in maximizing the use of forest products. They recently exhibited at the Puyallup Home Show near Seattle , WA , and at the Portland , OR Yard, Garden, and Patio show at the Portland Convention Center . As a part of their current project, Forest Concepts is exploring urban markets for doweled, machine peeled, and hand peeled small diameter wooden poles (Project Abstract).

Arbuckle Ranch, Inc. is working on the development of a native seed harvester and recently launched a new Web site devoted to their project (www.nativeseedsters.com). On their site, you can see some of the recent press related to their project in the News & Articles section.

Each year, the USDA SBIR program holds a Commercialization Workshop for its phase II grantees. This workshop provides a forum for companies to discuss the opportunities and challenges that they face as they move toward commercialization of the product, process, or service that they are developing. As a part of the agenda, the USDA SBIR program has invited several of its most successful companies to speak to the new grantees. Speakers provide insight on the different, yet successful, approaches to commercializing SBIR projects. In an effort to provide this valuable advice to a broader audience, we have asked several of these past presenters to provide related articles for our newsletter.

The first of these articles is written by Douglas Drennan, co-Owner of Aquaculture Systems Technologies (AST), LLC of New Orleans, LA. Drennan founded the company in 1995 with his wife Catherine. To date AST has received funding for five USDA phase I projects and three phase II projects. Additionally, AST has received funding for three DOC/NOAA phase I projects and one phase II project.

Technology commercialization is a multi-step process that should start way before the actual development of the “technology.”

Know Your Industry: This means much more than just reading trade publications. It means participating in and serving on boards of industry organizations and trade groups. Through relationships with customers and fellow organization members, knowing your industry becomes second nature.

Identify The Opportunity : By knowing your industry and its problems, it is easy to spot opportunities for new products or technologies.

Market Research: Knowing your industry is of paramount importance in conducting market research. This is not something that can be done in a couple of hours sitting in front of a computer via a Google search. You must first determine if the opportunity is real or perceived. Next you need to talk to your customers, colleagues, and/or attend industry conferences to establish what your industry's current solution to the problem is and get a feel for whether or not there is an economic incentive to solve the problem(s), i.e. the opportunity is real. This is also the time to try to get an idea of what the industry will pay for a solution to the problem. It is of paramount importance to know going in that the solution or opportunity is not cost prohibitive.

Research And Development: It is very important to have a strong research and development program. In the rapidly changing markets of today, it is imperative that one stay current since the product you are selling today may be obsolete tomorrow. The SBIR Program is a great way to fund R&D!

So up to this point you have identified an opportunity, determined the opportunity is real and concluded that your industry will pay a certain price for a solution to the problem which created the opportunity.

Now it is time to develop the product/technology. Again, we have found that the SBIR Program is a great way to do this. It is much more than just the free money. The entire process from submitting your phase I proposal to peer review by industry experts and finally the awarding of a phase I project is further confirmation that others agree that the opportunity exits and that you have a potentially viable solution. Just preparing the grant package is a great learning experience even if you are not initially funded. I cannot stress enough that just because you are not funded initially, do not get discouraged. Learn from what the reviewers said about your proposal, improve it, and re-submit.

Product Evolution: Phase I gives you the funds and opportunity to prove your concept. Phase II provides additional funds to refine your concept and conduct Beta testing of a prototype or prototypes in a commercial environment.

Use at least part of your two year phase II project for Beta testing in both the commercial and research sectors. It is important that you select high profile Beta test sites and do whatever is required so that your Beta test sites buy into your new technology. Common sense tell us that if the Beta test site with trained individuals operating your new technology with direct input from the inventor of the technology cannot get it right, then John Q public is going to have even more problems. You want your Beta test sites talking about your wondrous new product or technology because word of mouth can make you or break you before you even get started.

It is important that you seek out and listen to the feedback you get from your Beta test sites. While someone else is testing your product, it is a good time to get with your production team to work out your manufacturing plan and implement any changes dictated by manufacturing.

Know what the industry wants (i.e. large models, small models, or medium models). Incorporate technology advances in your product. Nobody wants to buy a state of the art technology running on DOS or using outdated components. Be aware of any on-going research and/or advances being made in your industry so as not get blinded by a competing product at a lower price just when you are ready to go to market.

Commercialization: You should have a plan for commercialization, and in fact it is required that you do so to receive Phase II funding. The most difficult part in putting together your commercialization plan is how are you going to fund it (i.e. venture capital, “Angels,” or self-funded). I'll be the first to tell you that there is nothing wrong with self-funding, and we are not necessarily talking millions of dollars. Choose a manufacturing method which allows production of several different models without huge upfront cost (i.e. fiberglass versus plastic rotational or injection molding). Once you develop a market, it easy to switch over to a more cost effective method. This also allows the opportunity to place additional Beta “x” prototypes in the market, refine your product and market your product.

You should present your research results from phase I and II at industry conferences and in trade journals and magazines. Have your Beta test sites present testimonials of experiences along with scientific results of their Beta testing. Word of mouth is still one of the strongest marketing tools around. Develop a Web site touting your new technology, it is cheaper than print advertisements, and the amount of information you can present is unlimited. I'd still place advertisements in print journals and magazines but be sure to direct them to your Web site for additional information.

The Future: Do not ignore your core technologies in lieu of new technologies. Listen to your customer complaints or suggestions for improving your technology. This is one of the best ways to determine how you can refine or improve your technology. Diversification of both products and markets is also very important. You do not want to have a single technology dedicated to a single market because if you do, you are at the mercy of that market. Sometimes you have to be creative in discovering and penetrating “ancillary” markets. Again, I cannot stress the importance of having a strong R&D department.

In this day and age, everyone seems to think they need millions of dollars to start a company or develop a technology. This is simply not true. Look around at some of your more successful vendors. What do most of them have in common? Probably that they have been in business for 10 to 20 years and had 10 to 20 years to grow and evolve into the business you see today through several generations. There is nothing wrong with this approach; “don't be afraid to slow down.”

The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) is a very effective resource for small businesses interested in technology financing through the federal SBIR/STTR program. MTI offers an SBIR/STTR Technical Assistance Program, providing a variety of no-cost services to entrepreneurs, companies, and researchers to assist them in preparing competitive proposals while fostering innovation in Maine . MTI was formed in 1999 with the mission to offer early-stage, patient capital for innovative, technology-based projects that lead to commercialization and job creation in the state. Its founding legislation mandated that it also provide education, outreach, and technical assistance to those companies seeking SBIR/STTR awards.

Phase 0 Grant Program

Offered on a rolling basis, MTI phase 0 awards help defray the costs of writing a Phase I or Phase II SBIR/STTR proposal. These awards provide up to $5,000 and require a dollar-for-dollar match by the applicant. Funds can be used for direct costs associated with writing the proposal such as market research, in-state travel to develop business partnerships, expert consultant services, and grant writing.

Phase I and Phase II Support Services

MTI provides individualized assistance via consultants in the following areas: introduction to the SBIR/STTR programs and identification of agency opportunities; proposal strategy and tactics, proposal editing and critical review, and budget/accounting assistance for both phase I and II proposals. In addition for phase II proposals, MTI brings in qualified consultants to assist with market research and commercialization planning and strategy.

Outreach and Events

Introductory SBIR/STTR proposal writing workshops are offered throughout the state. On a bi-annual basis, MTI hosts a “Summer Session” where federal SBIR/STTR program managers come to Maine to provide program overviews and meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs and small businesses owners to review their technology and fit to agency topics. Highly focused, individual agency workshops are also offered.

Partners

The MTI Web site carries information on the SBIR/STTR program and often refers small businesses to other assistance resource partners to ensure that the needs of Maine 's small businesses are being met.

Other MTI Programs

In addition to the SBIR/STTR Technical Assistance Program, MTI offers financial assistance similar to that of the SBIR/STTR program. MTI seed grants of up to $10,000 and development awards up to $500,000 are available on a competitive basis for early stage R&D activities leading to marketable products or services. Both programs require a dollar-for-dollar match. Also, development awards can be used as match for an SBIR/STTR phase II award and an SBIR/STTR phase II award can be used as match for the MTI development award.

Tibbetts Award

SBIR/STTR funding continues to grow and have an impact in Maine . In 2006, MTI nominated a company and an individual for the prestigious Tibbetts Award. The company award went to Tex-Tech Industries for its work with high performance textiles, while Karen West of C & P Management Services, MTI's SBIR/STTR consultant, received the individual award for her outstanding advocacy and commitment to the SBIR/STTR program and Maine small businesses.

Please visit www.mainetechnology.org for more information.

We have been asked to circulate information about a new program offered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  FHWA is seeking applications and will award multiple grants in support of the Highways for LIFE Technology Partnerships Program. The solicitation will be open from March 2, 2007, through April 16, 2007. The program anticipates as many as 12 awards at the $200,000 funding level and three awards at the $500,000 funding level. This funding would be comparable to “SBIR Phase III,” and the agency is very interested in getting applications from companies outside of the highway industry.  For more information, visit the Highways for LIFE program Web site. Proposals will be submitted via Grants.gov.

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Many FY 2006 phase I grants expired Dec. 31, 2006. For those companies whose grants expired on that date, final technical reports are due to our office by March 31 (90 days). These reports must be sent electronically to sbir@csrees.usda.gov . For more information on reporting requirements and the steps necessary to close out a grant, please visit the USDA SBIR Grantee Information pages.

Reports are required even if you have not spent any grant funds during a given quarter. Failure to submit reports in a timely manner will result in a hold placed on your Payment Management System (PMS) account with the Department of Heath and Human Services (DHHS), and you will not be able to withdraw funds until the delinquent report(s) have been submitted and the hold is lifted by the DHHS. USDA-SBIR program staff does not have access to this system and cannot remove any holds placed on the system by DHHS. If you have questions about these reports or need help in completing them, you can contact Vivian Hughes (vhughes@psc.gov or 301.443.9181) at PMS who handles the USDA-SBIR account. Questions can also be sent to the general PMS help desk (PMSSupport@psc.gov)

Acknowledging SBIR Funding

Proper acknowledgement of CSREES funding in published manuscripts, presentations, and press releases is critical for the success of the USDA SBIR program. We specifically ask that you use the following language to acknowledge this support:

“This project was supported by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), Grant Number (In05/05/2010kquote>

We strongly encourage you to acknowledge CSREES funding in interviews and articles that feature your company, as well as work that was supported through our program. This acknowledgement is beneficial for both the USDA SBIR program and the companies with whom we partner.

Finally, we ask that you use the CSREES logo on your PowerPoint presentations or posters at meetings. CSREES logos are available in several formats on our Web site.

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The next National SBIR Conference will be held April 30 to May 3, 2007, in Research Triangle Park, NC, at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel. (See the National SBIR Conference Web site for information.)  All of the federal SBIR programs will be participating in this event, and Dr. Bill Goldner will be representing the USDA SBIR program. We encourage you to attend this meeting to have a chance to meet with Bill and SBIR program managers from other SBIR programs and also to take advantage of the broad range of topic seminars that will be provided.

Recent and Upcoming Meetings - USDA SBIR Grantees

Scientific Methods will be exhibiting and presenting the results of their activities associated with their EasyPhage kit for fecal containation of ready-to-eat food at the poster session of the 107 General meeting of the American Society for Microbiology Toronto, Ontario, in May. (Project Abstract)

EA Photonics presented a conference paper, “Detection of Bruises on Apples Using Spatial-Frequency-Domain Imaging,” at the International Society for Optical Engineering's (SPIE) Symposium on Biomedical Optics (BiOS) 2007, January 20-25 2007, in San Jose , CA . In addition, a corresponding paper was published in the conference proceeding (Advanced Biomedical and Clinical Diagnostic Systems V, SPIE Vol. 6430). (Project Abstract)

Spirit Lake Consulting exhibited their Caring for Our People Training at the Consortium for Administrators of Native American Rehabilitation on February 18-21, 2007, in Washington, D.C. Caring for Our People Training is a computer-based instruction package designed for staff members working with people with disabilities and chronic illness residing on or near Indian reservations. (Project Abstract)

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Pete Burfening

  • 8.3 Animal Production and Protection

Charles Cleland

  • 8.1 Forests and Related Resources
  • 8.4 Soil and Water Resources
  • 8.7 Aquaculture
  • 8.12 Small and Mid Size Farms

William Goldner

  • 8.2 Plant Production and Protection – Biology
  • 8.8 Industrial Applications
  • 8.13 Plant Production and Protection – Engineering

Richard Hegg

  • 8.11 Animal Manure Management

Dr. S. Sureshwaran

  • 8.6 Rural and Community Development
  • 8.9 Marketing and Trade

Dr. Dionne Toombs

  • 8.5 Food Science and Nutrition

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The USDA SBIR staff encourages feedback concerning this newsletter and, more broadly, the administration of the USDA SBIR program. We are committed to being responsive to the needs of applicants to the program and to those companies who have received USDA SBIR grants. Please send comments to sbir@csrees.usda.gov or call (202) 401-4995.

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