Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs

Each year, the federal government gives out more than two billion dollars in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. These grants are available to technology companies looking to commercialize new intellectual property. SBIR/STTR grants are a valuable financial resource to entrepreneurs because they do not need to be paid back. So why is it that local entrepreneurs are not taking advantage of these grants?

Last year, Tennessee was the lowest ranked state for successful SBIR and STTR grant applications. More serious for Memphis, is that out of the 13 Tennessee cities that did receive SBIR/STTR grants in 2005, Memphis ranked behind Brentwood, Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga. In fact, only two companies received SBIR/STTR grants in Memphis.

We already have an established research infrastructure with viable intellectual property coming out of UT, the University of Memphis, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and other research institutions. However, only a small portion of these discoveries make it to commercialization. With so much valuable research and discoveries, I am surprised that we do not have more companies applying for these grants. Cost is always a factor in commercializing any product and the SBIR/STTR grants will help finance a company as it explores the viability of a product, does due diligence through research and ultimately commercializes a product.

On February 22, the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC) and the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services held an informational forum about the SBIR/STTR grant process. Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Innova sponsored the forum. The meeting helped raise awareness about the SBIR/STTR process and what help is available to startup companies during the application process. TTDC has just launched an incentive program to help small businesses with the costs acquired when submitting an application for one of these grants. TTDC will match every dollar up to $4,000 that a company spends while going through the application process. The program starts March 17 and is designed to assist small businesses submit quality applications.

UT has also created the Tennessee SBIR/STTR Proposal Assistance Center to assist small businesses with their applications. The center focuses on engaging Tennessee’s entrepreneurs in solving national challenges while growing knowledge-based business. The center provides an analysis of SBIR/STTR criteria, notification of new SBIR/STTR grant opportunities, training, partnership opportunities, counseling, proposal strategy and a proposal review before submission.

We need more programs like this. These are valuable resources for entrepreneurs to utilize on the road to commercialization. Memphis Bioworks Foundation, in conjunction with Memphis Fast Forward is working to establish Memphis as a national center of excellence in entrepreneurship and to accomplish this goal, the area needs to be recognized at the federal level. Successful SBIR/STTR grants from the Memphis-area add recognition, verification and visibility to the region, as well as creating jobs and fueling the economy further down the line.

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