This new series will feature a guest each month to get his/her insights on SBIR topics important to you. This month we interview John Ujvari, SBIR Program Specialist with the NC Small Business and Technology Development Center:
Q: How is North Carolina doing in bringing R&D dollars to the state?
A: Since I joined the SBTDC in 2001, at which time we built a strong SBIR outreach effort, the amount of SBIR and STTR funding coming to North Carolina businesses has increased five-fold. In fact, during these 14 years, over $550 million dollars have been awarded to small R&D businesses.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: There are multiple factors that have helped North Carolina shine in the world of SBIR/STTR. First, the SBTDC’s focus on one-on-one counseling with clients is extremely valuable. We help small businesses to strategize about how SBIR can best fit into their business models, as well as review proposals and help clients understand the commercialization process. The SBTDC’s Technology Development and Commercialization team has placed much of its efforts over the years toward educating small R&D businesses and university faculty members who hope to partner or start a business. Second, we hold multiple webinars and in-person events every year. Each fall is our larger full-day proposal preparation training session. We also hosted and organized the all-Agency National Conference and NIH National Conference in 2007 and 2010 respectively. And finally,
Q: Is SBIR funding nationally going up or down?
A: In 2001, the amount of funding nationally was $1.2 billion. It peaked in 2010 at $2.5 billion and in 2013 was a hair under $2 billion. There are a number of factors that play into these totals, namely the level of R&D funding that is allocated to the 11 participating federal agencies and the SBIR set aside percentage. The set aside percentage this year is 2.8% and will continue to rise .1% per year over the next couple of years.
Q: What technologies are the most appealing to the SBIR program?
A: The R&D interests across the 11 participating agencies are so broad, you cannot point to one technology sector as being more appealing than others. Certainly within each agency you will find trends, but even so, the breadth of interests intra-agency can be enormous.
Q: How difficult is it to win an award?
A: Win rates for a phase 1 are roughly 1 in 6. This is an average. It may be more competitive than that for some agencies and less competitive for others. The SBTDC works with over 70% of the small businesses that win awards in North Carolina.
Q: What is the most common weakness that you see in proposals?
A: I’ll provide two. The first is being overly technical throughout the entire proposal. Pure technology speak has its place in the proposal for sure, but in the sections where you are describing the significance and innovation of your R&D, be sure the content will be engaging to the non-technical reviewers. The second weakness relates to the commercial potential of the technology. Many proposals do not address the commercial need and viability of the technology. It is very important to cover this, as it is an element that reviewers weigh heavily.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: Most proposal writers have exceptional technical backgrounds, but may not yet in their careers have had the opportunity to consider the commercial implications of the R&D that they conduct. It really comes down to guiding proposal writers to think outside of the technical box and consider what they are developing from the end-customer’s perspective.
Q: So what can the SBTDC provide to a company that is interested in applying for an SBIR?
A: In our first meeting, we learn about your business and technology development interests, help to strategize about how SBIR/STTR fits into your long term business goals and provide information to you for identifying solicitations. We then help you walk through the proposal development process (we do not write the proposals). Once the award is funded we help to guide you toward thinking about how to commercialize the product that you are developing and the best path to get there, be it through licensing, a startup or other options.
Q: In closing, what is the best way for people to get in touch with you?
A: The best way to reach me is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.