Introduction to Small Business Funding at the USDA
MELINDA COFFMAN: Hi, I’m Melinda Coffman. I’m the USDA Small Business Innovation and Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Program Coordinator. We are housed in NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and these programs are commonly referred to as SBIR and STTR. So for SBIR and STTR, there are program goals, four of them. The
primary one being to stimulate scientific and technological innovations within the private sector of the United States. And as part of that, we want to strengthen or booster the role of small business in scientific innovation development. That also leads to commercialization of these innovations, so they don't get stuck in the pipeline. And very importantly, we want to foster and encourage participation by historically underserved populations.
This is the USDA non-discrimination statement. We take this statement very seriously. I will summarize it by saying that the USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender. Additional details are included on this slide and a link to the USDA’s non-discrimination statement by the way of compliance and filing of discrimination complaints is also included in this slide. We encourage the science to reference this slide if you have any questions or concerns.
The USDA SBIR/STTR program, actually all SBIR and STTR programs, are broken into three phases. Phase I is where you use a proof of concept research design to test the technical merit and the feasibility of your project. Those are usually shorter in duration, but by testing the technical merit of your project, it also gives you some insight into the commercial potential for your project. Phase II, which is typically
longer than Phase I, you continue the research and development of your scientific innovation, but at the same time you start to ramp up the commercialization of it. So Phase II is where commercialization really begins to take more of a lead. And then in Phase III, which is funded by alternate sources, typically the federal government does not fund Phase III. So in Phase II you hopefully have done enough research and development and enough work on commercialization that in Phase III you have companies that are interested in investing and helping you to fund a continued commercialization of your innovation.
So our budget, our annual budget, is $34 million or more. It increases a little bit every year, so far. And for Phase I, the funding runs from $125,000 to $175,000 and we’ll talk about that a little bit more in detail as we go along. For Phase I, the SBIR projects run eight months while STTR projects run twelve months. I also just want to mention here that it’s easy to get, for Phase I, up to a twelve month extension. We understand that a lot of things, especially agricultural, they could be crop based, and so they take a longer time to complete the proof of concept research.
For Phase II, all of our topic areas are funded at $600,000 dollars and those projects run 24 months. Some of the differences between SBIR and STTR, so for FY ’23, we added STTR to our Phase I and Phase II RFAs and awards. And so this will be our second year of adding where STTR is part of our program. And so these are just some of the differences to kind of
help you think about whether your project would be better suited for SBIR or STTR. So some of those elements are the non-profit research institution, or it can be a federally funded research and development center. For SBIR, that’s a possibility, you may do that. With STTR, you must do that. You must partner with a non-profit research institution, a federal lab. The percent of participation differs between SBIR and STTR for the non-profit for federally funded lab. For SBIR, it’s 33 percent of less for Phase I and 50 percent for Phase II.
For STTR, it has to be between 30 and 60 percent for Phase I and Phase II. And there is, if your research with a non-profit research institution or federally funded lab is between 30 and 33 percent, on your application you can check both, which really kind of means either. That you could go either way. You could do SBIR or STTR. So there’s that one little spot in there between 30 and 33 percent that allows you to go either way, SBIR or STTR. But otherwise, these are the limits on the percent of participation for non-profit research institutions. The primary employment of the principal investigator, that’s different for SBIR and STTR.
For SBIR, they must, the principal investigator must be employed with a small business. For STTR, they may be employed with either a small business, or the non-profit research institution. So there is more flexibility there. A formal cooperative agreement is required outlining
the intellectual property rights only for STTR. It’s not required for SBIR; just STTR. So just a little bit so you have some idea about the award rate for SBIR and STTR. Well, STTR programs, we don't have enough data on that, so SBIR funding. For FY ’21, you can see it was 15 percent, as it was for FY ’22. It stays pretty stable at 15 percent throughout the years for Phase I SBIR. For Phase II, it has slowly risen. So in FY ’20 it was below 48 percent, so
it has been steadily increasing. So 48 percent in FY ’21 and then up to 50 percent in FY ’22. So the success metrics for this program include the sales of technology and services, licenses stemming from your innovation, and the number of new jobs created. This is kind of how we measure the success of the commercialization of your project. Some of the features of the SBIR and STTR programs include that ideas have to be investigator initiated, and then awards are generally based on the scientific and technical merit, as well as the commercial potential of the innovation. So we evaluate both those things. The PI and the company qualifications are also important.
Subcontracting to universities and federal labs is another feature of the SBIR and STTR program. And then we also offer technical and business assistance, or TABA. And you might ask, what is technical and business assistance? It was introduced as part of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act in fiscal year 2019. And this list of things is just a smattering of what it can include. It was created to, since a lot of these projects are
science-based, there was the thought that a boost to the business side and commercialization is also almost as important as the scientific innovation. So it can include things like these, IP legal costs, marketing, financial review, activities related to manufacturing. And it can include a lot of other things besides this. And this is, the TABA does not come out of your budget. It is something that USDA provides on top of your
award amount. So the budget for Phase I for TABA is $6500 dollars and that money is used really to help build a commercialization plan for your Phase II application. Because in Phase I, you’re really focused on a science, on that proof of concept, the feasibility. In Phase II, the commercialization piece really starts to increase. And so while you’re still doing scientific research, you’re also working more towards commercialization. So that is $50,000 in Phase II for TABA.
Our topic areas, we have ten topic areas. And in general, our topic areas do not change very much from year to year. Every topic area is broad within that topic and they’re broad purposefully. We want to cast a wide net so that we can capture innovations. The nature of innovations is that we can’t anticipate what they will be, so we leave these broad and it has been that way for years.
Occasionally if science changes some, then we will tweak them, but they are usually very stable. And so you can see here, we have everything from forest and related resources. We have two plant production and protection topic areas. One is 8.2, it’s biology. The other one is 8.13, it’s engineering. Of course we have animal production and protection. We have conservation of natural resources, includes air, soil and water. Food science and nutrition is a large topic area.
We also have aquaculture, which may not be a large area, but it’s a very important area. And then we have biofuels and bio-based products. And then these other two, 8.6, rural and community development, and 8.12, small and mid-sized farms, they’re designated with asterisks in a different color because they’re just a little bit different. In the other eight dark blue topic areas, you have to have an innovation. And I know this is a redundant, but to get the point across,
you have to have a completely new innovation, scientific or technical. In 8.6 and 8.12, you can use an existing innovation if it is applied in an innovative way. So you can use off the shelf technology for 8.6 and 8.12, but you must apply it in a new way.
And I’m sorry, Tammi, would you mind backing up one? This is also the difference in the Phase I funding. 8.6 and 8.12, since you’re not required to have a new innovation, scientific or technical, although you can, those are funded at $125,000, while the other eight are funded at $175,000. Sorry about that. This slide is just to remind everyone that agriculture is very much a scientific area. And if you have an innovation that involves science, it might be worth your while to think about whether or not there’s an agricultural application for that scientific innovation. So as you can see here, we have biofuels topic area. There’s remote sensing,
physics, food safety, engineering, nanotechnology, all of those things apply to agriculture and many other scientific areas apply to agriculture. This is timelines of the program. Typical timelines, sometimes these timelines vary, but this is what we shoot for every year. For Phase I, the solicitation
is typically released in July. This year there’s the possibility it will be released in late June, but around that July timeframe is when the Phase I RFA is typically released. The proposal deadline is usually in October. This year we’re shooting for late September, mid to late September. And then award, the review of the awards, the peer panel reviews and the notifications will go December through February. And the start date for those projects will be July, this would be July of 2024. And then for Phase II,
one important thing about Phase II is that it’s only open to Phase I awardees. So you can’t, some SBIR programs across the government allow you to go direct to Phase II, but USDA does not. So you must have a Phase I which you can complete within eight months and go directly into Phase II if you’re really motivated to do that. You don't have to, but you can. Those solicitations are almost always released in December. Occasionally they’ve been in January.
The proposal deadline is in March and the reviews and notifications are April through June and the start date for Phase II, 24 months, is September. So now I’m going to hand over to Tammi Neville and she will run you through some more slides. Tammi NEVILLE: Thank you, Melinda. So the USDA uses a peer review process and you may be wondering what that might mean. First, the proposals will be evaluated by a confidential peer review using outside experts that are sourced through academia, industry, non-profits, and federal labs. It’s really important that we have
this diverse population reviewing our applications so that we cannot have a biased panel. All of our applicants will receive verbatim copies of the reviews from the reviewers. Our Phase I applicants that were not selected for funding are eligible to reapply for Phase I funding again during the next solicitation cycle. This sort of gives you an extra bonus in the application process if you mark resubmission and you have that resubmission to address those reviewer comments. You’re given one additional page at the beginning of your
application in order to respond to the comments from the previous peer review panel and how you used those comments to strengthen your application for the current cycle that you’re applying to. When we move into Phase II, this is a one-time application. And so where Melinda said you do have that option to take that eight month award from Phase I and apply for Phase II at the first eligible opening, that’s certainly and option and we don't discourage any applicants from taking that path. However, because you only get one chance to apply for Phase II, there’s no resubmissions allowed, it’s really important that our awardees take time to consider not only if they are ready, if their research is ready, but is the company ready to make that jump to that Phase II application. You want to have the strongest application possible for that Phase II application.
Melinda had talked earlier about involvement from outside collaborators, with university or government scientists helping out with these for-profit small businesses applying through the SBIR program. Scientists may serve as consultants or you may choose that they are playing a larger role and you may choose to have a subcontract with those scientists outside of your small business. That subcontract should be included in your budget, but that will then allow them to continue to work fulltime at their home institution, rather in the role of the PD where for SBIR the PD needs to be employed primarily by the small business. Again, please remember from the table that Melinda showed earlier in the presentation that the subcontracts for a Phase I application are limited to 33 percent or one-third of the application federal funds requested, and they’re limited to 50 percent for a Phase II award. Scientists outside
of the small business may serve as the principal investigator or project director if they reduce their employment to their home institution to 49 percent for the duration of the grant. This is important because one of the rules for the SBIR program, not the STTR, but the SBIR probably, is that PIs or PDs must be primarily employed by the small business applicant. And it’s usually not acceptable for university or government scientists to serve as consultants and have all the work or research that’s done in their lab. If we continue and we contrast this into the STTR program, if you remember back to the table Melinda showed, the PD or PI can be employed by the small business or the research institution.
STTR specifically states that the small business must perform a minimum of 40 percent of the work on the project and the non-profit research institution must perform a minimum of 30 percent of the research and development work on the project. You can see from your math that there’s an additional 30 percent that can be either divided to the small business, to the non-profit research institution, or it can be outsourced to another research institution or subcontractor at the discretion of those filling out the application. You may wonder how can I create some of these relationships with non-profit research institutions? One of the options is to form a cooperative research and development agreement, otherwise known as a CRADA, with a federal lab or a federal research and development facility. The CRADA is one of the ways that we will maybe give a little bit of a bonus to an application. If we have two proposals that were evaluated during the peer review panel that were marked as similar in merit, but one of those proposals has a CRADA with a federal lab, then we will give that funding to the applicant with the CRADA bolstering that transition from the federal facility into the commercial marketplace.
You may be wondering what are some things that I can do as a potential applicant in order to improve my chances of succeeding in the application phase to receive an award. There is a lot of emphasis placed on high scientific or technical merit, as well as the commercial potential. That commercial potential in Phase I is a lesser requirement because you’re still in that proof of concept stage. In Phase II, that commercial potential carries a much higher weight in the evaluation process. We do want to see the balance of that high risk and high reward. We want to be able to fund applicants that are proposing research and innovation s that are really going to rock the marketplace and disrupt the current structures in that area.
If you feel that there is a weakness within your team, look to find a consultant or a subcontractor that can fill that gap so that when our peer review panel looks at your application package, they don't see any holes or gaps in the expertise of the team that has been constructed. This could also be done by using the CRADA that I had mentioned in the previous slide. If you don't have business expertise, then look to see who you can partner with in order to bring that business expertise into the application phase. We want to be able to see that you’re setting yourself up not just for success on the scientific or technical side of things, but that your company is set up with someone with that business expertise in order to move this into that commercial marketplace.
Look to see, to find sources for strong letters of support from potential Phase III partners, from end users, or customers, or consumers, or potentially investors. Those letters of support carry a lot of weight with our peer review panels. They show that there’s a demand for the research or the innovation. It also helps if you have a clear understanding of the entry and sustainability in the market. Who are your competitors, how are you going to be able to make your product stand out? What are you going to provide that they don't provide? How are you going to sustain your research or your innovation in the long-term in a commercial market? These are things that if you can demonstrate that understanding, you don't have to know the end goal because you’re still in that proof of concept. But if you can know that end goal, and you can see where it would fit and how you would be of benefit, those always help out as well. You might be wondering what is the process. I’m getting ready, I’m gathering my materials and
I’d like to apply for Phase I. A couple of the steps that you can do now before that RFA is even released in preparation for an application is to register your company with SBI.gov to complete the steps necessary to register on grants.gov. That would include registering your company with SAM.gov, or making sure if you are already registered with SAM.gov, that you have completed the annual update.
This step can take as little as two weeks, but it can also take up to five weeks or more if you are having some, in order to make sure you’re getting the UEI number from SAM.gov. So give yourself plenty of time in these initial steps to make sure that these registrations are complete prior to creating that account on grants.gov so that your application process, once you initiate that application, can proceed in a smoother manner. Just a little bit of advice if we could give in the next couple of slides to our applicants.
If you have a researcher or innovation that you think might fit within a topic area, Melinda said these topic areas are big and broad and encompass a lot of things. Reach out to the topic area national program leader for a consultation. All of our National Program Leaders, or NPLs, are familiar with taking appointments with potential applicants. They want to make sure that your application will fit within the topic area, or if it doesn’t fit within their topic area, they could maybe give you some other suggestions on where might be a good fit. They want to see applicants succeed. And if you’re not submitting an application to the right topic area,
the peer review panel may not as favorably, look as favorably upon your application. Look at the RFA, follow the application guidelines for format, page limits, and required documents. There are very specific guidelines for each of these elements and not following those could result in your application not even making it to the peer review panel. We do an administrative review of all applications looking for required documents, looking at formatting, looking at page requirements. If you don't fulfill those basic requirements, then you may not even have a chance for the peer review panel to evaluate your proposal.
And you put all that time into that application, it would be very disheartening to receive that rejection after putting in the time and the effort to develop that application just because you failed to follow the guidelines that were set forth in the RFA. Make sure that you respond to all of the review criteria listed in the RFA. There is an entire section of evaluation criteria listed in the RFA. Look at that, make sure you address all those portions, but then perhaps have somebody not even associated with this application, maybe it’s a spouse, an adult child, maybe it’s your next door neighbor. Have them look at those evaluation criteria. Have them look at your application and see did you address those.
Sometimes when we’re intimately associated with a document, it’s easy for us to identify where we address a specific evaluation criteria, but when somebody not familiar with the application looks at it, they may not notice that criteria being addressed as strongly as you thought you did. I talked a little bit about the commercial potential. For Phase I, it’s really about that vision, providing that vision of where this is going to land in that market. What’s the market opportunity potentially look like? Because, as I’ve said, Phase I is that proof of concept stage, you may not have hard and fast values on what, monetarily, what you’re going to come into the marketplace selling your item for and how much your markup is going to be so that you have your profit margins. You may not have all of that information in Phase I. In fact,
we would be very surprised if you did because it’s not intended for that level. It’s really for that development of that proof of concept. But you need to be able to show the peer reviewers where you see yourself and where you see your innovation landing in the marketplace. The RFA states what the USDA priorities are. If you can align your project with those USDA priorities, that means you’re filling a gap of what we are looking for. Make sure you provide a detailed experimental plan, even potentially including a work plan. You know, we’re going to
work on this step for this many weeks or months. You’re really kind of outlining how you’re going to go through the duration of the project and providing that plan, providing that insight to the commercial potential and showing the connectivity with communities. And communities doesn’t just mean the town that you live in, but it could be within a population that you intend to serve or within a specific demographic, but showing that connectivity will also help.
You heard me say multiple times and on the previous side there was a giant green star. Read the RFA. If all else, I realize it is very daunting to look at a document of that length. Follow the headlines. Read the RFA, turn it into a searchable PDF so that if you have a question,
you can do a control find, you can look for key terms. Really important to read that RFA. There are assistance resources out there for small businesses. You don't have to feel like you’re swimming in an ocean all by yourself. There are small business development centers, there’s FAST programs that are in every state - the small business development centers in every state. FAST programs are targeted for women, socially, economically disadvantaged individuals, and small businesses in underrepresented areas, which are referred to as Hub Zones. They’re typically in rural states, but they could be in a more urban area that doesn’t have a lot of business activity.
There are some websites listed on this slide and at the bottom that local assistance website, includes both the small business development centers, and the FAST programs. So you can go to that, you can look in your state and receive both of those at one location, instead of going to the two different websites. And I’ve seen come up in the chat a couple different times, we will have these slides available and a recording of this presentation available once we get everything 508 compliant. Accessibility is important to us at USDA and so once those resources are available, we will post that information.
We’ve started a new outreach program at USDA, SBIR, STTR programs. In the past we have worked to try to have about three overviews for the program each month. We’ve participated in SBIR outreach events such as road tours or the tech connect meetings in Washington, D.C. We’ve had participation at in-person events when we can. Of course, we do have a limited travel budget, so we have to be cognizant of that. But we really want to foster and encourage participation in underrepresented populations, so we’ve entered into an outreach contract with ICF Next.
Here they’re helping us increase the breadth and depth of our outreach. They’re helping connect us with small businesses that are in these underrepresented populations. They’re going to help small businesses with their proof of concept projects, connect innovators with the small business development centers or SBIR accelerator programs. They’re going to help provide application workshops, such as this, that if you’re not participating in an accelerator program, you might miss out on. And so that’s one of the reasons for hosting this type of workshop is so that we can reach a broader audience.
If, for chance, you are a researcher that’s looking for a small business partner or if you are a small business that’s perhaps looking for an academic or non-profit research institution partner, we’ve got an email address here that you can reach out to out ICF Next team and they’re working to try and help connect these two different populations together. Because you might not always have the group that you’re looking for or the partnerships already developed. You may be missing a link within that chain. And so reach out to our ICF Next team and they can help work with you on that. Next I’d like to just focus on a couple of our recent success stories within the SBIR program. As Melinda had stated, the STTR program is new so we don't have any success stories in STTR yet, but we’re looking forward to a future where we can share those as well.
The first success story that we want to highlight and talk about is Prairie Aquatech. This is a company from South Dakota that is using a process to convert soybean meal into an accessible fish feed using a microbial enhancement. Their product that they’re making is called ME-PRO and they’ve had some really good commercialization success recently that has resulted in them commissioning a larger building in order to scale up their production and producing approximately 30,000 tons of ME-PRO per year, then it’s sold is sent to manufacturers in twelve different countries across the world. Stony Creek Colors is another one of our recent successes. They’ve developed an agricultural supply chain for indigo dyes that replaces the synthetic dyes. Their
product is called BioPreferred. And they have had a lot of commercial sales with this high purity BioPreferred product with world leading brand customers that you might be familiar with, that are different brands, name brands of blue jeans that use those indigo dyes. Sonsight Wind is another one that we wanted to highlight. They have had substantial success in receiving SBIR grants. You can see they’ve had seven awards from 2002 to 2014. Each of their awards has looked at different components of small wind turbines in order to develop its end product a small wind turbine that can compete with rooftop solar, even when wind speeds are at a lower capacity. So they’ve really harnessed that technology and made it available for a wider area of places that don't always receive a lot of high velocity winds.
Embrex is a little bit of an older success story for us, but we’ve left it in this presentation because they sold out and they were purchased by Pfizer, which is a very well-known company. They developed a high throughput technology for in ovo vaccination in order to enhance the efficiency and bird performance. So this was one of those success stories that shows that even over a long period of time, you can have lasting success. It gets at that longevity of where you see your innovation falling in that marketplace, and that sustainability of the company. This Embrex in 2001 had $44 million in revenues. They increased their company’s size.
Melinda had talked about the, what are our drivers for measuring success. They increased their company size from less than ten employees to over 200. And then ultimately, as I said, they were purchased by Pfizer. We have a brochure on the web that gives you a broad overview of the SBIR/STTR programs, kind of like this presentation was intended to do, to give you that broad overview. It
gives you a sampling of these two programs. So go ahead and visit, check out the brochure, visit our website for more details. Or, you could always reach out and contact us. We’ve got our website on this slide. You have contact information for myself and for Melinda.
We also have a National Program Leader that is over all the programs. So if you have a question, maybe you’re not sure, maybe you have like two or three topic areas that you might fit within. And instead of having three different meetings with three different NPLs, you could start with a meeting with Dr. Songstad in order to try and maybe narrow down which topic area might be the best fit for you before you reach out to any of the topic area National Program Leaders.
Dr. Nurun Nahar is another program specialist with myself on the program, who is unavailable to be with us today. So certainly reach out to us. We’re here to help answer questions. And at this time I think we’ll stop sharing our presentation and we’ll focus in on any questions that may have come in in the chat. Or, you can feel free to turn your cameras on, turn your microphones on and ask us questions orally as well. We’re certainly welcome to receiving questions that way. Did we see anything in the chat, Melinda? MELINDA COFFMAN: I tried to answer as we go along.
So Karen asked, posted the website where you can find our RFAs when they’re published. There’s also, you can go, you can find them there, but you can also go to grants.gov and sign up to be notified when any RFA is published, whether it be SBIR or AFRI or whatever.
So you can go in and get, sign up for notification for any RFA you’re interested in. I think it’s kind of a good idea to do that. Tammi NEVILLE: Absolutely. And there are instructions on our home page that NIFA, USDA.gov/SBIR-STTR. That home page has instructions on how to sign up for grant.gov alerts, specifically for our
RFAs that are announced. So I dropped our home page in there so you can see how to sign up for alerts, specifically for our program as well. MELINDA COFFMAN: And then we had a question about, whether the slides will be made available to this audience. And they will be. We just have to make sure that they meet 508 compliance. That should be sometime next week, Tammi, wouldn’t you say, probably early to mid-week next week? Tammi NEVILLE: I think we have a goal of having everything available within ten business days.
MELINDA COFFMAN: Okay. Tammi NEVILLE: And that includes the recording. Then that will be found at the same website that you went to to go and register for the event today. MELINDA COFFMAN: Then we have another question
about which application category would indoor farming technology business typically fall under? So we don't have that, a National Program Leader on or Dr. Songstad, who is the SBIR/STTR National Program Leader. You might look at small and mid-sized farms. Other ideas, Tammi? I think that would be the first place I’d go. That’s topic area – Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah, unless it’s a – the only other thought I would have with indoor farming is if it was something for larger scale. Like if you’re thinking I won’t maybe have a lot of impact on the small and mid-farm size scale, but I have a vision for a larger scale impact or facility, I guess is what I’m trying to say.
If it’s technology based, if it’s engineering based, not technology, if it’s engineering based, sometimes there’s some applications that come into 8.13, plant production protection and engineering that might include indoor farming engineering ideas. And so it would really depend on exactly what your indoor farming technology was. Whether it would fit into more of that small and mid-size farms, or whether it would fit into the engineering category. MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes, so those are two places to start. And then feel free,
if you’re uncertain after that, feel free to contact Dr. Songstad. And Dr. Songstad, just to be clear, can’t tell you which topic area to apply to, but he’s familiar with all of them and he can help give you probably more information and more definition about the topic areas, which should help you make a decision. Mal asked, can you give more detail on how to determine for the rural development of small farm, sub-topic, what constitutes application of existing innovation as opposed to pure innovation and the other sub-topics? That’s an excellent question, and it made me wish that I had an example off the top of my head, which I do not. But this maybe is a poor example, but that’s the only thing I can come up with right now. We’ve had some awardees in rural and community development that had remote learning for children. So they used videos and various media to create programs for children in rural areas to promote education. That in and of itself is not new. There are a lot of remote learning opportunities,
including for children. But the content of this was innovative, the way they did this. And they’ve gone on to have great success. I’m going to try to think of a really good example, because I’ll get that question again. Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah. MELINDA COFFMAN: Where do you find the topic program leaders from Missouri and Illinois? Ann Marie, I’m glad you asked that question because this is, for USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Innovation and Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. So we’re for all states. We’re for the United States. And so there are business development centers. Tammi showed you on one of the slides, like a
website where you can find technical assistance for SBIR and STTR grants at individual states. But as far as topic program leaders, those are held within the USDA for SBIR. And they’re all listed in our RFA, and they’re listed on our website. Does that help, Ann Marie? Tammi NEVILLE: Yes, she said thank you, yes. MELINDA COFFMAN: Okay, good. Tammi NEVILLE: Karen dropped a link into maybe
help clarify the question with the indoor farming technologies with hydroponics. I’m thinking maybe still with small and mid-sized farms, but it depends on the scale and where that’s going. MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes, I think Tammi’s probably correct. But it wouldn’t hurt to check with
Dennis Ebodaghe is the National Program Leader in 8.12, small and mid-sized farms. You can find his contact information, Tammi put it there in the chat. It’s also on our website and you could contact him. You don't have to do it this way. What I always suggest is that you just write a very informal, very brief summary of your project, one or two paragraphs at most, within the body of the email. It doesn’t have to be formal, and then ask for a consultation. That’s usually pretty effective. It gives the National Program Leader a little time
to think about your area and interest so they can get a response. So that would be my suggestion. You don't have to take it. You can just call him up if you want to. Tammi NEVILLE: I also dropped the link for our topic area website that includes all of the National Program Leaders names and contact information. Do we have anybody that really just wants to come off mute and visit with us, ask us any questions, or are we doing a sufficient job using the chat feature here? We do have this event scheduled for another half hour, so if you have any questions, certainly feel free to put them in the chat and we will work to address those. ANNEMARIE DEUTSCHMAN: This is Annemarie, thank you for hosting this. It has been very helpful. We’re a startup, a small business startup with a prototype in works right now in aquaponics.
It’s something that we have just began the process and also been teaching more about aquaponics. One of the things that we’re kind of trying to narrow in on is what topic area really this kind of falls in. You’ve got aquaculture; you’ve also got small farms. You know, as we’ve been developing this business, we’ve been approached by people who would like us to maybe help build out a little garden. Then we also have what we are trying to work on as a product. And then you have the whole education piece of what people don't understand what aquaponics is. So not sure where we really kind of would fall in those topic areas because we’re kind of an unusual, we are part of the association now, Aquaponics Association, non-profit group. So we’re just trying to figure out that best approach and who to reach out to
for getting more research done in our marketing and figuring out how to get this funded. MELINDA COFFMAN: Annemarie, that is an excellent example of what happens to a lot of people. They can see themselves fitting within two or three, as Tammi said earlier, two or three topic areas and that’s, maybe the only downside to having broad topic areas.
But we have tried to shore that up by having our National Program Leader, David Songstad, available for consultations. And I think that is where I’d point you after hearing that explanation. You may even have more than one project. If you have an education piece, that would be one thing and then if you have more of a scientific application, then that could be another topic area, that could be another project all together. I don't know, but I would suggest you talk with Dr. Songstad about it. Tammi NEVILLE: Go ahead, Annemarie. ANNEMARIE DEUTSCHLAND: Does that mean that you can have two applications for two subject matters simultaneously being processed? MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes, I thought that question might come up. Yes, you can.
Now I guess this is obvious, but you wouldn’t want to put, if you had two projects and you applied to the same topic area, you’d be competing against yourself. So you know, if you were going to do it that way you might want to layer them one year after another, if it clearly fits in a certain topic area. But if you have two different topic areas and two different projects you can apply in the same year, as long as they’re distinct projects and clearly distinct. Tammi NEVILLE: We are unable to fund duplicative work.
MELINDA COFFMAN: Right. Tammi NEVILLE: And so, Melinda’s comment on distinct is very important. They have to be clearly two distinct separate proposals that are not duplicative. MELINDA COFFMAN: And that’s true across
the federal government for all grants. So, you know, you cannot go with the same project, the same type of, the same innovation, you know, to different grant programs throughout the federal government and try to get funded. That’s somewhat of a dangerous thing to do because if you’re caught doing that, there’s some penalties I don’t think anyone here would like to pay.
Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah. MELINDA COFFMAN: So you have to be careful of that. At the same time, there can’t, you can have an innovation and you can have sometimes derivatives of that innovation that do qualify as a separate and distinct project. And that’s why we, that’s another reason why we have consultations available with the scientists that are for each topic area and for our SBIR program, Dr. Songstad. So I would really highly recommend that you utilize them and their consultation time. You know, not only so that you can pick the best fit for your topic area for your innovation, but also to make sure if you’re doing more than one proposal it’s distinct enough. ANNEMARIE DEUTSCHLAND: Got it.
Tammi NEVILLE: I’d also give you a challenge. You have a lot, you know, you had a lot of diversity. The aquaculture topic area, unless you’re looking at algale (phonetic) production, like aquaponics for algae production, or something like that or you’re looking at effects on shellfish, fin fish, that type of thing. That might not be where you’re headed. It would depend on what kind of, you know, if you’re going to use that in a way that would benefit aquaculture. But also a challenge to you to see, and maybe this is some time for you to think before you reach out to Dr. Songstad, but where do you want your company to go? Do you want your
company to be an educational company, or do you want that to be a side project of your company? And that’s certainly, I mean there’s companies that have many side projects. Do you want to build your company on the aquaponics unit, or are you developing something with an aquaponic unit that is special or unique that’s going to make it better? Where you’re headed with your company, where you see you guys making the biggest impact, do some thinking about that as to where you want to go. ANNEMARIE DEUTSCHLAND: Yeah, and it does make sense. I think that the challenge has been is that because people are unaware of what aquaponics is, there are these two components that almost must happen simultaneously. Because without the education to understand, the product doesn’t necessarily have a lot of merit to someone, or validity to someone having curiosity about why it would be good for them in sustainability. Right? Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah.
ANNEMARIE DEUTSCHLAND: So this is where the challenge lies. I agree with you because that has been the issue. And we’ve talked to business leaders about focus, you know, and having that direct focus is what you’re speaking to. But at this rate what we’re finding
is, the un-education piece or people not being aware, has become a greater challenge than maybe just having the product itself. And anyway, so that’s kind of where we’re at. Thank you very much, ladies, I appreciate that. We’ll reach out. GINA MANGIAMELE: Could I jump in for a minute? MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes. Tammi NEVILLE: Absolutely. GINA MANGIAMELE: My name’s Gina Mangiamele and I’m a Certified Business Advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center and we frequently attend your webinars to keep us up to date. And in terms of strategy on the training piece there, you know, partnering with an SBDC who can help with that component, we do a ton of training. And in some cases, you know, like
on cybersecurity there’s a lot of clients that we have that do that, but to educate the public. So it might be a good idea to discover who your local SBDC is, and see if you can create a partnership that might assist with training and education, along with local county economic development agencies that are very much in tune with all of this as well, that can lend a helping hand at no cost to you. So, you know, the SBDCs provide a lot of different resources, one to one counseling, business plan development, training, all that and we’re 1,057 centers nationwide. So it’s free and confidential might be a good partnership to help get that component done. MELINDA COFFMAN: I couldn’t agree more with Gina. And I’m just, so it comes to the top of your list here, I’m going to repost the website for that where you can find local assistance in your state which includes small business development centers and many other assistance organizations. And it’s really worth a look, I think. Anything else, anyone? Anything else that would be helpful to know? Anything we can elaborate about, or answer? Tammi NEVILLE: While you guys are thinking, oh, go ahead, Gavin. GAVIN MCMEEKING: All right, thanks. So we’ve, in
my company we’ve had a little experience with NASA and Department of Energy working more on climate and we’re interested in maybe branching a little bit into the agricultural space. I was wondering if you could comment on maybe common problems or weaknesses that new entrants into the agricultural SBIR world, you know, are there any commonalities that, you know, they tend not to have maybe enough initial outreach with the ag community? Or maybe just lacking technical expertise? Just curious if there’s areas we should be particularly attentive to as we start preparing what we think might be a solid proposal? Thank you. Tammi NEVILLE: I have a couple of things to say. Number one, I would make sure you read the section of the RFA that talks about USDA priorities.
I would look at the priorities of the topic area that you’re going to apply to. I’m assuming with climate that you might be considering 8.4, but then we also have climate applications in 8.1 as well. And so it kind of depends on whether you’re going the air, water, soil, or if you’re going a forestry route, which also includes grasslands. MELINDA COFFMAN: And I’ll just jump in and add that actually all of our topic areas in, climate change, that’s always been true. It
was added two years ago more explicitly. And so you’ll find when you read about the topic areas that each one of them has climate change as part of their priorities. And it’s included, so it just depends on what your innovation is. Sorry, Tammi, I just thought I’d get that out. Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah. I thought there was something, one more thing I was going to say but I can’t think of it right now. MELINDA COFFMAN: Gavin, actually I would say that
because you’ve had experience writing SBIR and/or STTR grants, you’re probably at an advantage because people who are new to SBIR, STTR are sometimes a little overwhelmed by the RFA. Ours is one of the longer RFAs in NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. But we encourage people just to start early and really get to know the RFA. GAVIN MCMEEKING: Okay. MELINDA COFFMAN: Have it on your nightstand. GAVIN MCMEEKING: I’m guessing it’s in the RFA, but while I have you, so just to confirm, letters of support are encouraged at both Phase I and Phase II. MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes. GAVIN MCMEEKING: I guess there’s maybe discussion of limit, and how many you can have.
MELINDA COFFMAN: Yeah, there isn’t a specific limit, or number suggested. It depends. If you have, you know, a bearer that would write a letter of support to you, you’re not going to need a lot of others. GAVIN MCMEEKING: Right, okay. MELINDA COFFMAN: Some end users, you know, some producers. Then maybe you have, you know,
three or four, two to four, something like that. It depends on the strength of the letter I think. GAVIN MCMEEKING: Okay, got you. Thank you very much, really appreciate the information and looking forward to talking to those topic leaders a little bit more about the consults. It’s a great advice and we’ll be doing that. Thank you. MELINDA COFFMAN: Sure.
Anybody else? Tammi NEVILLE: While everybody else is thinking, I just wanted to say I just dropped in the cha, we do have a webinar coming up in two weeks on how to write a strong USDA SBIR STTR application. During this webinar we are going to go maybe more in depth about the application process, and a little less on the general overview of the SBIR STTR programs at USDA. So I just dropped that link in there, where you can go to register for that webinar. MELINDA COFFMAN: That’s great Tammi, thank you for doing that. I hope you all will,
those of you who are interested, I think you might want to apply, I hope you will attend. Tammi NEVILLE: And if you are with an assistance program go ahead and distribute that registration link to those that you work with, so that they can come and join us and learn a little bit more about our application process. MELINDA COFFMAN: And I will say part of the reason we’re doing an application workshop is because every year we, probably around a fifth of our applications do not move to panel because something was missing in the, that goes to the administrative review. Once it closes we do an administrative review and make sure all the required documents are attached in the proper form, make sure the formatting is as written in the RFA. And so about a fifth of those proposals don’t make it past an administrative review. And
we’re pretty sure that there’s some really great ideas in those proposals that don’t go to panel. And so we really, the application workshop is to try to help people, make sure they dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s so they don’t go to, you don’t go to all that work and then don’t even make it to panel. So, we want your innovations. And at the risk of sounding corny, the American public wants your innovations too. Tammi NEVILLE: Did we give anybody time to think about any new questions? Comment on what fraction of non – you know, that’s a really excellent question. Gavin asked, the percent, basically the percentage of new applications that get funded versus the percentage of resubmissions that get funded. And that is one of our projects that we’re working on for the summer, is to come up with that, like about a five year historical look back into the number of new submissions versus resubmissions and those funding rates between those two populations.
So we don’t have those exact numbers. I do know that for the last funding year, so for FY’23 for Phase I we did see almost a doubling in the percentage of awards within the resubmission population. Our new submissions was approximately 15 percent - I think it was 14 percent, 15 percent and the resubmissions were around 25 percent success rate. So, there is a little bit of an advantage,
but it is also a substantially smaller population of applications that we’re looking at when we talk about resubmissions. MELINDA COFFMAN: And I’ll just add to that really briefly that there are always in every topic area I would say, almost all the time there are very worthy projects that we just don’t have the budget to fund. So that’s always a struggle for the topic areas and for us. But that, you know, we only have the money we have and so we really encourage resubmission. And we really encourage looking at the panel’s
recommendations because those are really, it’s stressed to the panels that they give you recommendations that will make your application stronger. So even if, what happens sometimes, you don’t completely agree with them, please try to consider their comments because that is the guidance they’re given: How can this proposal be stronger for resubmission? Tammi NEVILLE: Yeah. And they’re not meant to guide your research or tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your research, but really how to consider making your application stronger, as Melinda said. MELINDA COFFMAN: Yes.
Tammi NEVILLE: And yes, Gavin, it is not unheard of to be funded the first time. I was pleasantly surprised at how when I did that math for this last fiscal year with this last round of Phase I, to see how strongly or how competitive the new applications were. MELINDA COFFMAN: All right. Well, if there’s no more questions, and we’re happy to stick around if there are. But if there are no more than we can let you go early. I’m sure you’re all very busy preparing
to write your proposals. Tammi NEVILLE: Thank you all for coming today.