Federal dollars available to local small businesses
Small businesses throughout the nation can capitalize on millions of dollars of federal funds available through the Small Business Administration. These funds come with no strings attached and allow each company to maintain ownership of equipment. Already, hundreds of firms have taken advantage of this, two-thirds of which are companies with less than 50 employees.
Why does such a program exist and what benefit is it to the federal government? The goal of providing these dollars is to stimulate technological innovation, increase small business participation in the research and development process and increase private sector commercialization of federal R&D. Most significantly, these programs are the federal government's largest source of early-stage research and development (R&D) funds. The two programs that provide these dollars are the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
Dr. Brad Guay, the Army's STTR program manager, visited Arizona late last month, stopping in Tucson, Yuma Proving Ground and Arizona Western College for briefings to local businesses seeking to take advantage of these funds.
“Our intention is to find creative talent among small businesses and academia focused on technological areas in which they have an expertise,” he explained. “We know that the nation has a tremendous supply of capable people in small business that can be terrific problem-solvers.”
The STTR program is Guay's primary interest, understandably, which offers the opportunity for the government to engage small technology businesses partnered with academic research institutions. He says important goals of both programs are to maintain our nation's strong industrial base and prevent “technological surprise” by an enemy in future conflicts.
Col. Reed Young, YPG commander, is enthusiastic because SBIR and STTR are separately funded and can of benefit to the proving ground. “The health of the greater Yuma community directly impacts the health of YPG, so by aiding a small business in leveraging an existing capability or picking up a new type of work is of benefit to all.”
Yuma Proving Ground submitted an SBIR topic regarding driving vehicles in dusty conditions that has been presented to commercial firms for proposed remedies. This is the first time in many years that the proving ground has submitted a SBIR project, and it has attracted a great deal of interest. Over 50 firms submitted proposals that a three-person team whittled down to six before final selection.
“Driving vehicles in a convoy amid dusty conditions can be dangerous and costly,” explained Alan Tinseth, YPG engineer. ”We've never experienced an accident, to my knowledge, but there have been close calls.”
In test situations, vehicles in a convoy must maintain a specific speed and distance between other vehicles. Dusty desert conditions prevent drivers from seeing the vehicle in front of them, which could lead to injuries and vehicle damage. Most frequently, however, testers are forced to redo data runs, meaning the drivers have to do the same thing all over again. This increases test costs. “When you're talking about nine vehicles, drivers and all other test personnel, this can really balloon costs,” said Tinseth.
The SBIR and STTR programs have proven successful in engaging small businesses throughout the nation. In FY12, there were 119 SBIR and 30 STTR Army topics on which businesses could submit proposals. These topics dealt with a wide variety of areas such as medical, civil works, sensors, material science, chemical, and much more. Firms located in California, Massachusetts, Virginia and New York have proven most active in participating.
“The University of Arizona in Tucson is number one in the nation when it comes to optics,” commented Guay, “and the Army does a great deal of sensor work that involve optics. There are definitely opportunities out there.”
For more information on the Army SBIR program, contact program manager John Smith at 1-703-399-2049. For more information about the Army STTR program, contact program manager Dr. Brad Guay at 1-919-549-4258 or email Bradley.email@example.com.
Chuck Wullenjohn is the public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.