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USTAR SBIR Center provides essential programs to Utah businesses

Funding is often one of the primary challenges faced by deep tech and science startup companies.

Compared to consumer products, software and other industries, deep technology emerging out of the hard sciences is inherently riskier and more capital intensive at similar stages of development. As a result, it may be more difficult for deep tech startups to obtain the necessary capital to transition from federally-funded research to privately-funded commercial product development.

The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) offers several programs, such as the Technology Acceleration Program (TAP) and the SBIR Center, to support pre-seed funding and mentorship to Utah’s deep tech startups. The USTAR SBIR Center offers assistance to qualified Utah companies in preparing proposals for two federal funding programs: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). TAP and SBIR funding are complimentary funding sources that help Utah companies accelerate their technology product development timelines.

“We help companies across the state navigate and win this highly competitive funding,” said Mary Cardon, director of the USTAR SBIR Center.

Managed by the Small Business Administration, SBIR and STTR programs award approximately $2.5 billion in funding each year to high-tech, innovative businesses. These non-dilutive funds are awarded as contracts or grants, encouraging small companies to engage in dedicated product research and development to commercialize new technologies that ensure that the United States remains the world’s leader in innovation.

Historically, the National Science Foundation (NSF) designated Utah as an underperforming state when securing research funds. Prior to the establishment of the USTAR SBIR Center in 2008, Utah was named an Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) eligible-state, meaning the state was “less able to compete successfully for research funds” compared to other geographic regions such as California.

The USTAR SBIR Center was founded to help increase Utah’s ability to compete for research and development funding for future products. Subsidized and managed by USTAR, the SBIR Center provides assistance and mentorship to Utah companies that compete for funding from 11 federal deep tech agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Over the past decade, the USTAR SBIR Center has played a crucial role in increasing the amount of federal research and development funding won in Utah. Compared to a national SBIR-STTR win rate of 15 percent, the USTAR SBIR Center helps clients with a 28 percent win rate, helping Utah become a nationally recognized leader in this space.

The USTAR SBIR Center provides direct assistance and mentorship to Utah companies applying for SBIR and STTR funding. Additionally, the SBIR Center provides no cost, monthly workshops on SBIR funding opportunities, as well as additional seminars featuring experts from the National Institutes of Health, DoD and other agencies to provide more in-depth learning opportunities about current solicitations for proposals. While some seminars charge a small registration fee, the SBIR Center’s direct grant proposal assistance and mentorship are available to companies at no charge.

“We welcome any Utah business that qualifies under the federal guidelines.” said Cardon. “Our program is designed to help businesses understand and guide them through the entire process, which varies by each agency. We have worked to get this right and gathered the necessary expertise to help companies navigate this process. We are small and mighty; a resource that many states across the U.S. envy.”

In 2017, USTAR provided support to almost 300 Utah companies through its programs and services, with 26 percent of these companies working directly with the SBIR Center to prepare proposals for SBIR and STTR funding.  Over the same period, the SBIR Center assisted Utah companies by identifying potential SBIR funding opportunities and offering anywhere from two to more than 100 hours of assistance to each client in helping prepare their SBIR proposals.  An impressive 47 percent of companies that received support through the SBIR Center either won their SBIR funding or secured other forms of follow-on investment, according to an economic study conducted by TEConomy Partners.

According to the TEConomy study, companies that worked with the USTAR SBIR Center in 2017 reported $39.3 million in follow-on investment (including $5.2 million in SBIR/STTR awards), $1.1 million in sales of commercialized products and 50 new hires with salaries that exceeded the county average.

Additionally, from 2016 to 2017, the SBIR Center—which already helps clients win funds at double the national win average—saw a 38 percent increase in the number of companies who received some form of follow-on funding, whether that was from SBIR or other sources.

“Since 2008, we’ve helped secure 82 awards worth more than $32 million in SBIR/STTR funding for Utah companies from Washington to Box Elder County,” said Cardon. “The SBIR Center helps Utah businesses grow without loss of equity and brings in considerable capital into the state. Not only do we help foster job creation and product sales that enable Utah companies to grow, but we support the development of promising technologies that improve our world.”

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