For years, West Virginia’s small technology businesses have competed for the big league of federal grants: The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). The SBIR/STTR is the nation’s largest source of early stage research and development funding for small businesses.
But over time, fewer applications were submitted by West Virginia-based small businesses in comparison to other states. As a result, West Virginia won fewer awards.
New tactics to improve performance
In 2019, the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC) began to change that with two programs:
- Innovation-Technology Program (In-Tech). This re-launched program focuses on tech-centric enterprises where technology is a catalyst for growth. In-Tech assists as needed, from basic business modeling, prototype development assistance, product evaluation, and business planning to SBIR/STTR application assistance.
- The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund. This initiative offers an opportunity for West Virginia-based businesses that receive SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II awards to apply for state matching funds to supplement that award.
In 2019, SBIR.gov reported that six West Virginia small businesses were awarded SBIR/STTR grants totaling nearly $5 million for eight individual R & D projects.
Based on data from applicants to the West Virginia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund, over the past 14 months:
- The number of businesses winning awards jumped by 50%.
- The total funding awarded to those businesses increased over 75%.
- Included in those figures are five first-time awardees.
- Two of these first-time awardees received both a Phase I and Phase II award in the same year.
Even more encouraging is that 17 Phase Zero applications have been received to date, signaling that the program is achieving its objective of encouraging more West Virginia businesses to participate in this unique federal set-aside program for small businesses.
As participation continues to increase, so do WV SBDC services. Deborah Magyar, WV SBDC’s program director for In-Tech, answers questions about the In-Tech and West Virginia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund initiatives.
Deborah Magyar, WV SBDC’s program director for In-Tech
Question: What makes SBIR/STTR so important to businesses?
Magyar: The SBIR/STTR programs provide research and development financial resources – about $3 billion each year – to U.S. small businesses. These programs enable small businesses to carry out research for technology products or services with the potential for commercial development.
Historically, West Virginia and other rural states have been underrepresented in the SBIR/STTR competition nationally due to fewer applications being submitted. WV SBDC programs aim to help West Virginia businesses to find resources, apply effectively, and improve results. The small businesses and their innovations create jobs and help grow our economy.
Question: What type of results are WV small businesses experiencing as a result of the In-Tech program services over these past 14 months?
Magyar: We offer training, public relations, subject matter experts, and access to capital – resources that businesses need to grow in 2021 and beyond. This year, we anticipate serving more than 30 clients with engagements ranging from prototyping to proposal preparation.
As we move forward into 2021, we will continue to offer these services to small business owners to identify resources for growth and economic prosperity in the Mountain State.
Question: Who is eligible to become a client for In-Tech services?
Magyar: If you are starting or growing a new tech-centric business, In-Tech is a starting point. The program is a “gateway” into available entrepreneurial resources. We work with entrepreneurs with and without business experience. We surround our clients with the tools, trainings, and resources needed to move forward. Many of our success stories with SBIR/STTR awards are first timers. Many clients now applying for these awards are new to business and do not have scientific or technology backgrounds. The program is designed to meet entrepreneurs where they are today and come along side them to navigate forward.
Question: Tell us about the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund.
Magyar: The West Virginia Legislature enacted WV code §5B-8-1, initiating the West Virginia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund in 2019. The state matching grant fund was created to help the state’s businesses improve SBIR/STTR project performance results in West Virginia. The Phase Zero component of the fund was initiated to increase the number of Phase I applications being submitted for an opportunity for award.
The fund is offered by the West Virginia Department of Commerce through the SBDC. The West Virginia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund Phase Zero Grant provides eligible applicants with up to $2,500 to help cover costs related to preparing a competitive application, such as proposal review and editing, budget preparation, and travel to a federal lab and to an SBIR conference. All awards are subject to available funds.
Question: Who can use the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund?
Magyar: West Virginia-based small businesses that receive SBIR/STTR awards after Jan. 1, 2020 and that meet all eligibility criteria may apply. The SBIR/STTR funding is awarded to small businesses — not individuals or universities. You need to have a small business to receive the award. The WV SBDC provides an online class to guide entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business and services through the In-Tech program serve to assist clients with how to identify and submit a SBIR/STTR proposal.
To be eligible for the matching grant program, you must:
- Be a for-profit business based in West Virginia
- Conduct at least 50% of your research in West Virginia
- Remain a West Virginia-based business for the duration of the SBIR/STTR project
- Meet all SBIR/STTR requirements and be awarded 1/1/2020 or after
- Additional eligibility criteria may be found at: https://wvsbdc.com/entrepreneurship-and-innovation-investment-fund
Question: WV SBDC keeps client information confidential, unless the client gives permission to release it. Do you have an example to show West Virginia small businesses that somebody has taken that leap, and perhaps they could as well?
Magyar: I can cite two right now: Iconic Air and Tri-State Orthopaedics II.
Iconic Air was started by Kyle Gillis and James Carnes before they graduated from West Virginia University. Iconic Air is a software platform designed to monitor leak emissions, analyze the data, and provide analytical reports that enable companies to make informed decisions. Kyle and James had heard about WV SBDC’s matching grant funds and decided to pursue an SBIR award. In 2020, their company won a $700,000 SBIR Phase II contact with the U.S. Air Force.
They credited the state’s innovation matching fund with giving them the incentive they needed to go after this SBIR/STTR award. They said the assistance they received from the WV SBDC In-Tech Program and TechConnect West Virginia’s FAST Grant Program was instrumental in helping them through the grant process. Kyle and James let WV SBDC post their story and video on our website.
Another In-Tech client is Tri-State Orthopaedics II in Huntington. This startup, created by a West Virginia orthopaedic surgeon, uses innovative proprietary methods to manufacture high-quality, low-cost surgical saw blades to distribute to hospitals around the world. Dr. Ali Oliashirazi said that WV SBDC “has opened doors for us that we never knew existed. You helped take the vision for our company to a whole new level. Thank you for always being available, encouraging, and helping us every single step of the way, from the beginning to project fruition.”
Question: How can small businesses find out more about the SBIR/STTR application process?
Magyar: The WVSBDC and TechConnect West Virginia have partnered to provide public awareness through educational trainings at monthly SBIR/STTR bootcamps.
Our partnership was created by the Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program, which provides one-year funding to organizations to execute state/regional programs that increase the number of SBIR/STTR proposals leading to an increase in the number of SBIR/STTR awards.
TechConnect West Virginia has received a FAST grant for two consecutive years and we are excited to perform in this partnership. We provide a gateway into educational and technical assistance programs to propel the spirit of innovation and technological advancement for West Virginia small businesses. I consider this opportunity as one of our great achievements.
We host an online series of SBIR/STTR intensive training bootcamps and workshops as part of our “Bridging the Ecosystem in Science & Technology in West Virginia” program. Bootcamp participants learn what is involved in developing a concept for a proposal, tactics to identify opportunities, how to prepare a proposal, and how to navigate the registration process.
The events are free but advance registration is required. You can find the dates and registration on the TechConnect WV website.
Question: Have the bootcamps been successful?
From the first event in September 2019 to this point in 2021, we have recorded:
- 17 bootcamps
- 426 individuals trained
- 231 individuals received assistance such as writing, solicitation matching, and technical
To improve your business’s chances of success in applying for an SBIR/STTR award or connecting with other training resources, email In-Tech Program Director Debbie Magyar at and schedule an intake appointment to assess your business needs.