The state of Iowa has a nonprofit organization that helps connect Iowa companies with Federal funding from the $2.5 billion Small Business Innovation Research program.
It’s the Iowa Innovation Corporation and its mission is to grow Iowa’s economy by working with anyone in the business of creating jobs and growth.
Jordan Hobfoll is the Program Coordinator for the Iowa Innovation Corporation and works closely with businesses, educational institutions, federal program managers and statewide service providers on projects with commercial potential. He says his main mission is to help companies take technology innovations to commercialization, and meet them wherever they are on that scale.
Those companies can be in any industry but must fit the criteria of a small business (less than 500 employees and US owned).
He focuses on the—very competitive—Small Business Innovation Research program, a $2.5 billion program supported by 11 Federal agencies like the Department of Defense and Education, NASA, National Institue of Health, National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
“My goal to the extent possible is to make sure that all the relevant companies and people know about the program and are making an educated decision on whether to pursue it,” Hobfoll says.
“And if they pursue it, we will give them their best chance at success.”
With help from the Iowa Innovation Corporation, 21 Iowa companies received $8.3 million in federal funding during fiscal year 16.
Through the fiscal year 2017, $5.8 million in funding had been awarded to Iowa companies.
“The money is great, you can pay salaries and the credibility is fantastic,” Hobfoll says. “The constant battle is the timing is hard because you can only apply at certain deadlines.”
Free resources at your disposal
The Iowa Innovation Corporation is a private/public partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Being considered a nonprofit and not as a state agency is believed to be more appealing to startups and entrepreneurs.
It offers two programs:
- A one-hour proposal idea review with a SBIR consultant to talk about the idea and see if it’s a good fit
- A third party proposal assistance where Hobfoll matches the company with a consultant who is your coach and helps you with everything that has to do with your proposal, except for writing the core material.
The one-hour idea proposal meeting is free; The third party proposal assistance requires an application be filled out and a $1,000 refundable deposit.
“The proposals are challenging, so that’s where we come in,” Hobfoll explains. “They could be seven to 20 pages of material, associated documents.”
But the payout could be worth the time and energy, Hobfoll says.
If a company receives a “Phase 1” award it could be anywhere from $100,000 to $225,000 over six to 12 months for a proof of concept/feasibility/research program.
A “Phase 2” award could be between $600,000 and $1.5 million over two years for prototype development, field testing or scaling up technology.
“There’s not a limit to how many of these you can get as long as you aren’t doing the same work multiple times,” Hobfoll said. “Whenever you submit you always get feedback. Often times it can be more productive to have the consultants be your partner. And sometimes you don’t get it on the first try.”
Technology companies vs Capability companies
Hobfoll said technology companies can pursue these grant programs but capability companies that like to solve problems, should be aware of the Department of Defense and NASA.
“If you don’t have an idea but are a strong engineer or programmer, the Department of Defense has 350 topics that cover everything from IT to war games and a rugged kitchenette to take into the field,” Hobfoll explains. “Or something that’s a big problem is how to deal with urination as a female pilot.
“The current technology they are using is a diaper.”
But regardless of whether your a tech company seeking a grant or an engineer looking to solve a problem, Hobfoll wants to help.
“The application process can be daunting,” he says. “You can’t go talk to them, all the reviewer sees is what’s on the page. You have to put everything on the page.”