While Utah is hailed for its successful startup and business climate, one of the key challenges deep technology and science companies continue to face is finding the innovation infrastructure, funding, and support to develop an idea to a commercialized product.
The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) fills a critical role in this space: providing support to early-stage companies to secure non-dilutive funding. As part of this effort, the USTAR SBIR Center supports entrepreneurs in applying for and winning funds through one of the largest seed funds in the United States—the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
“The SBIR Center is truly a gem for the State of Utah,” said Mary Cardon, center director. “We help Utah companies move forward, ultimately developing not only the next great technology for the world’s betterment, but wins that directly show what a great state Utah is for innovation.”
The USTAR SBIR Center helps Utah technology companies apply for the federal SBIR and STTR programs, which combined provide over $2.5 billion a year in funding to conduct research and development that meets the innovation needs of 11 federal agencies. The programs allow companies to secure funding for research and development (and potentially product contracts) from agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, the Department of Energy (DoE), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The USTAR SBIR Center has helped clients secure over $28 million in non-equity position dollars. Companies who work with the center increase their chance of winning funds to more than 25 percent, double the national win average.
For companies who might have limited experience working with federal agencies and contracts, the USTAR SBIR Center offers critical support with the grant and proposal application processes.
“Mary Cardon and her team have been wonderful in reviewing our proposals and providing insight to improve them, especially from an independent reviewer perspective,” said Clark Turner, Ph.D., CEO and founder of Turner Innovations. “It’s easy for [a company] to get tied up with the technical jargon and they do a good job at looking at it and knowing if we’re not telling the story in a compelling way.”
One Utah company, StreamDX, recently received nearly $800,000 from NIH. With the funding, the company is researching treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms, a common medical problem that significantly increases the risk of depression and reduces quality of life. The StreamDX solution aims to improve overall quality of life and decrease complications, such as depression, associated with the disease.
“The SBIR Center has been invaluable to us, we would not have received our grant without them,” said Brian Holt, founder of StreamDX. “The grant has allowed us to go from strictly research to almost ready to register our device and prepare for commercialization.”
Solicitations for SBIR funding happen year-round. Some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and NIH, accept funding on a broad basis and open the window to apply multiple times a year. Other agencies, such as the Department of Energy, open applications based on specific topics or agency needs.
“Bringing deep technology to market is a herculean task,” said Cardon. “The SBIR Center is privileged to help Utah companies win these highly competitive grants, creating a pathway for the company success, and shining a light on Utah with our strong assistance for the companies as leaders in cutting edge innovation.”
For SBIR Center clients, the state resource has been invaluable in ensuring the technology not only progresses, but also the company can grow and thrive. Turner Innovations, located in Orem, announced they closed on a round of seed funding, in part as a result of their initial SBIR funding.
Turner, who specializes in medical device innovation and development, is no stranger to success through the SBIR Center. As the founder of Aribex, a worldwide leader in portable and handheld X-ray products, Turner worked with the SBIR Center to win SBIR funding. Aribex was later acquired by the KaVo Group.
For Turner Innovations, the SBIR Center and other USTAR programs, such as the Technology Acceleration Program (TAP) grant, have played key roles in helping the company develop its technology and grow to a point to attract private investors.
“USTAR has been extremely helpful in developing our technology from a point where it was not interesting to private investors to a point where we’re now able to attract outside equity investors. Most investors don’t want to invest in applied research and product development. They want to invest after there is not a technical risk,” said Turner, whose company, Turner Innovations, closed on a seed investment round this past February.
Another company to benefit long-term through USTAR support is nView medical, a Utah surgical imaging company that received Phase I and II SBIR grants from the National Science Foundation, and NIH, with assistance from the USTAR SBIR Center. nView has gone on to close a recent $1.2 million round of seed funding to develop research partnerships and obtain regulatory clearance.
In addition to client wins, the team at the SBIR Center received national recognition for their success. In 2016, the USTAR SBIR Center won the Tibbets Award, a national award that honors organizations, individuals and companies that exemplify excellence in SBIR support and innovation. The center was recognized for demonstrated state impact and a proven track record in helping Utah companies develop their technological innovations through the SBIR program.
“We’ve done better than average because of the SBIR Center,” said Turner, comparing the number of SBIR funding contracts his company has received compared to the national average funding rate. “It’s one of the most effective assistance programs the state has to help small businesses…it’s more money coming into the state and spurring growth.”
To learn more about the USTAR SBIR Center and upcoming SBIR workshops and programs, visit ustar.org.