Maui’s entrepreneurs had the opportunity earlier this fall to meet one-on-one with federal officials looking to support new technology and innovative projects. About 40 people attended the Hawaii Small Business Innovation Research Conference coordinated by Maui Economic Development Board.
“It’s not often that federal agencies come to Maui,” said MEDB Business Development Director Mark Todd. He said the conference was a chance for “someone with a great idea to get federal funding and turn it into a reality.”
Businesses like Oceanit and Pacific Biodiesel have received SBIR funding in the past, and Carl Hebron of the U.S. Department of Energy said “chances are good” for more Hawaii companies to get federal support. “Renewable energy is a growing field we’re trying to expand,” Hebron said. He urged Maui businesses to start the application process as early as possible and to ensure that the correct paperwork is filed. Amongst the top five mistakes applicants make in applying for federal funding is failing to comply with word and page limits and failing to submit a commercialization plan. “If that’s not done, we won’t be able to process your application,” Hebron said.
Conference guest panelist Kelly King, who serves as vice president of Pacific Biodiesel Technologies, described the event as excellent and said she would recommend it to entities seeking grants. “It was very encouraging to see the level of cooperation and dedication on the part of the program managers,” King said. “I think for many folks, it makes the process less mysterious and less scary.”
The Small Business Innovation Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer Research projects awarded as much as $2.4 billion to entrepreneurs nationwide in fiscal year 2012. Aside from the Department of Energy, 10 other federal agencies participate including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Navy. Hebron said 25 percent of the applicants for renewable energy projects in last fiscal year were first-time applicants; more than 40 percent received federal funding. “I think that speaks for itself,” Hebron said.
“SBIR has proven to be one of the most successful federal programs for technological advancements in U.S. history,” Todd said. “It has delivered more than 60 patents and hundreds of valuable innovations in agriculture, defense, energy, health science, homeland security, space, transportation and other fields.”
King said having the chance to interact with the federal program managers was a bonus. “Our first SBIR grant project was the result of a workshop with a one-on-one meeting, so it was very helpful to interact directly with program managers,” she said.
This most recent conference, King said, emphasized the need to follow the federal grant directions, make sure a commercialization goal is outlined and that federal program managers are ready and willing to answer all questions.