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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
May 15, 2024 | Tom Ballard

America’s Seed Fund Road Tour stops in Knoxville on Wednesday

Nearly 200 people pre-register for the general programming and the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with program representatives.

Nearly 200 people pre-registered for Wednesday’s America’s Seed Fund Road Tour that made a stop in Knoxville during its five-day swing across the Southeast.

During the all-day event at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UTK) Conference Center, attendees had the opportunity to meet with more than a dozen representatives of federal agencies or support organizations as well as attend sessions where they learned more about the two programs that provide non-dilutive capital to advance promising technologies. The programs are known as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).

The event was hosted by UTK along with Launch Tennessee.

Erik Page-Littleford, Acting Director and Program Manager at the Small Business Administration explained that the total federal impact from the funding that comes through the two programs is significant. About 4,000 companies annually share in the $4.6 billion awarded.

Why are they so important to America’s competitiveness?

Erik Page-Littleford

“Small businesses (are) the most innovative we have,” Page-Littleford said. The two programs provide grants to “fund the best and brightest ideas.”

He explained that some of the 11 agencies that fund SBIRs and the six that also fund STTRs are divided into two types: those that are market-driven and those that are mission-driven. The former group of agencies is focused on addressing problems that can be addressed through the commercial marketplace, while those that are in the latter are focused on problems that their agencies are facing.

There are three phases of SBIR and STTR awards.

  • Phase I, which is frequently described as the proof-of-concept stage, has funding ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 and runs for six to 12 months, depending on the agency.
  • Phase II is where the bulk of the technology development occurs. Those grants typically last 12 to 24 months and range in funding from $400,000 to $2 million.
  • Phase III is the commercialization stage.

Page-Littleford said the success rate for applications is between 17 and 21 percent nationally on Phase I applications and 50 percent on Phase IIs. The Phase I success rate in the Volunteer State is double the national average, according to Lindsey Cox, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Launch Tennessee.

After the overview, participants had the opportunity to hear four-minute presentations from 13 federal agencies or subsets of those agencies and three other technology-related groups. Participants included, in alphabetical order:

  • Defense Health Agency;
  • Federal Laboratory Consortium;
  • NASA;
  • National Institutes of Health;
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST);
  • NIST CHIPS Research and Development Office, the newest subset;
  • National Science Foundation (NSF);
  • NSF I-Corps;
  • NAVSEA;
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • U.S. Department of Defense including the Army and Navy;
  • U.S. Department of Energy;
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Two panels rounded out the morning with a combination of presenters from the morning short presentations. The afternoon kicked off with a panel moderated by Maha Krishnamurthy, President of the UT Research Foundation, which featured three area entrepreneurs who have benefitted from both the federal SBIR/STTR programs and the Matching Fund from Launch Tennessee. They were:

  • Walter Cromer, Chief Idea Officer and Founder of Eden Concepts LLC;
  • Don DeRosa, CEO of Eonix; and
  • Anna Douglas, Co-Founder and CEO of SkyNano.

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