SBIR Insider - May 22, 2019
Dear SBIR Insider,
Lots of programmatic updates, some brand new and some that have been "easing in" but are not fully understood by our small businesses who are used to the previous ways of planning and submitting a proposal. Many of these changes bring about new and faster developing opportunities for you.
In relation to this, two words have become of great importance for you at some DoD agency components. The two words are "Pitch" and "Agile" (not necessarily related).
Think Agile for Air Force and Navy Technology Opportunities
Better/faster/cheaper is a moniker we hear in SBIR. In what is termed "Agile" space in the Air Force and now the Navy, we are seeing programs where everyone from the warfighter to contractors and academicians can find a launch pad for an idea that may bring about something of value to the service's efforts. They do this by fostering an environment of introductions and networking among potential partners to create innovative solutions, and do it quickly.
Air Force: AFWERX is their program which is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation. The ultimate aim is to solve problems and enhance the effectiveness of the Air Force.
The AFWERX team is dedicated to guiding and supporting Airmen's innovation ideas through the full project life cycle. They can do this by assisting access to capital through efforts such as the SBIR/STTR program, external budgets, or leveraging their network of engaged stakeholders across the Air Force to provide guidance and remove roadblocks.
In fact, the Air Force has offered up one AFWERX topic in the 19.2 BAA. It is:
"Open Call for Innovative Defense-Related Dual-Purpose Technologies/Solutions with a Clear Air Force Stakeholder Need".
To make the topic easy to find, you can download the topic from https://www.afwerx.af.mil/resources/AF192-001-SBIR-Open-Topic.pdf You can also read more about the SBIR dimension of the program at https://www.afwerx.af.mil/sbir.html
Navy: The Navy has recently established NavalX (Naval Expeditions) which is a new program to empower the Navy's work force with Agility Tools that enable bold flexibility and drive accelerated outcomes.
In describing NavalX, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, James Geurts stated; "NavalX will act as a point of contact for industry to find the appropriate offices and commands for technologies they want to introduce to the Navy."
There is also a small business component to NavalX (but no NavalX topic in the 19.2 BAA). Details about NavalX are available on their web site at https://www.secnav.navy.mil/agility/Pages/default.aspx
NOTE: Thursday May 23, 2019, Bob Smith Director, Navy SBIR/STTR programs, will be speaking on "Big Opportunities for Small Business" at the NavalX Seaside Chat, 6-9pm at The Garden by Building Momentum in Alexandria, VA. Details and registration is available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seaside-chats-may-2019-tickets-61449038729
It will be interesting to see how these programs mature, and their relevance to the SBIR community,
The National SBIR/STTR Conference June 17-18, 2019 (A Must Attend Event)
We normally don't stress going to a particular conference, but with all the changes going on in the SBIR world, and the adoption of items in the new SBA SBIR Policy Directive, changes are coming soon to these programs and this will be your opportunity to hear about them, what it may mean for you, interact with agency PMs, and give your two cents about the programs.
This event is collocated with the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo. A major value to attending a good conference rather than webinars is your ability to network with people in your field. This is a great event for that purpose! See https://techconnectworld.com/SBIRSpring2019/
Thanks to TechConnect's Matt Laudon, Sarah Wenning, and Jennifer Rocha for their years of making the TechConnect venue available to host our SBIR community.
The Pitch for SBIR Pitches
The word "Pitch" is rapidly becoming a popular SBIR verb, although some SBIR Insider readers use it as a noun claiming I'm "off pitch"...
The Air Force had a great initial success with their inaugural Air Force Pitch Day, March 6-7, 2019 in New York. They are doing more, but with a different twist. There are two Air Force 19.2 SBIR topics that are "Pitch Topics".
Topic AF192-005 will allow an invitational pitch July 26, 2019, in Boston, MA
Topic AF192-006 will allow an invitational pitch July 24, 2019 in Burlington, MA
The topics are available on FedBizOpps (see DoD Article later in this issue)
The Air Force will also host a pitch day in San Francisco, in September. The areas of interest will be Launch systems, Data mining, Space visualization, and Space communications. More on this as it becomes available.
The Navy is looking into the possibilities of a pitch day later this year, and even "teased" with the Air Force at Navy's recent FST conference about doing a "duo" pitch day. We'll keep you up-to-date.
Meanwhile the NSF continues its "Project Pitch" that consists of a three-page submission in order to receive and invitation to submit a phase I proposal. We are hoping to have an interview with NSF soon to shed light on their program and its reception in the SBIR community.
Senate Small Biz Committee Holds SBIR Reauthorization Hearing.
On May 15, 2019 the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship under the leadership of its chair, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-MD) held a very interesting hearing on SBIR reauthorization.
First panel witnesses were SBA's Joseph Shepard, Associate Administrator, Office of Investment and Innovation, and John Williams, Director of Innovation and Technology, Office of Investment and Innovation. All in all good questions were posed and well answered. Rubio who is a supporter of SBIR but is newer to the program asked questions that were more mainstream and relating to success and areas that need improvements, while Senator Cardin, who has been a long standing supporter of SBIR and small business, asked questions concerning the newer programs and pilots that were added to SBIR in the last reauthorization and related to the new SBIR Policy Directive (PD) released April 2, 2019. Cardin knew those issues well because he helped develop some of them.
One interesting question that yielded no definitive answer at this time was about Technology and Business Assistance (TABA), formerly known as Discretionary Technical Assistance (DTA). The amounts for this were raised dramatically from up to $5,000 for both phase I and II, to up to $6,500 for phase I and $50,000 per project for phase II. Wow... but the SBA left a great deal of flexibility and discretion for the agencies to apply. Right now we don't see anything cast in stone, but the biggest question I receive from many of you is "Can I use those funds to pay my patent cost?" We'll let the agencies weigh in on that for you.
Witness panel 2 had Jere Glover, Director of the Small Business Technology Council (SBTC) and one of the few who go back to the creation of the program, and Stephen Ezell, Vice President, Global Innovation Policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). You'd expect Glover with his commanding knowledge and experience in the program to deliver, and he did. However, Ezell is also very familiar with SBIR and sees the program from a different and more statistical perch. His testimony was also very compelling.
There were also two small business witnesses, Dr. Sridhar Kota, Founder of Flexsys, and Dr. Stephen L. Hoffman, Founder of Sanaria Inc. Both are successful SBIR companies and gave strong supportive testimony.
The support and take-away from all the participating senators was strong and they are looking forward to SBA reports so they can judge how to improve the programs. Senator Cardin called out for making the program permanent and I didn't see any senator frown. There will be many more of these hearings in the future, but this was as smooth as they get.
NOTE: In spite of the above, we are seeing some activity by some members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) looking to set the stage for using some SBIR funds for other programs, and allowing a venture capital fund to have majority ownership and still allow the company to apply for SBIR. Naturally the language obfuscates the intent, which generally points to a bill constructed by VC lobbyists. We did make the concession several years ago to allow multiple VCs but not a single one. This was a compromise the small business community had to make in order to keep SBIR running.
Items You May Have Missed
DARPA has a two topic SBIR they call SBIR/STTR Opportunities (SBOs). They are available on FedBizOpps, which is not bad when done properly, and DARPA is doing it well, and with updates. They are:
"First-in-Human Therapeutic Interfering Particle (TIP) Targeting a Respiratory Virus", FBO Solicitation Number HR001119S0035-02, published at:
"Wearable Light Delivery in Optogenetics Clinical Applications"
FBO Solicitation Number HR001119S0035-06, published at
These SBOs are not a part of the DoD 19.2 SBIR and will open for proposals on June 5, 2019 and close on July 3, 2019.
DoD's 19.2 & 19.B BAA Debacle – Why is the DoD AWOL?
The DoD's SBIR/STTR program is about ˝ of the entire 11 agency SBIR/STTR program. The DoD acts as an umbrella for its many "agency components", ( Army, Air Force, Navy, DARPA, Missile Defense, Defense Health, Chemical and Biological Defense), and I could go on with more components for half of this publication. Suffice to say, their solicitation/BAA is very large and complex. To add to the complexity (and needed flexibility) the agency components have different "flavors" of the program, so you have to know the overall DoD rules as well as those for component whose topics you are responding to. All submissions/proposals go through a DoD web based portal (if it becomes operational again).
Under normal circumstances, when DoD's BAA was pre-released, you could go to the DoD site, view/scan/search all the component's topics (quickly and easily), see who the topic point of contact (TPOC) was, and you could contact the TPOC for better understanding /fine tuning of your proposal to the component's needs. This process led to better proposals and ultimately better solutions for the services and the warfighters they are supporting.
Also, the DoD provided rolling updates to the topics, TPOCs, and reference citations. Usually there are 10-20 topic changes, 30-50 TPOC changes and 10-15 resource changes, all within the 30 day prerelease period. As long as you monitor their postings you wouldn't be responding to a canceled or changed topic.
For reasons unknown at this time, the process described above is gone for the 19.2/B. Currently the only way to see the DoD's BAA, and view the topics is to go to FedBizOpps, download a zip file, unpack 19 (yep, count em, 19) PDF files with over 600 pages in all, then open each one up and look at the component's topics. At the time of this writing 9:30pm pdt 5/22/19, there have been no updates since the original posting on 5/2/19. This is unacceptable!
How do these changes affect the small business? For example, let's pretend you and I own a company and our expertise is "virtual reality". We know from last year the Navy was looking for things in our field. Because of the DoD's current failure and no search or display, we have to go to FedBizOpps at https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=c5d1bff84c878902b6500b6ba83f0e4b&tab=core&_cview=0 and download the topics zip file, unpack the 19 PDF files with more than 600 pages and find the navy's PDF, scroll through their 203 pages until we find the topics, then search through them.
Or we can simply go to https://navysbir.com/topics19_2.htm quickly scan the Navy's topics and/or use the search box for "virtual reality" and we'll instantly find 5 topics, one of which is a perfect fit for us. Now, as my partner I want you to see the "perfect fit" so I send you the link https://www.navysbir.com/n19_2/n192-094.htm See how easy and fast!
Now we're off to the races and can devote our time to responding to this and developing the best proposal possible. We'll even see via DoD rolling updates if there are changes to the topic or tpoc we want to contact. WAIT!! At this time the DoD isn't publishing updates. It has been static on FedBizOpps since 05/2/19. We usually see dozens of changes, and some topics deleted. Perhaps the virtual reality one you and I have been working on is gone... We are 2/3 of the way through the prerelease and no updates have been posted.
The search example above is not unique to the Navy, to a great degree, this service was available for the entire DoD on their own website, but now it's "broken". DoD states, "We are still experiencing operational issues on the https://sbir.defensebusiness.org/ website, and anticipate the full release on May 31, 2019."
"Operational Issues?" That's poppycock! At the very least you could (and should) have reached out to SBA and sent your data to them for SBIR.GOV and asked them to make the topic data available on their search engine while you redesign your current DoD site.
And what is the excuse for not posting updates to FedBizOpps? As stated, last year's BAA had 14 topic changes, 31 TPOC an 10 resource updates during the prerelease stage. As of 5/22 you have posted no updates, and I know there are quite a few.
If the DoD has contractor problems, the DoD's contracts shop has the ability to post updates directly to FedBizOpps, and contract shops customarily do this.
My concern is that the DoD has shown a lack of support for the program and its leadership to the agency components, for quite sometime. The recent departure of a fine SESer, may have had more to do with the lack of support he needed (personnel) in order to manage the program, rather than his retirement age telling him "lets get out of here now!" He had good plans but couldn't do it on his own without support. Some of his better federal support was pulled in and out like a yoyo. DoD has been either unable or unwilling to provide continuity for that support. It is difficult to take a current SESer who already has a full plate, and add SBIR to it, especially since DoD has not provided a competent fed (not a contractor) to manage the work under the SESer.
Bottom line is that the agency components, small businesses, country, and most importantly, the warfighter deserve better from the DoD, who has become more of an impediment than a resource to this program. Perhaps the agency components can build a case for going it "On Their Own". We're seeing offerings that are already suggesting that.
Sorry to close on a negative note. This DoD situation is serious enough that that something needs to be corrected and soon. Actions should be taken to prevent additional mishaps, or at least use common sense approaches to apply temporary fixes that are available.
Now lets look at some good news. The DOE reports that they will award 231 SBIR grants totaling $46 million to 202 small businesses in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Much smaller but no less important, keep in mind that the USDA generally releases their SBIR (under their RFA banner) in June with a due date in October.
The SBIR.tv website is an unattractive but easy way to find links to all the agencies SBIR sites, and to view the SBIR Insider issues and view SBIR news alerts. I haven't had time to make it pretty but there's some good data for you, and we update it as needed. Sorry, I won't use twitter or facebook.
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