Entrepreneurs learn about small business grants
The Exponent Telegram
Posted May 15, 2015
by Jim Davis STAFF WRITER
FAIRMONT — Tomorrow’s Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs had the opportunity Thursday to learn about seed funding available to help launch their ideas.
The U.S. Small Business Administration SBIR Road Tour came to the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center at Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park.
Local entrepreneurs sat down with federal agency representatives to see if their ideas qualify for funding through the Small Business Innovation Research Program. The event also included panel discussions.
“What we’re trying to do is help small businesses understand what the federal government’s research and development needs are so they can tap into this funding,” TechConnect West Virginia CEO Anne Barth said.
TechConnect West Virginia was one of the event’s local sponsors.
West Virginia is among the states underrepresented for SBIR grants, Barth said.
The purpose of the road tour is to encourage small business owners in those states to apply for the funding, Barth said.
Federal agencies with research and development budgets exceeding $100 million are required to allocate a certain amount to the SBIR program. Eleven federal agencies participate in the program.
SBIR funding is available in two phases. In Phase I, successful applicants can receive up to $150,000 to study the feasibility of their ideas. In Phase II, they can get up to $1 million to develop their inventions.
A third phase — which involves nonfederal dollars — focuses on going commercial with the product.
Rusty Kruzelock, CEO of the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston, was making the rounds with the various federal agency representatives.
Kruzelock said he was presenting a proposal from a business housed at the technology park.
“I think this is a very effective way to answer questions that the business entrepreneur needs to know to effectively compete and win this funding,” Kruzelock said.
Hung Nguyen, with NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center, said he had explained the space agency’s research and development needs with 13 people by midday.
People can learn how to apply for funding on the SBIR website, Nguyen said.
The one-on-one consultations help the business owners learn what each of the agencies are looking for in terms of research, Nguyen said.
“When they understand, it’s easier for them to apply for the program,” he said.
One panel discussion focused on local success stories.
Mike Masterman, president of Extreme Endeavors in Philippi, was one of the panelists.
Masterman said he received $900,000 from the National Institutes of Health for a firefighter suit designed to transmit the wearer’s vital signs to a computer display.
While he wasn’t able to commercialize the product, Masterman said he took the technology in a different direction — water treatment systems.
“The good thing is it’s still beneficial to society,” he said.
And Masterman said the SBIR funding is beneficial to budding entrepreneurs.
“It’s a great way to start a business, but it’s very competitive,” Masterman said. “To say it’s tough is understated.”
Marjorie Darrah, CEO of eTouch Sciences in Grafton, was another panelist.
“We make software for students who are visually impaired or blind,” Darrah said.
Darrah said she received $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to launch the business.
Barth said the stories of Masterman and Darrah show that innovation has no geographic boundaries.
“Innovation can and does happen anywhere,” Barth said.
Other sponsors were the Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office, West Virginia High Technology Foundation/INNOVA, West Virginia Small Business Development Center, WV SCORE, West Virginia Regional Technology Park, Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, Chemical Alliance Zone and Charleston Area Alliance.