Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

SBIR: Turning innovation into commercial product

The Times West Virginian

Posted May 15, 2015

By Angelee Wiley Times West Virginian

WHITE HALL — Brian Joseph always had a dream of owning his own research company.

So right out of college, he started his own business.

He can recall a time when he was visiting a company in California and asked one of the workers how it was done and how the research industry works.

That researcher mentioned Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and from that moment Joseph has used SBIR to further his career.

SBIR is a source of funding that helps entrepreneurs and small-business owners get on their feet and turn their innovation into a commercial product.

On Thursday, the U.S. Small Business Administration along with about nine co-sponsors put on the National SBIR Road Tour at the Robert Mollohan Research Center.

Anne Barth, the executive director of TechConnect West Virginia, said 11 agencies that participate in SBIR were on hand to speak to small-business owners, entrepreneurs and researchers.

The 11 agencies seek innovations that will lead to commercialized products.

“When someone’s starting a technology company, there’s what we call the valley of death where they’ve got the idea, but they may need to prove the concept and it’s hard to secure funding,” Barth said. “This is a seed fund that lets them prove their technologies and get to the next level.”

SBIR is a federal source of funding that provides $2.5 billion that’s distributed to small businesses and researchers to help spread research work across the company.

Joseph was one of the panel members at Thursday’s event and was honored to speak to the crowd about how to be successful with SBIRs.

“There was a time I knew nothing and felt somewhat insecure,” Joseph said. “Now to be on the panel, it’s really, really fun.”

Joseph is the president and CEO of Touchstone Research Laboratory in Triadelphia. His company creates foam made from coal. It’s rigid foam that is strong, inexpensive and easy to produce.

SBIR funding has helped Joseph create a successful business, and over the years his company has won more than 50 phase I SBIRs and more than 25 phase II SBIRs. Phase I grants are worth up to $150,000, and phase II grants are worth up to $1 million.

Barth said the goal of Thursday’s event was to help researchers who have innovative ideas connect with larger companies.

“A lot of this is about strategic partnering and strategic teaming, so we hope it’s a valuable opportunity for them to not only meet maybe someone from a larger company, but someone from an SBIR program at the federal level,” Barth said.

Barth said there are a lot of local success stories in West Virginia. One woman started a firm in Grafton that used haptics to improve learning outcomes for students who have poor or no vision.

John Williams, the director of innovation and technology at the Small Business Administration, said it’s amazing to see some of the researchers’ faces when they learn about SBIR funding for the first time.

“It’s excellent because some have these ideas and don’t believe it’s this easy to get government funding,” Williams said. “The real fun part is when you fund these companies and you see what they do with the money and what comes out of it.”

But this event not only benefits the small-business owners and entrepreneurs; it benefits the federal agencies as well. Williams said this helps them get ahead on ideas they never knew existed.

This is the first time there has been a Road Tour event, but Barth would like to make it an annual event. At the national level, this tour is traveling through different states to spark participation in SBIR funding.

“We hope to motivate and inspire people to take on a challenge,” Barth said.

For more information regarding SBIR funding, visit www.sbir.gov.

Email Angelee Wiley at awiley@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @AWileyTWV.

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