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Turning Innovation Into Enterprise


BioWV, TechConnect Showcase How Public Policy is Growing WV’s Technology Economy Through WV SBIR/STTR Matching Program

Entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and public policy leaders lauded the stellar first-year impact of the West Virginia SBIR/STTR State Matching Grant Program in helping grow the state’s technology economy during a virtual forum held on May 24th. The event was hosted by the Bioscience Association of West Virginia and TechConnect West Virginia.

Anne Barth, executive director of TechConnect West Virginia, said, “The goal of the state matching program is to incentivize companies to apply for the multi-billion-dollar federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant programs; help entrepreneurs offset the costs of research and commercialization; and bring federal money to West Virginia to help grow their companies and the state’s economy.”

Rich Giersch, president of Giersch Consulting stated that the federal SBIR-STTR program is used is to help the government identify and acquire the latest technology needed, whether for health and vaccine development, safeguarding our warfighters or addressing cybersecurity concerns.

Debra Martin, director of the WV Small Business Development Center, noted that from January 1, 2020 through February of this year, the state matching grant program created a tremendous 11-to-1 return on investment – federal dollars received compared to state dollars expended – while growing our technology economy in the process.

Brian Joseph, chief executive officer of Touchstone Research Laboratory  near Wheeling, highlighted how the federal SBIR program has been instrumental in the development and growth of his businesses.  He noted the critical importance of the state matching program in helping entrepreneurs cross the “valley of death” – the period between the development and initial commercialization of a company’s technology and product sales.

“The state matching program helps companies when they need it most and I applaud the policy leaders and state officials who had the vision to make this program a reality,” said Joseph.

Dr. Stacey Jones, chief executive officer of Fairmont-based O-Analytics, and Kyle Gillis, chief executive officer of Morgantown-based Iconic Air, described how the federal SBIR/STTR programs allowed them to build their companies while the state matching program provided funding to purchase needed technology, hire staff and move their products to market.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 creating the West Virginia SBIR/STTR Matching Grant Program. Representatives from the West Virginia Department of Commerce and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center initiated the program on January 1, 2020.

The legislation was championed by Delegate Moore Capito and co-sponsored by Delegate Ben Queen, then-Delegate Eric Nelson (now a State Senator) and Delegate Tom Fast. Other legislators were highly supportive and assisted in moving the concept through the Legislature, to include then Senate President and now Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael and current Senate President Craig Blair.

Presenting as part of the forum, Delegate Capito said, “I was confident when we proposed this legislation that the program would be successful, and I’m pleased to see the initial results.  I encourage more entrepreneurs to apply for federal SBIR/STTR awards to help grow their companies and diversify West Virginia’s economy in the process.”

Delegate Ben Queen, who serves as the chairman of the House of Delegates Committee on Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, also participated in the forum and noted, “As an entrepreneur myself, I’m highly supportive of programs that advance opportunities for West Virginia small businesses.  The state matching program is a great example of this, and as a policy maker, we are looking for any and all innovative strategies to help move West Virginia forward.”

Auditor JB McCuskey, who helped identify the state matching program’s unique funding source, stated his commitment to helping West Virginia businesses grow and compete.  “This program is a great example showcasing the ingenuity and determination of West Virginia entrepreneurs.  When West Virginians compete, we are just as, or more, successful than anyone else.”

Michael Graney, Deputy Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, highlighted that West Virginia has one of the most competitive SBIR/STTR state matching programs in the country.  “This is an important ‘tool in the toolbox’ for growing businesses here in the state and we are pleased with the program’s initial success.”

Ryan Thorn, Office of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and Aaron Sporck, Office of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, discussed strategies for both improving state businesses chances of winning federal SBIR/STTR awards as well as layering other state/federal incentive programs to create additional impact.

Bryan Brown, executive director of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia, said, “Public policy is having a significant and positive impact on the growth of West Virginia’s technology sector. Through the West Virginia SBIR/STTR Matching Grant Program, West Virginia has brought millions of federal dollars into the state that, in turn, are being used to refine breakthrough technologies, develop homegrown companies, and employ West Virginians. This is a recipe for success that we must continue.”