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Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

West Virginia grant program successful in growing state’s tech economy

WV News, May 16, 2021

by Anne Barth and Bryan Brown

The West Virginia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund, through the West Virginia SBIR/STTR Matching Grant program, incentivizes and assists technology-focused companies in applying for federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants by offering matching dollars for those winning a federal SBIR/STTR award. The program also provides financial assistance to companies to help them formulate a competitive application.

The state matching grant program has created a tremendous 11-to-1 return on investment in its first 14 months of operation, while growing our technology economy in the process.

These are stellar results, and the West Virginia Legislature, Governor Justice, and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC), operated under the auspices of the state Department of Commerce, deserve a great deal of credit.

From program inception in January 2020 through February of this year, the program incentivized 17 West Virginia technology-focused companies to apply for federal SBIR/STTR grants.

Of the 17 applicants, nine were awarded a total of 13 federal Phase I or Phase II SBIR/STTR grants. This is a phenomenal conversion rate (76%) as the federal SBIR/STTR program is highly competitive.

The 13 successful awards brought $8.8 million in federal funds to West Virginia to be used in furthering these firms’ technology and market commercialization, leading to job and wealth creation in the state. This is a 50% increase in the number of firms receiving awards compared to 2019, which was prior to the program launch.

Historically, West Virginia and other rural states have been underrepresented in the SBIR/STTR competition nationally due to fewer applications being submitted. The matching grant program, operated by the WV SBDC, has successfully helped state businesses find resources, apply effectively, and improve results.

This program is not only helping businesses secure federal dollars, it is accelerating the diversification of West Virginia’s economy, enabling the creation of high-paying jobs, and growing the state’s technology sector.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-related impacts to the program’s funding source, the portion of the program that provides matching funds is temporarily closed to new applicants. State leaders should consider options for fully funding the program, as demand continues to grow, and the results speak for themselves.

An example of the success of the program is Iconic Air, a Morgantown software startup pioneering a new way of emissions monitoring and data reporting. The company was founded by two West Virginia University industrial engineering graduates, Kyle Gillis and James Carnes.

The budding new company has been awarded a Phase I and Phase II United States Air Force SBIR contract. The goal of the work is to keep Air Force personnel safe and healthy by creating an automated and scalable software architecture that will interface with modern environmental instrumentation data.

The Air Force will be able to draw insights and make informed decisions relating to air quality at their facilities through Iconic Air’s work.

Gillis and Carnes credit the state’s matching grant program with giving them the incentive they needed to go after this SBIR/STTR award. They said the assistance they received from the WV SBDC In-Tech Program and TechConnect West Virginia’s FAST Grant Program was instrumental in helping them through the grant process.

This isn’t the first time this team has been recognized. As a result of their success in the SBIR/STTR program, the team received national notice this year in Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list.

Much effort and infrastructure has been placed into educating West Virginia’s entrepreneur and technology community about the benefits of applying for the federal SBIR/STTR program.

Recipients are creating jobs, bringing in federal dollars and getting impressive national press coverage. Now is the time to build on our early successes by finding the funding to continue these efforts.

The WV SBDC and TechConnect West Virginia partnered to conduct 17 public awareness and educational trainings on the federal SBIR/STTR program and the state matching grant program over the past 18 months.

More than 425 entrepreneurs participated in these bootcamp events, and 231 individuals received writing, solicitation matching, and technical assistance.

These numbers showcase the interest that exists from West Virginia technology-focused companies in applying for federal SBIR/STTR grants.

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. Let’s identify funding to replenish the SBIR/STTR State Matching Grant Program and keep growing our state’s technology economy.

Bryan Brown is executive director of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia.

Anne Barth is executive director of TechConnect West Virginia.