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ACSA pilot program helps New Mexico small businesses

New Mexico’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer assistance program, NM FAST, recently concluded a 10-week pilot SBIR accelerator for the Department of Defense’s SBIR/STTR 2019.1/2019.A Broad Agency Announcement, which was due in early February.


The program, which is called the Arrowhead Center SBIR Accelerator, provided 10 New Mexico-based small businesses with intensive SBIR proposal development support, including topic matching, targeted guidance, training, funding and review.

“The ACSA is a great opportunity to guide first time or even experienced businesses through the process to ensure they put forward a great proposal,” said Russell Long, CEO of Long Capture & Contract Management LLC, who served as a proposal reviewer for ACSA. “Working with the government can be very frustrating and confusing. There's dozens of pages of instructions on how to submit a proposal, countless websites to register for, and if it's not all completed correctly, proposals could be thrown out without even being evaluated.”

ACSA was created so clients could benefit from structured, weekly instruction leading up to a solicitation deadline, culminating in a strong proposal application. To accomplish this, ACSA dissected the entire proposal process for DoD and introduced participants to a small portion of that process every week via a two-hour virtual classroom meeting.

“When we initially designed ACSA, our goal was to provide clients with a structured process that ‘demystifies’ the SBIR/STTR proposal process and removes the guesswork from putting together a quality proposal package,” said Dana Catron, SBIR program director at Arrowhead Center and program director of NM FAST. “ACSA allowed us to closely monitor participants’ progress and step in as needed to provide more direct assistance. Providing a centralized platform for tools and resources – and training an entire cohort on the fundamentals of proposal development – will ensure these participants can successfully apply to more SBIR/STTR opportunities in the future.”

The SBIR and STTR programs are often referred to as “America’s Seed Fund,” and provide upwards of $2.5 billion per year in equity-free funding to small businesses across the country. In 2017, New Mexico ranked 23rd in the number of SBIR/STTR awards, equating to over $28 million in funding for New Mexico-based small businesses.

While $28 million is significant for the state, it represents only 1.1 percent of the total funding available through these programs. NM FAST aims to help small businesses secure a larger percentage of that funding, and programs like ACSA are helping to engage more small businesses in the process.

Reaching underserved small businesses – those that don’t traditionally participate in the SBIR/STTR programs – is a focus of the NM FAST program. Of the 10 small businesses that participated in ACSA, 88 percent were located in rural areas, 40 percent were minority-owned and 50 percent were women-owned.

Pam Gathings, CEO of Hauling Accessories in Aztec, New Mexico, was grateful to be part of the program.

“If you want to strengthen your business, try this NM FAST accelerator course,” Gathings said. “It is a shame that every small business in the U.S. is not exposed to all the opportunities that the SBIR/STTR programs offer. I congratulate NM FAST on such a worthy effort to help more New Mexico small businesses benefit from SBIR/STTR opportunities.”

ACSA was designed specifically for small businesses who have not been successful at securing SBIR/STTR funding, or who have never submitted an application. Of the 10 small businesses who participated in the pilot cohort, 90 percent had never submitted a SBIR/STTR proposal to the DoD, and 80 percent had never submitted an application to any agency, as many believed they did not have the tools and expertise needed to put together a strong package.

The program boasted an impressive 100 percent submission rate, and 75 percent of participants reported they would not have submitted a DoD SBIR/STTR proposal package without participating in ACSA.

“The ACSA is a well-structured program that was informative and brought in some great help and a lot of resources to get through the DoD SBIR proposal process,” said Tyagi Ramakrishnan, founder of Tobor Robotics. “I would not have submitted my two proposals to the Army and Navy if I was not part of the ACSA cohort.”

While the program focused on the DoD 19.1/19.A BAA, the broader goal was to instill confidence in participants and provide them with a foundation they can use to apply for more funding opportunities in the future.

NM FAST hopes to offer more ACSA cohorts, and intends to broaden participation beyond the borders of NM.

The NM FAST program is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.