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NMSU Arrowhead Center goes virtual for fourth SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit

Small businesses from across the globe met virtually to learn about federal funding opportunities for their innovative ideas during the fourth annual New Mexico SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit Dec. 9.


Screen image of online meeting
Panelists at the fourth annual New Mexico SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit discuss how to create a strong proposal during one of the summit’s online sessions. The summit was hosted online by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. (Courtesy photo)

Hosted by New Mexico Federal and State Technology Partnership Program, part of New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, this year’s virtual event expanded on the success of previous years, with attendees tuning in from across the world. More than 1,000 people registered from 44 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires, Germany, and India.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, promote technological innovation and commercialization by providing non-dilutive funding to small businesses focusing on research and development. There are 11 federal agencies that participate in the SBIR/STTR programs and collectively provide approximately $4 billion in federal funding to small businesses each year.

“SBIR and STTR remain one of the best and only forms of non-dilutive funding for early stage technologies and we’re really excited to continue supporting small businesses as they navigate these programs and contribute to a growing and thriving innovation ecosystem,” said Dana Catron, director of strategic operations for Arrowhead Center.

Now in its sixth year of funding, NM FAST works to improve participation in SBIR/STTR programs for innovative and technology-driven small businesses, and contributes to the growing technology and innovation ecosystem in New Mexico by offering micro-grant awards for eligible small businesses, mentoring, and statewide workshops and events like the Innovation Summit.

“We know innovating new technologies is tough and having the grit and focus to bring that to a commercial market is even tougher,” said Alicia Keyes, New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development. “Yet, we are succeeding. In the past year, New Mexico received 51 Small Business Innovation Research grants with a total obligation of over $11 million. In addition, the state Economic Development Department awarded 18 companies additional grant awards through our own matching programs.”

The summit addresses these federal funding opportunities for technology-based innovative businesses to learn how to successfully deliver their technologies or services to innovation funders.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, this year’s Innovation Summit was held online, but was fully functional, featuring panelist sessions led by industry experts and federal officers. The keynote address at this year’s summit was delivered by John Williams, director of Innovation and Technology for the Office of Investment within the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The why [of SBIR programs] is to help startups have that early capital, that early investment, to prove an idea and to get it into a prototype or a place where you can actually show that it works so other investors will come and add the other different resources,” Williams explained. “So, we are funding things that are in either areas or earlier than typical investors would put money into, and our goal is we want to fund that in an area that addresses the agency’s needs.”

The event’s panels discussed insights on creating a strong SBIR/STTR proposal package, commercialization pathways, and the differences between SBIR/STTR grants and contracts. Each panel included interactive Q&A sessions where attendees could ask experts their questions. During a working lunch presentation, staff from the New Mexico Procurement Technical Assistance Center discussed the latest cybersecurity protocols and requirements. Attendees had exclusive access to hear from program managers from the Navy’s SBIR/STTR Programs, where they discussed the technological areas of interest and needs of the Navy.

“I ask two very specific questions on every topic that is presented,” said panelist Douglas Marker, NAVSEA PEO IWS Technology Manager. “One is, if this is successful, will it transition? In other words, is there funding that is available at the end? Could it really go into a Phase III? That is key. We also want to make sure that it meets the areas which are of significance to the Navy.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to privately meet one-on-one with Navy program managers about their innovative ideas. In total, NM FAST facilitated 128 one-on-one sessions during the event.

A highlight of this year’s Innovation Summit was a networking session where attendees could make connections with program managers and other attendees to spark creative thoughts and potential partnerships.

“I’m always impressed with the Arrowhead Center’s collaborative and cross-disciplinary work to spur innovation, grow small businesses, and diversify New Mexico’s economy,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. “This annual summit is one of the best examples of the Arrowhead Center’s efforts to convene local entrepreneurs, public leaders, and private industry experts to create new opportunities.”

To learn more about NM FAST and the different programs and services it offers, visit https://arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/program/nm-fast/.