Getting a business off the ground takes gumption, smarts and, unfortunately, some money. Getting loans and seeking out investors are perfectly viable options, but you’ll also be psyched to know that the government is offering seed funding you can grab, too. The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced plans this week for its Small Business Innovation National Road Tour, which has the specific aims of encouraging high-growth research and development and connecting innovators with money available from a range of government agencies.

What you need to know

Here are the key points to remember about this year’s event, “Seeding America’s Future Innovations”:

  • The focus is on STEM-based companies.
  • It’s the third annual tour the SBA has held.
  • Although the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs lead the event, 11 other federal agencies are participating, as well. Local organizations that support tech-based entrepreneurship will serve as hosts at each tour stop.
  • Managers and decision makers from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy will meet face to face with you and other attendees to let you know what financial opportunities are available for you.
  • The program is designed to support concepts that are still high risk and, therefore, might not get the attention they deserve from private investors.
  • Approximately $2.5 billion is available in total.
  • The tour has three main legs, with stops in May, July and September. The complete tour schedule, which identifies the cities agency representatives are visiting, is available on the tour website.
  • To qualify for help, your company has to have fewer than 500 employees, and the owner(s) have to be permanent resident aliens in or citizens of the United States.
  • Competition is fierce!

What makes the tour so vital

Even though the SBA has plenty of money to offer to young tech companies, many small business leaders miss out simply because they aren’t aware the money is there–they get overwhelmed by the slew of other individual programs they see online, or they give up looking because they think they won’t beat the odds to get an award. The tour is meant to get the word out so as many eligible companies as possible apply.

Secondly, as the SBA points out, small businesses account for nearly 1 out of 4 (24 percent) of patents in the top 100 emerging clusters, which demonstrates their ability to lead and positively disrupt where it counts. Yet, they account for just 8 percent of patents overall. This is in part because many small companies simply cannot take on the risk and expense associated with hardcore research and development the way larger businesses often can. Subsequently, they struggle to bring as many concepts to the market and survive in the long term. Seed funding from the tour and its related programs helps even the playing field so that small businesses are able to explore more of what’s possible and be competitive on a wider scale. Qualcomm and Symantec are just two examples of SBIR/STTR success stories.

Getting the ideas of small STEM businesses into the world of course benefits the public commercially. But often, the concepts the companies end up developing prove beneficial to areas of government concern–for example, healthcare, environmental protection and defense–as well. Think of it as the reverse of, say, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whose research has led to public products like light-emitting diodes (LEDs), portable cordless vacuums and memory foam. So providing seed funding is somewhat symbiotic and very much a matter of national stability and wellbeing.

Are you ready?

If you think your business might have what it takes to win an award from the SBIR/STTR programs, review the basic eligibility and processes guidelines on the SBA website. Check out which point of the tour is closest to you, and from there, register and go for it!


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