Small business innovators attended the kick-off event of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2024 America’s Seed Fund Road Tour at Central Florida Tech Grove in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 7.

Tech Grove is often the site that facilitates local learning and collaboration, particularly with the military. While military organizations had representation, this event was also an opportunity to learn about doing business with government agencies outside of the Defense Department, such as NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among several others.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are often referred to as “America’s Seed Fund” because of their role in getting small businesses to participate in federal research and development with the potential for commercialization. SBIR/STTR eligibility is limited to American small businesses with less than 500 employees.

Jack Henkel, senior cluster manager for the Florida High Tech Corridor, said the road show’s goal is to get innovators and entrepreneurs to connect with federal agencies to raise awareness of the SBIR/STTR programs. According to Henkel, these programs represent one of the best sources of early-stage funding for new technologies, but it’s underused in Florida.

“It’s important that people understand that America’s Seed Fund is non-dilutive funding,” said Erick Page-Littleford, acting director and program manager of SBIR/STTR programs for the SBA. “That means it’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to receive support to develop innovative technology without having to give up any ownership. If you’re in the R&D space developing a technology or a commercial product, this is [the kind of event] where you want to be to get direct access to decision-makers.”

Throughout the morning, small business owners had one-on-one meetings with agency reps, who advised the entrepreneurs on how to make their business competitive for government funding through the SBIR/STTR programs. The day also featured a general overview of the SBIR/STTR programs, various panel discussions, and several “reverse pitches” by government agencies, who educated attendees on their organizations’ processes, what they funded, and what types of solutions they were looking for.

Ashton Horiuchi is the founder of Sous Tech, a food-automation robotics start-up based in Sarasota that is developing robotic systems that integrate artificial intelligence to help chefs in commercial kitchens. Horiuchi said his business isn’t out to replace people but augment them by streamlining kitchen workflows in areas like portioning, heating/refrigerating ingredients and inventory control, which would allow chefs to focus on their craftsmanship, presentation and the overall dining experience. He attended the road show to get information on the SBIR/STTR programs and speak with representatives from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“I wanted to learn about opportunities for possible grant funding as we’re in the research and development phase, and work with a program that could help us develop a working prototype and hopefully commercialize our product,” Horiuchi said. “Just seeing which programs I can apply for and how to get connections within those programs has been really useful. Before this, I was just combing through things online and it’s hard to sort through all that, but getting the face time with all these organizations and learning how to best apply was great.”

Visit SBIR.gov for more information on how to participate in the SBIR/STTR programs.

People who read this article also found these articles interesting :