This week, we attended a two-day event for winners of the USDA Small Business Innovation Research awards. In a nutshell, the SBIR awards are given in two phases. The first phase is $100,000 for eight months to develop a prototype. That’s the money USDA gives you, you can spend more than that if your company has other funds (we did).
It’s highly competitive – 6%- 15% of USDA Phase I proposals get funded, and only half of THOSE make it to Phase II where they receive another $450,000. So, the companies that gather here were the last men (and women) standing.
We started the first day by splitting into groups of five companies with each company giving a 90-second pitch, followed by feedback from the others in our group.
There were also several consultants that rotated among the groups, specialists in marketing, legal and financial issues related to start-up concerns. In addition to that, we had the opportunity to meet with key staff within the USDA, like Dr. Charles Cleland, the National Program Leader for SBIR.
In short, it was a networking bonanza. By the time I got back home, I already had emails from two people who had heard about our company from contacts I made at the meeting.
It was more than a meet and greet, though. I’m a bit jet-lagged having been in North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota and Washington, D.C. in the past month, so, the details on what we learned from those folks will have to wait until I get some sleep.