MSU STRATEGIC INVESTMENT PROPOSAL FOR INSTITUTIONAL PRIORITIES
PROPOSAL OVERVIEW
Title$tartup MSU Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentBusiness College of Emailrayf@montana.edu
RequestorRay Friesenhahn Phone994-7726
INSTITUTIONAL BENEFIT
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship for the New West TechLink Montana Manufacturing Extension Center OpTeC College of Engineering Spectrum Lab MSU TTO Other Depts. TBD
TIMEFRAME
Proposed Dates Start: 2/25/13 End: 6/30/14
PROPOSAL SUMMARY
This cross-disciplinary program will provide education, mentoring, and professional support for MSU students, Senior through Doctoral level, to help them effectively pursue funding opportunities to bring innovative research & technology ideas to market. The result will be creation of multiple new businesses, and growth in existing firms. Participating students in business and STEM disciplines will partner with MSU research collaborators and a strong support network to compete effectively for federal SBIR/STTR funding, which has already provided $150M to 100 Montana startups, and increases their ability to access other capital sources.
STRATEGIC ALIGNMENT
Primary Alignment - Engagement
Objective E.1: Strategically increase service, outreach and engagement at MSU.
“Members of the Montana State University community will be leaders, scholars and engaged citizens of their campus, local, state, national and global communities, working along-side community partners through the mutually beneficial exchange and application of knowledge and resources to improve the human prospect.”

$tartup MSU requires first of all that participating students gain a working understanding of societal needs and related market opportunities that can be addressed by the effective application of knowledge and research expertise developed during their time at MSU. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs provide nearly $2.5 billion annually for small businesses, including those still in the planning stages, to apply innovative ideas and credible research to the tasks of developing new products and solutions for these needs, and bringing them to market. For some of the 11 participating federal agencies, the societal needs, proposed solutions, and approach to markets are defined by the applicant, while other agencies (e.g. Defense and NASA) may describe very specific technology solutions needed, which have additional market opportunities. Competing for SBIR/STTR funding (typically $150K for an initial Phase I, and $1 million for Phase II) is most effectively done through collaboration with a university researcher, and $tartup MSU will incentivize and support these collaborations between participating students and MSU researchers, who may be the student’s thesis advisor. A team of highly experienced experts, including a half-time business mentor working with the Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, will guide the students through the planning and proposal development process. Where a participant desires to create a new company, intensive mentoring and educational support will be also provided through Startup Bozeman, a new organization of respected and highly experienced local business and community leaders intent upon supporting new local business growth. Where the student entrepreneurial team sees a more appropriate fit within an existing technology firm, their in-depth engagement would provide that firm with opportunities for new funding, growth, business expansion and related job creation, based upon the SBIR/STTR proposal developed by the student entrepreneurs and their MSU collaborator, with the same professional program support provided. Results of the process will be growth and development of new community and business leaders, along with new technologies and products that “improve the human prospect,” as exemplified by LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals and Bridger Photonics, Inc., a recent Inc. 500 honoree spun out of MSU by means of SBIR/STTR funding.

Secondary Alignment - Integration
Objective I.1: Increase the integration of learning, discovery and engagement.

“By integrating learning, discovery and engagement, and by working across disciplines, the MSU community will improve the world.”

Creating a new technology business and competing successfully for SBIR/STTR funding requires a multi-disciplinary team that combines innovative ideas (derived from effective scientific and technical education) with credible research, compelling technical writing ability, and a focused work plan, guided by business disciplines that include financial planning, accounting, management and marketing, and even manufacturing planning. Individual students in STEM program disciplines with an entrepreneurial bent can be taught many of these required skills, at least to the point of understanding the importance of integrating these skill sets into a business model, but competing effectively requires that other team members with complementary skills be brought in, and receive additional training. For example, accounting students participating in these entrepreneurial teams would be additionally trained in government accounting and audit requirements, and those in marketing would be mentored in the needs of relevant high-tech markets. Building a competitive startup requires that individuals with these diverse capabilities be integrated into a cohesive business plan, which can take the discoveries and inventions available at MSU and develop them into viable solutions with a competitive advantage, and maintain that market edge to sustain business growth. Some of the ideas and inventions applied to this $tartup MSU program will come directly from the minds of the students themselves, based upon their education and training at MSU, while others will be derived from applications of new discoveries and inventions available here at MSU. Participating students will have access to MSU’s portfolio of inventions through the Technology Transfer Office, where they can work with TTO to evaluate and potentially license selected technologies. Participating student teams can also access the full extent of inventions coming out of Department of Defense labs (roughly 500 patents per year), which are aggregated and evaluated by MSU TechLink for licensing. Inventions from and collaborations with all other federal labs can also be accessed by TechLink, but applications of MSU technologies, expertise and inventions are expected to be most suitable for this program approach, based on proximity and established relationships. The overall engagement with MSU researchers, CoB advisors, MMEC manufacturing planning guidance, Startup Bozeman mentors, and highly experienced SBIR managers and consultants will make this a highly effective program leading to multiple new products contributing to the continued improvement of society.
COST AND REQUIREMENTS
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries 10000  40000           
Benefits 3269  13076           
Materials & Supplies              
Travel              
Contracted Services 24500  73500           
Capital              
Other Operations 7800  23400           
TOTAL 45569  149976     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

$tartup MSU is designed to support the development of at least 32 high quality SBIR/STTR proposals from participating MSU student/entrepreneur teams, working under the guidance and mentoring of a half-time business expert, who will work with and receive specific SBIR/STTR training from the TechLink SBIR Program Manager and other consulting experts over the course of the 16-month program.  Based on prior experience, we expect about one in four of these proposals (i.e. approximately 8) to be funded by the targeted federal agency, at typical Phase I levels of up to $150K for a six-month feasibility study.  Student participants that succeed in winning a Phase I SBIR/STTR award will effectively graduate from the program (and likely from MSU by that time), and will then be eligible to receive Phase II assistance from other resources in the state, including the Montana Technology Innovation Partnership (MTIP) and the University Technical Assistance Program (UTAP).  Expectations are that with such assistance, roughly three of four Phase I winners (i.e. about six total) will then win Phase II awards of typically $1 million over two years.  Total SBIR/STTR funding to these participating student startups is thus expected to be on the order of $7 million (a general Return on Investment, or ROI, of about 35:1), with roughly 25% (about $1.7 million) of that total expected to be subcontracted to their MSU research collaborators (an MSU-specific ROI of about 9:1).  By the end of the MSU-funded program (June 30th, 2014), validated results will allow the program to secure funding from other sources, such as Blackstone Foundation or Kauffman Foundation.

 

Salaries:

Business expert/mentor (1/2-time, $80K base salary plus benefits) begins April 1, 2013 (3 months/$10K in FY13, 12 months/$40K in FY14). This experienced entrepreneur will provide general guidance and mentoring to the participating student teams in areas of general business requirements for startups, along with providing access to more detailed professional assistance in specific areas such as legal and accounting issues.  This manager will have some prior experience with SBIR/STTR, but will receive extensive in-depth training from the TechLink SBIR Manager in order to be able to provide in-depth guidance in SBIR program requirements, with only minimal continued input from TechLink, by the beginning of FY14.

 

Contracted Services:

  • Support is required from expert SBIR proposal reviewers, commercialization planning consultants (commercialization planning specific to SBIR/STTR is a critical part of the proposals), and professional graphics artists (for illustrating proposal concepts), based on successful proposal development processes developed and refined under TechLink’s SBIR assistance for existing companies.  Experienced consultants in these areas, including a nationally-recognized consultant in SBIR commercialization planning and IP, are available locally and/or on-line for this support.  These costs (commercialization planning, graphics, and proposal reviews) will average about $1,500 per proposal total, with approximately 8 student-led proposals expected to be supported during FY13, and 24 in FY14 (32 total). 
  • Because SBIR proposal budget planning for startups, and preparation for government audits (especially from DCAA) can be some of the most confusing and intimidating aspects of SBIR/STTR proposal development for startups, and because of recently increased government scrutiny of small business accounting compliance, it is essential that professional SBIR budget and accounting assistance be provided for these startups.  Sage Accounting (Butte) has led SBIR budget and accounting workshops around the nation, and provided in-depth cost-effective SBIR accounting support to numerous SBIR companies in multiple states.  Sage Accounting will be engaged to provide approximately two full days per month of individual counseling at MSU to the student teams, as well as group training on government accounting issues specifically relevant to SBIR targeted towards both participating proposer teams and interested/supporting accounting students. Total cost over the 16-month period will be $25K, including travel expenses, with 25% expended in FY13, and 75% in FY14.
  • Additionally, Startup Bozeman will be contracted to develop specialized business education and training events and programs (including legal issues for new businesses, IP protection, negotiations, etc., for a total of roughly 30 events and programs over the course of the $tartup MSU program. While Startup Bozeman is developing a series of startup and bootstrapping workshops for the community, with the participation of high-profile experts such as Brad Feld, Rob Irizarry, and Dorsey & Whitney, this funding will allow Startup Bozeman to develop a significant additional number of training workshops targeted to MSU technology students with no prior business experience, and will allow high quality recording, processing and distribution to allow for repeated use of the material.  Total cost for this will be $25K, distributed as $6,250 in FY13, and $18,750 in FY14.

 

Other Operations:

  • Student entrepreneur teams and collaborating MSU researchers will be provided with small grants of up to $500 per unique proposal completed and submitted, that meet timed requirements to allow for outside professional review.  This process was successfully implemented and evaluated over ten years as a means of increasing submission of successful SBIR/STTR proposals from existing small businesses under TechLink’s existing SBIR assistance programs.  The small grants would help cover part of the students’ and faculty collaborator’s time in proposal writing, and help motivate them to complete a draft proposal in time for professional outside review.  This funding (max $1K total per unique proposal) is only provided to those collaborating teams that meet a set deadline of completing their draft proposal for review three weeks prior to agency submission deadline, with the funding dropping by one-half for proposals received two weeks before agency submission deadline, and no payments provided for proposals received after that time (although reviews and other assistance will still be provided).  Experience with similar programs for existing small businesses has shown such payments to be strong motivators for participation in the SBIR program, reducing typical procrastination in writing, and greatly increasing the odds of winning. Since many, if not most participants typically do not make the first deadline ($1,000 total payment), and a significant number submit proposals without earning any of these incentive grants, expected payments will average approximately $600 (or less) per completed proposal. 
  • Accounting Internships will be provided to provide ongoing support for student teams preparing SBIR/STTR proposals, and to develop future resources qualified to provide specialized government accounting support in the region.  Currently, only two accounting firms in Montana, Sage Accounting and Milligan Accounting, provide nearly all of the specialized accounting practices needed by firms competing in SBIR/STTR and subject to government (DCAA) audits.  Their services are even in demand in surrounding states.  Funding of $12,000 ($3K in FY13, $9K in FY14) would provide support for two rotating internships in SBIR government accounting at $12 per hour, averaging 10 hours per week each for a total of 50 weeks over the 16 month course of this project.  Interns would divide their time between training with Sage Accounting during the two days per month professional SBIR accounting training and support days, working directly with student entrepreneur teams to help them plan realistic budgets for SBIR/STTR proposal submissions, and working with local successful SBIR firms to get a more in-depth understanding of real world SBIR budgeting and government audit requirements.

 

Unfunded Program Support (in-kind match)

  • TechLink will provide ongoing SBIR guidance, including individual guidance, group presentations, training, etc., throughout this program on a limited basis, decreasing in scope by FY14 as new DoD programs at TechLink are expected to significantly reduce available time, and the ½-time business expert/mentor gains specialized SBIR experience. 
  • Any student company that wins a Phase I SBIR/STTR award (typically $150K for Phase I) will then be eligible for ongoing Phase II preparation support provided through the UTAP SBIR assistance program for existing companies, as well as from the Montana Dept. of Commerce MTIP program, which coordinates state-wide SBIR support with TechLink. 
  • CoB faculty will provide general guidance, group training, etc. for participants through the Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship in the New West.  
  • MMEC will provide guidance and assistance for those students developing company business plans that will require eventual manufacturing.
  • In addition, the principals and participants of the local entrepreneurial support organization, Startup Bozeman, will provide additional guidance and mentoring to participating teams. 

 

PROPOSAL SCOPE
Describe the Proposal

A growing chorus of prominent voices has been touting universities as major wellsprings of innovative startups, approximately 600 each year, with such startups being major creators of new jobs in the U.S.  Indeed, the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2.org) will hold its seventh annual University Startups Showcase and Conference in D.C. in March 2013, which will showcase 100 of the best university startups to a major gathering of entrepreneurs, university administrators, Global 1000 company representatives, VCs, angel investors and SBIR program managers.  The key to success for nearly all startups is access to capital, which in many regions of the country has come largely from state government investments, VCs, angel investors, and/or Global 1000 companies.  Unfortunately, these sources of capital have been nearly non-existent in Montana, and are almost impossible to access for a university startup with no track record and little prior experience.  The one source of capital most reliably tapped by innovative Montana startups, totaling $150 million to 100 different companies so far, has been the federal SBIR and closely-related STTR program.  One notable example is Bridger Photonics in Bozeman, which was started by three MSU graduates working in the MSU Spectrum Lab, who in 2006 submitted three SBIR/STTR proposals. One of the three founders had to take a job out of state before results were received, but two of those three proposals were funded in 2007, resulting in the actual business formation, which utilized technology licensed from MSU.  Since then, Bridger Photonics has gone on to win nearly $6 million in SBIR/STTR awards, is successfully selling advanced commercial products, and in 2011 was named to the Inc. 500 awards list as the #1 fastest growing engineering firm in the nation. 

 

The goal of $tartup MSU is to replicate and multiply the successful example of Bridger Photonics, by providing entrepreneurial MSU students in business and STEM disciplines with in-depth guidance and professional support to successfully access significant sources of startup capital, primarily through the SBIR/STTR program.  The program will result in the creation of at least three to five new technology-based business spinouts from MSU per year, based on students with business and technology concepts that are assisted in winning SBIR/STTR funding.  In addition to the new startups, the program will contribute to more local business growth and new job creation that will occur when participating students see a better fit for their ideas within an existing business, and would rather build the technology than focus on building a new business.  In such cases, they may work with an existing local business to develop an SBIR/STTR proposal for an opportunity that the business would not otherwise have been able to pursue, so they have an opportunity to entrepreneurially fund and create their own future position, and a new product line, at that company.  Initial success in this project will help develop more business experience among graduates and contribute to a growing entrepreneurial culture within MSU that will lead to accelerated state economic growth tied to the research and innovation available from MSU.

 

$tartup MSU will focus primarily on the $2.5 billion federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and closely-related Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which are considered highly competitive, averaging just one award out of six proposals for Phase I (typically $150,000), with an average of 40% of those going on to win Phase II (typically $1,000,000).  The SBIR/STTR program is perfectly suited to university startups, as it seeks to fund innovative research led by small businesses, which would result in the development of new products or technologies.  TechLink has developed SBIR assistance programs that have doubled these award rates, to one in three for Phase I, and more than 80% for Phase II, directly assisting regional firms in winning $160 million in SBIR/STTR awards. This success has resulted from facilitating collaborations between university researchers and small startups, and enlisting cost-effective professional support for proposal reviews, commercialization planning, and technical illustrations.  These same techniques and resources will be applied in $tartup MSU, with the addition of more in-depth business education and professional mentoring, in a program that will help make MSU a regional leader in both the creation of university startups and successful technology transfer.

 $tartup MSU will be led by the College of Business and the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.  Business and accounting students are expected to play integrating roles in engaging with students in the STEM disciplines, primarily seniors and grad students, who would be the most likely ones to develop innovative technology concepts that match any of the hundreds of SBIR/STTR topic interests described by the eleven participating federal agencies each year.  Key business criteria, such as market potential, business structure, competition, potential profits and cash flow would also be guided by CoB faculty advisors, along with highly experienced business mentors from Startup Bozeman, who have shown enthusiastic support for participation in this program.

 During this 16-month program, $tartup MSU is expected to assist at least 32 SBIR/STTR proposals from MSU student teams working with MSU faculty collaborators, with anticipated award rates of roughly one in four proposals, based on past TechLink SBIR experience.  If these anticipated results are achieved, participating startups would receive approximately $1.2 million in Phase I SBIR/STTR funding, with the majority of these awardees going on to win another $6 million in Phase II funding ($7.2 million total). In addition, business experts at Startup Bozeman will assist these startups in understanding and accessing other sources of business capital, including angel investment funds that are now being developed locally.  As with other SBIR-funded startups, such as Bridger Photonics, AdvR, LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals, and Visual Learning Systems, these companies would go on to attain many millions of dollars more in business revenue, and contribute important new technologies and products to the nation and the world.      

 Timing and strategic investment is critical for the initiation of this $tartup MSU program.  There is a window of opportunity between now and July 2013 during which nationally recognized SBIR experts at TechLink will be available and separately funded so as to be able to devote the requisite time to initiate and substantially support such a program.  This would allow for enough time to provide the guidance and training needed for the half-time business mentor to be able to independently lead student teams in developing competitive SBIR proposals.  In FY14 (July 2013), TechLink is expected to start a major national DoD SBIR support initiative, leaving very little time to devote to SBIR support activities at MSU or in Montana.  The scope of the new DoD program will be large enough that the program resources and local experts need to be set in place at MSU and trained as soon as possible, while key SBIR experts are available to set up and train new personnel to lead and mentor the students and provide professional support for SBIR proposal development.  

 Key Program Components

1. Training workshops for students on the SBIR/STTR program:  These workshops will be targeted to senior-level and graduate students in business and STEM majors, typically done in evening sessions with pizza or snacks, and involving representatives from local companies that have used SBIR/STTR funding to start up.  Presentations will include SBIR/STTR program overviews, differences among federal agencies, the process and timeline to expect in getting started.  Key requirements for success in both winning, and in building a business, will also be covered, and descriptions of current solicitation topics and opportunities will be discussed.  Additional workshops can be provided focusing on specific agencies, based on solicitation timing and interest levels.   

 2. Notification of specific SBIR/STTR opportunities:  As a database of potentially interested students and faculty advisors is developed, notifications will be sent out informing them of each of the roughly two dozen federal SBIR/STTR solicitations released each year, several of which may contain hundreds of individual topics that present a broad variety of business development opportunities.  Individual meetings with interested students will provide more in-depth determination of specific interests, allowing more targeted approaches for participants.  The breadth and scope of federal agency SBIR/STTR topics should provide multiple opportunities for nearly all participants interested in development of new products or technologies. 

 3. In-depth guidance for individuals and teams that have selected an SBIR/STTR topic of interest:  Individual meetings with students and teams that have found a topic of interest will help them determine if the topic and agency are appropriate for their long-term business goals, and how to tailor an appropriate approach for that specific agency and topic.  For example, granting agencies such as NSF are more interested in strong scientific approaches with carefully considered commercialization plans, while the DoD is generally interested in a more practical approach utilizing collaboration with Prime Contractors.  Guidance and assistance in discussing proposal interests with agency Program Managers, and collaborations with Prime Contractors and other appropriate companies will also be provided. 

 4. In-depth business guidance and mentoring:  a) As a half-time adjunct business faculty position is established by April 1, that person will be available to provide in-depth guidance to participants through the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.  Having strategic goals as a business is far more important to long-term success than just being able to win short-term funding opportunities.  This business mentor will help student teams define their business goals and keep them in focus, and will integrate that guidance with in-depth understanding of the SBIR/STTR program.  

b) CoB faculty advisors will also be available to work with students, especially business and accounting students participating in the program. 

c) In addition, the founders of Startup Bozeman, which include highly successful business leaders who have demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm for guiding and mentoring the next generation of local businesses, will be developing and leading seminars, workshops, and approximately 30 recorded business training events.  They will also meet with student participants at sponsored events, and provide individual guidance and mentoring as possible.

 5. Collaboration with MSU researchers:  National experts have determined that the single greatest factor in winning SBIR awards is the participation of a university scientist on the team.  Such participation ensures that credible research is being done, that the work is truly innovative, and that laboratory facilities are available if needed.  Additionally, university faculty are highly experienced in technical proposal writing, which contributes significantly to submitting a winning proposal, but the entrepreneur must lead the proposal writing, to ensure that the focus remains on development of a commercial product, as judged by reviewers.  $tartup MSU uses a well-tested method of providing small, time-dependent grant payments to provide incentives for both faculty and student to work together, where they otherwise might not feel they could invest the time and effort, and helps ensure they complete the proposal in time for a professional review, which often makes all the difference between winning and losing.  The grants will be set to pay both the MSU researcher and the startup company $500 each if they provide a complete draft proposal ready for review by three weeks prior to the agency deadline.  Where multiple individuals are involved, the parties can agree to the appropriate division of the payment ($1,000 maximum total).  Since a first-time proposal typically requires 60 – 100 hours or more to write, even this maximum would not adequately compensate for time involved, but it does ensure that participants feel they have some reason to work on a proposal, even if they don’t think they have a strong chance of winning.    These incentive grants drop by half (to $250 each, or $500 total), if the draft proposal is not completed until two weeks prior to the agency deadline.  No such payments are provided if the draft proposal is not ready for review until less than two weeks before submission deadline, but by that time, all parties have typically invested enough time and effort that they are committed to completion and submission of a strong proposal, which now has a decent chance of winning.  Because of the effort involved, only a few participants will make the first deadline, based on past experience with existing companies, so incentive grant payments per proposal are expected to be on the order of $600 per submitted proposal.

 6. Accounting training and support:  a) Government accounting has proven to be one of the most difficult and intimidating aspects of SBIR proposal development, from initial budget preparation to planning for federal audit, especially if subject to DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) audit.  The situation is becoming even more difficult, as Congress has directed agencies to crack down on “fraud, waste and abuse” in the SBIR program, which in most cases has arisen from simple accounting errors by inexperienced firms.   Providing professional accounting resources for these MSU startups is thus a critical requirement to prevent significant problems for well-intentioned but inexperienced firms.  Accounting resources to help existing SBIR firms in the state are generally available from just two Montana firms, and they also have served a number of clients in other states, due to a dearth of qualified companies to help SBIR firms with budget preparation and passing audits.  Sage Accounting in Butte has a long history of assisting numerous SBIR firms, and in training other accountants to prepare for government audits.  Their president, Shelly Davis, has led training workshops at major SBIR conferences in Montana and Texas. Sage Accounting will provide two full days per month of accounting assistance for the 16-month duration of this program, which will consist of both training workshops and individual assistance to the startups, as well as to accounting majors either participating in the program, or interested in learning more about government accounting and audits. 

            b) Because so few qualified accountants with relevant government experience are available in the region, two student accounting interns per semester will be supported for 10 hours per week, to work with the startups, and participate in Sage Accounting workshops. They will also spend some part of their time working with local SBIR firms, in order to gain real world experience in issues of government accounting and audits.

 7.  Professional proposal development and review assistance:  The past success of TechLink’s SBIR assistance programs has been in no small part aided by the quality of experienced professionals available locally and nationally who have had many years of successful participation in the SBIR program, or have worked with many client companies and contributed to their success in SBIR.  While some national consultants are available at expected high rates, the consultants available for this program have been found to deliver the highest possible value at very competitive rates, making the program highly cost-effective.

            a) Commercialization planning support:  The required Commercialization Strategy is a critical part of every SBIR/STTR proposal, and specific requirement vary tremendously from agency to agency.  NSF, for example, has been leading the way in emphasizing the importance of a commercialization plan that includes letters of support from likely commercialization partners, and having an independent business panel review that portion of the proposal.  DoD, the largest player in SBIR and STTR, requires a Commercialization Strategy that indicates a clear path to transitioning a product to warfighter use, often involving working with Prime Contractors.  The local commercialization consultant currently on contract for this work is a 2011 National Tibbetts Award recipient for individual achievement in supporting the SBIR program, and yet provides these services quickly, effectively, and at low cost.  Best practice in this regard is to have the consultant work with the startup in developing a Commercialization Strategy before the technical proposal is even started, in order to focus the effort convincingly on the end results.

            b) Professional graphics: Two different highly experienced graphics artists are currently on contract to support existing SBIR clients in proposal illustrations.  Not only do clear illustrations help to convey complex ideas more effectively, they also attract the attention of reviewers to pay more attention, when their interest may be waning after reviewing dozens of proposals.  Professional graphics also help give a greater sense that the company is real and has experience, which can be favorable factors in the overall impression of reviewers.

            c) Professional proposal reviews: Experienced SBIR reviewers who have reviewed hundreds, or even thousands of SBIR and STTR proposals are on contract for TechLink’s existing programs for client companies.  They provide invaluable advice in a timely manner that can help a startup focus in on critical aspects of their proposal, and develop one that has a much greater chance of winning.

 
Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

MSU maintains world-class research and discovery capabilities, and its students compare favorably with any in the country in terms of technical skills and creativity.  Combining these attributes with appropriate training and business mentoring should result in a high rate of technology-based business creation and growth of university spin-offs, except for the lack of one key ingredient – local sources of investment capital.          Montana has averaged just one Venture Capital (VC) investment per year over the last 15 years, while some promising young businesses (such as PrintingForLess in its early stage) have been offered VC investment only on the condition they move out of state.  The national picture of VC investment is currently changing, and some small investment funds are now operating in non-traditional territory, including Montana.  Angel investment groups are also beginning to grow in Montana, including an angel fund led by an individual who sold his share in a company built on SBIR funding.  Still, these investment opportunities are extremely hard to come by for startups in Montana, so the best opportunities for startup funding here remains with SBIR and STTR.   Companies that succeed in winning SBIR funding are many times more likely to attract VC or angel investment, so growing more SBIR-funded startups here will also attract more outside investments. 

 Collaboration with MSU researchers has also been an important factor for company growth in the state, contributing to the growth of a strong optics/photonics cluster that has over two dozen companies in Bozeman, a number of which have grown through success in the SBIR/STTR program, and also through licensing of MSU innovations, along with a few DoD patent licenses.  A growing life sciences industry is also making a significant impact in Montana, with companies like LigoCyte Pharmacetical (now part of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.) building much of their early success through SBIR/STTR funding and licensing of MSU technologies.  The MSU collaborations with startups that will be developed through this $tartup MSU program will stimulate even more industry growth, more local jobs for MSU graduates, and more opportunities for licensing of MSU innovations to Montana companies.  Additionally, the growing perception around the state that MSU is taking an active role in helping industry, promoting entrepreneurship, and contributing directly to business growth will help to create a more favorable impression of the university around the state, especially among businesses and pro-business legislators who have sometimes perceived MSU less than favorably as a purely “academic” or “basic research” institution.  Such changes in perception would eventually result in better relations between MSU and the state legislature.

 Finally, the scientific and technical innovations coming out of MSU have the potential to change the world.  Some of these MSU-derived innovations being developed by local firms through SBIR/STTR support include advanced laser systems that will help prevent helicopter crashes, identify threats, and spot dangerous drugs and chemicals (Bridger Photonics); vaccines against highly contagious norovirus (LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals), and advanced radar and communication signal processing systems that will provide important advantages to our military (S2 Corp.).  These important innovations are being developed because of just a few local scientists and entrepreneurs who found the opportunity to fund and build a company.  If $tartup MSU can assist in the creation of three to eight new startups  per year, the odds of a truly spectacular breakthrough that has tremendous societal impact will go up dramatically.        

 
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Implementation Plan

While much of the work to be conducted under this $tartup MSU program will be conducted roughly evenly throughout the 16-month effort, some efforts must be front-loaded, such as hiring the half-time business mentor and training that person in-depth on key aspects of the SBIR and STTR programs, during FY13.  Additionally, the uneven timing of agency SBIR and STTR solicitations throughout the year means that a high level of effort must be made whenever a larger solicitation is released, in order to connect potentially interested students to appropriate topics in a timely manner.  The timing of some solicitations with relatively short deadlines may conflict with academic calendars, while others can be anticipated far in advance (such as NIH and USDA), in order to allow participants to develop proposals on their own schedules. 

 Timeline of activities:

Pre-program activities, December 2012 – January 2013 (prior to any funding):  Two important SBIR/STTR solicitations have just been issued – a DoD SBIR solicitation containing the only Air Force SBIR topics for the year (160 different topics), along with dozens of Army, Navy and DARPA topics, and a DOE SBIR/STTR solicitation containing the majority of energy efficiency and renewable energy topics for the year.  Two very capable graduate students in Engineering (Ph.D. candidates), with separate companies being formed, are already working with TechLink to develop three separate SBIR proposals for these and a current NSF solicitation, and there may be more students potentially interested in one or more topics in the current solicitations.  The vast majority of these DoD and DOE SBIR topics will never be repeated, so they represent a one-time opportunity if they match someone’s interests well.  Also, Christmas break provides some students, especially grad students, with an unusual opportunity to dedicate more time to a proposal, so the timing may be perfect for them to participate.  TechLink will work with several department heads in the Colleges of Engineering and Letters and Science to contact a number of graduate students, notify them of the opportunity for assistance, and gauge their potential interest and fit to the SBIR program.  TechLink will use its own funding, along with some UTAP support, to assist some of the most viable candidates that are found in this effort.  This will be a one-time effort, due to funding limitations and other requirements, but it will be important to get an initial start when good opportunities arise.

 Program start (est. Feb. 25th) – March 30th:             During this period, tasks to be undertaken will include:

 Task 1. a) Work with selected department heads, deans, and center directors to identify grad students who may be potential candidates, and also disseminate information to seniors through classes and other means.  Information describing the program will be sent to appropriate faculty and students, and several information sessions, such as informal evening meetings with pizza, will be used to present an overview of the program, types of opportunities to expect, and potential outcomes.  Representatives of local successful SBIR firms will be asked to participate, and interested faculty will be invited.

 Task 1. b) Work with Startup Bozeman and provide initial funding to begin series of entrepreneurial events that will be recorded for future webinars, individual viewing, etc.  Students will also be notified of these events and invited to participate in the group meetings and events. 

 Task 1. c) Begin selection and hiring process for half-time adjunct business advisor.  CoB and Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship will work with Startup Bozeman and TechLink to identify and select candidates. 

 Task 1. d) Notify students of specific SBIR/STTR solicitation opportunities.  Begin workshops overviews for specific agencies (typically evening workshops).  Agencies with solicitations to be released during this time are DoD STTR, NIH SBIR and STTR, DHS DNDO SBIR, EPA SBIR, DOT, and DoEd SBIR. 

 Task 1. e) Begin Sage Accounting workshops and individual counseling.  Depending on level of interest at this time, some workshops may be moved into next month.                                                    

Task 1. f)  For students that have identified appropriate SBIR topics, begin individualized counseling, engage professional consultants for proposal development and review as required, and assist in submission via Grants.gov, other submission sites as appropriate.  Obtain student feedback on processes. 

 

 April 1, 2013 – June 30, 2013:   During this period, tasks to be undertaken will include:

 Task 2. a)  Select finalist for half-time business mentoring position, complete hiring process.  Begin training as needed in SBIR/STTR program specifics.  Business mentor will also begin meeting with participating students to provide guidance and advice on business startup issues.

 Task 2. b)  Continue notify students of specific SBIR/STTR solicitation opportunities.  Continue workshop overviews for specific agencies.  Agencies with solicitations to be released or out during this time are DoD 2013.2, NIH, and EPA.

  Task 2. c)  Continue work with Startup Bozeman and provide funding to continue development and production of series of high quality entrepreneurial events that will be recorded for future webinars, individual viewing, etc.  Students will also be notified of these events and invited to participate in the group meetings and events.

 Task 2. d) Continue Sage Accounting workshops and individual counseling on a twice per month schedule.  Begin accounting student internships and training.

 Task 2. e)  For students that have identified appropriate SBIR topics, begin individualized counseling, engage professional consultants for proposal development and review as required, and assist in submission via Grants.gov, other submission sites as appropriate.  Obtain student feedback on processes. 

 Task 2. f) Update student candidate lists as appropriate.  Provide program overview sessions as needed.

 

July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014:   During this one-year period, tasks to be undertaken will include:

 Task 3. a)  Continue to update student candidate lists as appropriate, particularly at beginning of semesters.  Provide program overview sessions as needed, including new evening sessions with pizza at the beginning of semesters.

 Task 3. b)  Continue periodic interaction with half-time business mentor to update on SBIR questions and issues.  Business mentor will continue meeting with participating students to provide guidance and advice on business startup issues.

 Task 3. c)  Business mentor will continue notify students of specific SBIR/STTR solicitation opportunities.  Approximately 24 different agency SBIR and STTR solicitations will be released at various times during this year, with some much more relevant than others.  Business mentor will continue workshop overviews for specific agencies, with occasional support from TechLink SBIR manager. 

 Task 3. d) Continue Sage Accounting workshops and individual counseling on a twice per month schedule.  Continue accounting student internships and training, with new interns each semester.

 Task 3. e)  Continue working with Startup Bozeman and provide funding to continue development and production of series of high quality entrepreneurial events that will be recorded for future webinars, individual viewing, etc.  Students will also be notified of these events and invited to participate in the group meetings and events.

 Task 3. f)  For students that have identified appropriate SBIR topics, business mentor will provide individualized counseling, engage professional consultants for proposal development and review as required, and assist in submission via Grants.gov, other submission sites as appropriate.  Obtain student feedback on processes. 

 Task 3. g) Update student candidate lists as appropriate.  Provide program overview sessions as needed.

 
Assessment Plan

Assessments will include evaluation factors for student participation and progress, which will include feedback to continuously improve the program and processes.  Assessments for successful participation in SBIR proposal development will include feedback for professional reviewers as to quality of proposals, numbers of proposals submitted, and ultimately, results of submissions in terms of SBIR/STTR awards.

 

A. 1) Student feedback upon completion of an SBIR/STTR proposal (or failure to submit).  Students will be provided with questionnaires that include reasons for participation, quality of guidance and professional assistance received, and interest in future business startup and/or SBIR activity.  Perceived impact on other work towards their degree will be requested.  Recommendations for program improvement will also be requested first-hand.

 

A. 2) Number of SBIR/STTR proposals submitted.  This program is targeting 8 proposals during FY13, and 24 during FY14.  Ability to reach all potentially interested students, timing of solicitations, and time available to develop proposal, will be evaluated in setting future targets. Significantly fewer proposals may still be a successful outcome, if the results are that several proposals are funded, leading to startups.

 

A. 3) Quality of proposals submitted.  This will be a preliminary evaluation, based on feedback from professional proposal reviewers.

 

 A. 4) Results of proposal submissions.  This is the ultimate measure of success, measured both as total number of SBIR/STTR awards, and as a percentage of proposals submitted.  Selection for award or proposal rejections typically occur four to six months (sometimes longer) after proposal submission.  The targeted minimum will be three SBIR/STTR awards resulting from proposals submitted during this program’s duration.

                                                                                                           

A. 5) Interest from other entities in supporting next iteration of the $tartup MSU program.  Potential support may come from the Blackstone Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, the Montana Governor’s office, or possibly other sources.

 
If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

This program is intended as a one-time effort that is expected to transition to support from an organization outside of MSU by FY15, such as the Blackstone Foundation, or the Kauffman Foundation.   If a minimum of three SBIR/STTR awards to participants do not result from this program, no future activities are planned, unless preliminary results are still satisfactory enough to elicit interest from foundation sponsors or other sources outside of MSU.  It is expected that there will still be some possible SBIR assistance for Montana startups, regardless of any affiliation with MSU, from the Montana Department of Commerce MTIP program, if that program is able to obtain renewed funding by FY15.  TechLink is not expected to have its current SBIR assistance programs, but the UTAP program may be able to maintain some local SBIR assistance, if someone can be found with adequate SBIR/STTR program experience, or trained to provide such assistance.              As previously noted, TechLink SBIR experts are expected to become fully engaged in a major multi-year Defense SBIR assistance program beginning in FY14, and are not expected to be available for local support, other than on a very limited basis thereafter. 

 
SIGNATURES
Dean/Director: Kregg Aytes (kregg.aytes@montana.edu)
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (mpotvin@montana.edu)