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Navigating SBIR Grant Writing: Insights from CEO Zev Orzy

Small business grants like the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) program are a great tool for US companies to get seed funding to accelerate their R&D efforts. However, traversing the SBIR landscape can be a treacherous experience as small startup teams are required to identify relevant opportunities, navigate legal requirements, intimately understand the needs of the soliciting agency, develop a convincing commercial and government narrative, network within the government, and manage all the requirements of the program on interest - all while fighting typically tight deadlines. To help startups develop a better understanding of how to enter this ecosystem with confidence and what to look for in an SBIR consultant, I'm interviewing one of the best in the business, Zev Orzy, CEO of Akela Consulting. Zev's expertise in SBIR consulting and grant writing for small tech startups makes him a valuable resource for insights into navigating the world of SBIR grants. To introduce myself, my name is Josh Bar-on (JBO), senior advisor to Akela Consulting, and I am grateful to have had the pleasure to sit down with Zev (ZO), to explore why the SBIR program is a game-changer for U.S. small businesses and how it can be leveraged.

Zev Orzy, CEO Akela Consulting
Zev Orzy, CEO Akela Consulting

Understanding the Significance of the SBIR Program:

JBO: Hey Zev, thanks for joining me. Let's get right into it. Why is the SBIR program such a big deal for small businesses?

ZO: The SBIR program is a game-changer, offering U.S. small businesses access to nearly $4 billion annually from an evergreen fund. What sets SBIR apart is its non-dilutive nature, meaning it provides funding without requiring equity in return. This funding not only provides vital financial support but also enhances a company's traction. When the U.S. federal government backs your innovation, it serves as a strong validation, lining you up for a Phase III solesource contract and making your company more attractive to future investors. Furthermore, successful participation in the SBIR program can lead to long-term opportunities, such as future high-value funding opportunities and new committed government customers.

Your grant writer should be organized and have a long-term plan for which SBIR programs you will apply to over time. Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Key Considerations When Choosing a Grant Writer:

JBO: Zev, what factors should small tech startups consider when selecting a grant writer for SBIR proposals?

ZO: Small tech startups should prioritize grant writers with a proven track record of success in securing SBIR grants. Just as important, you should choose someone you can trust and work closely with. Your grant writer should be organized and have a long-term plan for which SBIR programs you will apply to over time. Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. Furthermore, it's best to work with grant writing firms that have expertise across various funding programs and federal agencies, rather than just one or two programs, as a diverse approach is often the best approach.

Crafting a Winning SBIR Grant Proposal:

JBO: Zev, what are the key components of a successful SBIR grant proposal?

ZO: A successful SBIR grant proposal should clearly articulate the project's innovation, technical merit, and commercial potential. It's essential to demonstrate a strong understanding of the problem being addressed and propose a feasible solution with a clear path to commercialization. Additionally, the proposal should consider the relevance or use case to the funding agency, especially for programs like the DoD SBIR program and AFWERX, where well-established programmatic alignment can lead to a contract opportunity. A gifted grant writer is essentially a great storyteller who understands how to adjust for the audience and effectively convey the value proposition of the project.

Understanding the Cost of Grant Writing Services:

JBO: Zev, how do small tech startups determine the cost of grant writing services for SBIR proposals?

ZO: The cost of grant writing services can vary, but typically include both a retainer as well as a success-based fee. When choosing a grant consultant it's important to have a balance between the two. It may be tempting to opt for a company offering a low retainer and high success fee, but this may not align with the grant's budget guidelines and could disqualify you from receiving future funding. On the other hand, you want the company to be motivated by your success, so a high retainer and low success fee is also not ideal. Striking the right balance between these two factors is crucial. Also, with small teams, you want to avoid very long contract commitments as securing one or two federal contracts could overcommit your team to executing the project with very little time to contribute to grant efforts.

A smart strategy is to plan out which SBIR programs align with your business and are more likely to lead to success.

Planning Your SBIR Strategy:

JBO: Zev, when is the best time to apply to an SBIR program?

ZO: Truthfully, Josh, there is almost always at least one high-value program open for submission. A smart strategy is to plan out which SBIR programs align with your business and are more likely to lead to success. Some programs, such as the NSF SBIR, operate on a semi-rolling basis, while others like the DoD SBIR, NIH SBIR, NASA SBIR, and AFWERX follow periodic release schedules throughout the year. By strategically selecting programs and applying based on their schedules, startups can increase their chances of securing funding with a diversified approach. When seeking assistance, consider SBIR consulting firms that can provide specialized guidance tailored to the SBIR program's unique requirements.

Parting Message from Zev:

JBO: Zev, before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to share?

ZO: Actually, yes there is. I'd like to leave you with this thought: navigating the world of SBIR grants can be daunting, but with the right guidance and expertise, small tech startups can unlock incredible opportunities for growth and innovation. Remember to stay focused on your goals, choose your SBIR programs wisely, and don't hesitate to seek assistance from experienced grant writers like those at Akela Consultants. Thank you for joining us, and best of luck with your SBIR endeavors!

Learn More About SBIR Grants for Your Startup

Interested in exploring SBIR grants further for your startup? Reach out to Akela Consulting for expert guidance and support. With our proven track record in SBIR grant writing and our commitment to helping small tech startups succeed, we're here to assist you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your startup secure funding through the SBIR program.


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