Money was on the minds of those who thronged the halls of the Rhatigan Student Center at Wichita State University on Thursday.
Nearly 170 people attended the seminars and meetings with representatives of about a dozen federal agencies.
The draw? Those agencies award roughly $2.5 billion a year in grants to small businesses with promising new technologies — dubbed “America’s largest seed fund.”
In the past, Wichita and Kansas haven’t received much of this money. That’s the reason for the stop of the SBIR Road Tour at WSU. SBIR stands for Small Business Innovation Research. More information can be found at www.sbir.gov/.
The federal economic development officials were at WSU to build awareness of the federal grants and give inventors the detailed knowledge they need if they want to compete for federal grants.
“It went very well,” said John Williams, director of the Office of Innovation and Technology of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Kansas is one of 20 states with low numbers of applicants for SBIR grants or for the related program, Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).
“And you guys are in the low end of the 20,” Williams said. “And you shouldn’t be. You’ve got all these engineers graduating here. But they’re going after venture capital or letting investors take an equity stake.”
The tour also will be hitting spots in Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Missouri, all places that have produced relatively few applicants for the federal programs.
In the programs, the federal government provides the grants or contracts without taking any ownership, although the government reserves a royalty-free right for government use of the technology or patents. The program is divided into three phases:
▪ Phase I, to establish the feasibility of the idea, with a grant not to exceed $150,000;
▪ Phase II, to develop the technology with a grant of not more than $1 million;
▪ and Phase III, commercialization.
Sam Henry and his son, Charles Henry, were there. Sam Henry is the owner Henry Enterprises, a custom machine shop in Concordia. Charles Henry is an engineer at the Information and Telecommunications Technology Center at the University of Kansas.
Both said they had ideas they were interested in exploring. Sam Henry is working on a electric motorcycle, while his son is working a new sub-woofer.
Charles Henry said he was somewhat familiar with the program, but wanted to know more.
“I wanted to meet some of the program managers directly, rather than through a consultant or some other expert,” he said.
John Martens, founder of drone maker Nmotion UAS, was also at the event. He wanted to know more about how to develop and present a strong grant application.
He is still learning his way around developing a new company and new technology.
“As young as we are, every little bit helps,” he said.