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Funding business research: specialized grants can provide $$ for your high-tech firm.

Starting a technology-oriented company can be a costly undertaking, especially when research and development costs are involved. Fortunately, there are technical assistance grants and development contracts available from numerous sources in state and local government. Taking advantage of them can enable a start-up to research the feasibility of a business idea, develop a product to the beta testing stage, and in virtually all cases, keep the intellectual property rights to its technology.

However, finding available funds that match your needs involves patience and ingenuity. The Internet is a good place to start your search, says Bonnie Baughman, director of center administration for the University Park, Pennsylvania, Technology Center of the Ben Franklin Partnership (BFP).

Baughman says most states fund programs similar to the BFP, which provides various technical assistance grants for feasibility studies and research and product development in Pennsylvania. Through the BFP, seed grants of up to $25,000 are available for businesses with less than 250 employees. Matching challenge grants that can reach $100,000 and other funding are also available.

Another way to find funds, according to Marie Thompson, president of T/J Technologies Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is by networking within professional organizations. Her advanced materials development company learned about the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program through contacts in the scientific community and a local business development organization. By using the SBIR program, which is coordinated by the SBA, 10 federal government agencies award contracts and grants to small businesses with ideas that meet the agencies' specific research and development needs. Phase I contracts are awarded for up to $100,000 for feasibility studies and Phase II contracts of up to $750,000 are awarded for research and development. During Phase III, the agencies assist in moving an innovation from the laboratory to the marketplace (no SBIR funding is expended in this phase).

T/J Technologies started about five years ago with a $50,000 Army SBIR contract to conduct a feasibility study relating to structural materials. Today, the company has revenues of just under $1 million.

Having a realistic business plan for commercializing the technology you wish to develop is key to securing funding, says Thompson. Virtually all government-funded technical assistance programs state economic development as their ultimate goal and commercializing technology usually figures highly on the selection criteria.

Keep in mind that some programs have payback requirements for companies that successfully commercialize their efforts.

To find out more about the SBIR program, call 202-205-6450 or visit their Web site at For more information on the BFP, call 814-8G3-4558 or visit their Web site at (do not use "www" when typing this address).
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Title Annotation:Capital Ideas
Author:Huggins, Sheryl E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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