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Does the Government Fund Innovation?

Have you ever wondered why so many of the world’s most innovative companies are in the United States? Why have so many successful tech giants grown in the U.S. instead of Europe or somewhere else in the world? You might be surprised to learn that some of the largest and most innovative companies and technologies - Google, Qualcomm’s nanotechnology, even the internet itselfwere developed with funding from the U.S. government. When we think about funders of innovation and entrepreneurship, the government might not be at the top of our list. In reality, however, the government is a significant supporter of innovative small businesses and many of the technologies that affect our daily lives. The Oklahoma Catalyst Programs, an office of the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma, exist to connect Oklahomans to the $2.5 billion awarded by the federal government to U.S. small businesses every year through the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR/STTR).


SBIR/STTR is a three-phase program that supports pioneering companies as they develop new products or technologies and bring them to market.

Based on a competitive proposal process, companies have the opportunity to earn funding for every stage of development - researching and proving feasibility, creating prototypes and final products, and finally creating a strong commercialization strategy.


Small businesses generally have a 15-20% chance of winning a Phase I award, totaling around $150,000. However, after winning a Phase I award, businesses have a 40-50% chance of securing a Phase II award, which is typically between $750,000 and $1.5 million. As a federal contract or grant, SBIR/STTR funding does not need to be repaid and even makes participating businesses eligible for future government contracts. Companies you may recognize like 23andMe and iRobot (the makers of Roomba) have received SBIR funding for the early stages of new product development.


In fact, some individuals and small businesses from right here in Oklahoma have already received their first round of SBIR funding.


Participants in the Accelerator Program took part in a 6 week course on the SBIR Proposal process

Dr. Ashton Robinson Cook and Greg Hallman received their first Phase I award after entering the Oklahoma Catalyst Accelerator Program. During the Accelerator Program, Tom Wavering, Executive Director of the Tom Love Innovation Hub, and Program Director, Daniel Moses, worked with the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs team to help Cook and Hallman through the steps of writing a Department of Defense (DoD) SBIR proposal. The program took place over the course of six weeks in the Summer of 2018 and covered topics like building a team, planning a budget, and writing a commercialization plan.


Both Cook and Hallman brought their ideas to the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs team with the goal of commercializing their products and winning Phase I SBIR funding. With the help of the Accelerator Program, both men wrote and submitted successful SBIR proposals to the DoD and received a combined $195,000 to develop their ideas.


Hallman is creating a VR-based training and educational program with his company, Ocupath

With a Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma and a background in weather technologies, Dr. Cook is developing WeatherDeep, a tool that is able to predict severe weather months in advance based on changes in oceanic temperatures. Greg Hallman, also an OU graduate with a Masters of Education from Columbia, is creating a VR-based training and educational program through his company, Ocupath. Both hope to continue growing and plan to apply for Phase II SBIR funding. The Oklahoma Catalyst Programs team will continue to work with both Cook and Hallman as they work through their Phase I award and prepare to submit a Phase II proposal.


In 2017, Oklahoma small businesses won close to $10 million in SBIR funding, a small amount when you consider that the program makes $2.5 billion available each year. At the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs, we believe that our state can do much better and we work diligently to connect innovative Oklahomans and their businesses to SBIR/STTR funding.


If you would like to join the long list of successful companies that have received SBIR/STTR funding, apply to join our upcoming Accelerator Program and receive the same assistance that benefitted Hallman and Cook.


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Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.