Usefully understood as a (largely) private-sector funded version of the long-time, highly effective SBIR program, STEP -- SBIR Talent Engagement Platform - is a Solicitation & Proposal Submission initiative and a key component of the comprehensive, multi-faceted ASSET system. Similarly grounded as all other ASSET components in the proprietary and exquisitely detailed SBIR Awardee Tracking Systems developed and longtime maintained by ithe Innovation Development Institute LLC, STEP enables the pro-active engagement of the specific and relevant SBIR-STTR talent sought by Tech Seekers to tackle what are effectively, competitively-bid Research Projects and other related efforts.
Consistent with lessons learned from some $45B of SBIR-STTR Phase I-Phase II awards activity over now almost 35 years and drawing down on the input and combined experience by hundreds of personnel across the full range of federal agencies, STEP is NOT managed as a year-round sequence of frequently offered Tech Seeker project announcements. Instead, to ensure focused project exposure, targeted notifications to approporiately qualified and depth-in-quality response(s), STEP is currently offered as a twice-a-year Solicitation-based system
- with a limited number of Published Topics per solicitation offered by various Tech Seekers
- not exclusively -- but most commonly and consistent with the long-used SBIR format - offerings and award(s) are structured to a Phase I-Phase II format.
- Phase I: shorter duration, smaller dollars exploratory endeavors usually of a less proprietary nature allowing the parties to "get to know each other": the fly-before-you-buy approach initiated by the originating SBIR effort in NSF.
- Phase II being of longer duration, involving a larger funding commitment with far more substantive activity, focus and exchange. By design, the Tech Seeker choose their Phase II candidates from among Phase I Awardees. Historically, some chose a lesser number of Phase IIs than there had been Phase I awardees, a few continue all their projects and, occasionally, no Phase IIs are awarded
To ensure a quality response by sufficient quality candidates, the initiating solicitation(s) distributed to that population of SBIR-involved judged best qualified to respond includes
- carefully (Tech Seeker) prepared Topic Descriptions - rationale for conduct of the project - with indication of Evaluation Criteria
- structured Submission Format requirements
- specific Due Dates and Decision Announcements
- and - critically - provision for various forms of useful pre-submission interaction:
- threaded message postings of clarifying questions in a secured access area by interested respondents among those identified as likely qualified
- capacity of other pre-qualified invited respondents to see and perhaps even participate in those threads - the equalavent of an online Bidders Meeting
- and, as appropriate, a by-topic, by-invitation webinar
How STEP works:
With the option by Tech Seekers of full identification or total anonymity - or something between - Phase I Projects Responses to Posted Topics are initiated through non-confidential submissions by SBIR Awardees from among those contacted and interested in the opportunity. Also made available to participating Tech Seeker in their SMART Office are various data about applicants and other supplementary materials designed to support evaluation and selection of the specific SBIR-involved players with which they wish to interact.
Available only to Tech Seekers having an in-place Corporate Retainer Account, the core concept of SBIR Connect is to enable interested Tech Seekers to have early engagement with, and involvement in, SBIR-STTR Projects of interest and, not trivially for many, subsequent useful access into other (often sole source) federal funding.
Organized and anchored in the federal application and awards process, the Connect Effort pro-actively supports Tech Seekers and those small firms of interest and/or interested in partnering through
- Timely issuance of Application Support Letters
- Active project engagement (sub-award) By Tech Seekers: Phases I and/or II or Phase III
- Provision of appropriate supplementary Project Support by Tech Seekers: Phase II parallel OR Phase III contract dollars; typically these might include in-kind equipment, advisory status, personnel exchanges etc
Work for Hire:
An important component of SBIR: Connect also is Work-For-Hire - a version of the classic Contract Project Funding. Typically, these engagements are
- shorter term: a few weeks in duration
- for smaller dollars: $2.5K-$25K
- with developed IP often - but not always - ceded to Tech Seeker involved