It’s no secret to any government contractor that the current budget tightening initiatives in Congress will mean less business to go around. That doesn’t mean, however, that opportunities are no longer available and worthy of pursuit.
Case in point – 14 continuing resolutions later, Congress finally reauthorized the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer grant programs for an additional six years. Offered in two phases, the initiatives give between $150,000 and $1 million to help companies bring new technologies to reality. While that’s great news for firms that pride themselves on delivering cutting-edge systems, it by no means indicates a return to the days of old. Budgets are still going to be scrutinized more than ever as increased emphasis in spending controls continues to take hold in Washington.
Nevertheless, it is entirely possible to secure government contracts, particularly in areas of technology innovation, so long as the organizations seeking such grants possess a culture of doing so. Here’s a good example. Last year, my company developed a mobile app prototype for the Department of Homeland Security under the SBIR program that enables citizens to access DHS-disseminated public information faster and with greater accuracy. While experience has something to do with it, we believe the catalyst for securing the grant was three other factors:
- We found a small technology issue that’s causing big problems. While a major headache for DHS, their need was overlooked by larger firms because it wasn’t big enough of an initiative for them to make a profit. Solving the issue, though, would be a great boon to us. Hence our opportunity.
- There were various ways to address the issue. Solutions to the DHS problem could have taken many forms, and there was no specific technical option that was favored over another. This allowed us to create sample scenarios to showcase ingenuity and innovation, including how the mobile app can alert individuals on its location and areas to avoid for a fire, flood or terrorist attack, all by aggregating emergency frequency broadcast and GPS technology.
- We could break up the solution into phases. Trying to solve the entire problem in one fell swoop may be so daunting to the SBIR process and agency that it overwhelms them to the point of inaction. For us, we broke down the mobile app development process for DHS into three phases: The prototype development stage; the first generation application design/testing phase and; the commercial application phase. This did two things for the government agency. First, it gave them an “out” at various stages, thereby lowering their risk of long-term engagement. Second, we didn’t have to build out the entire infrastructure all at once to fulfill the contract, but instead parcel that over an extended period to time, preserving cash flow in the process.
Despite the slowdown in government contract work, there remains ample opportunity for companies to secure new business in this market. There’s greater competition for those dollars to be sure, but it can be done if you look closely enough to find opportunities that, while small, have the potential to cause big problems that aren’t easily solved by tried and true methods.