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Tell your SBIR/STTR companies about this little-known supplement

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: August 4th, 2021

A detailed article on the TABA program of supplemental funding for SBIR/STTR companies appears in the July issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here

Other than classified intelligence, the Technical and Business Assistance (TABA) supplement might be the U.S. government’s best-kept secret. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program supplement is still new and not well-described on federal agency sites or even listed on to help people understand what it’s all about. But if TABA isn’t something you’re encouraging your SBIR companies to apply for, they’re leaving money on the table.

“Figuring out what TABA is and how it might be relevant to a specific company can be challenging because the rules surrounding the supplement vary from one government agency to another,” says Laura Schoppe, president and owner of tech transfer consulting firm Fuentek LLC, a TABA vendor. “The amounts awarded and guidelines for using a TABA vendor are different, for example, at NASA than they are at DoD, and even different between the Army and the Navy [within DoD].”

Congress enacted TABA in August of 2018 under the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act (JMNDAA). The goal was to improve the commercialization of SBIR-funded activities by providing market-based support services associated with the SBIR research — along with supplemental funding to pay for them — so that the companies would be more successful in commercializing the results of the government-supported innovations. The addition of the TABA funding should also reduce the practice of SBIR companies applying for multiple consecutive grants to fund research but never producing any products. “As a result of these abuses,” explains Schoppe, “agencies are getting stricter on how they look at the commercialization potential of technologies. Most agencies are now asking for a lot more detail on companies’ business plans.”

The JMNDAA allows agencies to offer SBIR/STTR applicants additional funding of up to $6,500 for Phase I awards and up to $50,000 for Phase II awards, which are used to pay vendors to provide commercialization services and support. However, not all agencies offer companies the maximum amount.

Each agency can either require its SBIR companies to contract with the agency’s preferred vendors or select their own TABA vendor. For example, DOE has two “captive” vendors that their SBIR companies must either use or request special permission to use an alternative vendor. NIH has only one vendor; no alternatives are allowed. Other agencies, like NASA, allow SBIR companies to select their own TABA vendor.

Finding a vendor is not easy. As Schoppe points out, “the companies may have no idea that TABA exists or what advantage it has for them, let alone who they’re going to go to and ask to provide that service.” Meanwhile, TABA vendors have a difficult time reaching out to SBIR companies too. “Fuentek is a TABA provider,” explains Schoppe, “but how do I advertise to small businesses that might be applying for an SBIR? There’s no centralized database of potential applicants. That’s not an easy group of people to reach out to.”

Companies applying for SBIR grants are not required to apply for a TABA supplement. However, it is essential to note that to receive the TABA funds, companies must include the request as part of their SBIR proposal, since these requests are not accepted after the company has received an SBIR award.

However, companies can request TABA support for Phase II even if they didn’t ask for it at Phase I, and not using a TABA vendor for Phase I does not negatively impact the decision to approve TABA for Phase II.

When the agency receives an SBIR proposal that includes a TABA request, the agency will first go through the technical review process and decide about accepting the company into the SBIR program, and if the award is made then agencies review the TABA request. The reviewers ensure that the TABA vendors are qualified U.S. small businesses that can provide appropriate services. If the TABA request is approved, the agency adds TABA funding as a supplement to the SBIR award.

The companies pay the TABA vendor directly, and then the agency reimburses the SBIR company. The recipients must record how the funds are spent and provide invoices to the agency, which in turn must justify TABA expenditures to Congress. The SBIR recipient cannot provide its own TABA services, and any unused funds remain in possession of the agency.

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