By Steven Davidson
Having business doors closed begs the question, what can small business owners do in the meantime? If you are someone who would answer, “look for a way to help the planet,” then this could be a great opportunity for you. The EPA is providing contracts for small businesses looking to make innovative products that can help the environment. Ranging up to $600,000, these grants are designed to help those selected get their products through research and development and ready to send into the market. Unfortunately, funding for 2020 has closed, making this a future investment for 2021 rather than a current capital increase.
Overview (click HERE)
The EPA is offering contracts to small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR contracts were created by the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982 to encourage the development of new technologies and to appropriate funds to companies which are in the process of advancing from a Phase 1 contract to a Phase 2. These phases will be explained fully below. There is currently about $2.5 billion allocated to the program, but the EPA only receives a small percentage of this.
As one of 11 participating federal agencies, the EPA looks to advance technologies that will help maintain a healthy environment. The agency’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, so this program echoes their sentiment by looking to develop technologies that will further their goal. When considering taking this path, think about what your technology would look to do. Cleanup efforts and contamination systems, while still important, will not be enough to make it through such a competitive process. The EPA is looking for programs that will stop pollution in the first place or be “game changers” of their field.
Funding Structure and Timeline (click HERE)
Should your proposal be selected, you will begin receiving funding through the EPA’s system. The EPA issues a solicitation for research proposals for specific topics and begins a yearly, two-phase process for awards. Through this phased approach, the EPA can evaluate:
● whether the research idea is feasible,
● if the firm’s research is high-quality, and
● if sufficient technical and commercial progress has been made to justify a larger Phase II effort.
General Information About Application Review
Your application will be reviewed by a combination of internal and external reviewers to make sure only the best proposals are recommended for funding. Proposals are ranked based on these technical and commercial reviews, programmatic balance, agency priorities, and available funding. Here is the list of criteria they use when evaluating. Each is of equal importance:
● Technical Approach (technical criteria)
● Company/Team’s technical and commercial qualifications (technical criteria)
● Impact the proposal would have on the environment or human health (technical criteria)
● Innovation (commercial criteria)
● Market Opportunity (commercial criteria)
● Commercialization Approach (commercial criteria)
Phase I: Six Month Feasibility Study
For Phase I, EPA awards firm-fixed-price contracts of up to $100,000 for 6 months for “proof of concept” of your proposed project. During this phase, the EPA will evaluate the development to ascertain whether it has technical merit, if further research and development is feasible and worthwhile, and the commercial potential of the product. Should it meet all these criteria, it will move onto Phase II. Here is the anticipated schedule:
● Solicitation Opens: June 2020
● Solicitation Closes: August 2020
● Estimated Start Date: March 2021
Phase II: Full R&D Toward Commercialization
Having completed all the requirements of the six month Phase I process, you will receive a second round of funding. Phase II is for the continuation of research and development efforts put forth in the previous phase. The contracts are for two years and up to $400,000, but that amount is based on the results of Phase I, as well as the scientific and technical merit of the project and commercial potential of the product when being proposed for Phase II. Here is the anticipated schedule:
● Solicitation Opens: end of Phase I
● Solicitation Closes: 45 days later
● Estimated Award Date: March 2022
EPA also offers a "Commercialization Option" of up to $100,000 and one additional year for companies that secure third party investment in order to accelerate commercialization.
This is not another round of financing, but rather a guideline for beginning commercialization objectives after the two year period is up. There are no further funds granted under this program during this stage, but the EPA will help guide you.
Topic Ideas Admissible for Applications (click HERE)
Here are the options for ideas the EPA is looking to fund for 2020-2021, according directly to their website:
● Clean and Safe Water
-Monitoring technologies for water reuse
-Treatment technologies for water reuse
● Air Quality
-Air monitoring technology for ethylene oxide
-Air quality sensors for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors
Innovative technologies for radon mitigation in buildings
● Land Revitalization
-Innovative technologies that destroy PFAS in soil, sediment, water and
● Homeland Security
-Long-term disinfectant coatings
● Sustainable Materials Management
-Innovative technologies that prevent food waste
-Technologies that will improve the US recycling system
-New applications for industrial non-hazardous secondary materials and food
-Safe building deconstruction tools for safety equipment
-Building materials that improve energy efficiency and have reduced embodies
● Safer Chemicals
-New approach methodologies (NAMs) to reduce, refine or replace animal testing
-Cleaner manufacturing of coloration techniques
Selecting a Research Topic
The companies looking to propose a product have the sole responsibility of choosing what topic is most appropriate to them. The budget is modest, at around $5 million allocated to the program, so competition is very high. Your proposal should tackle a specific issue and be both marketable and feasible. A program manager will be assigned to you, who can provide general advice for your proposal, but the specifics are up to the applicant.
How to Apply for the Program (click HERE)
Before considering applying, take a look at the topics above to be sure that your idea matches with one of them. These are the only topics that will be accepted this year. Full completion of registration could take up to 8 weeks, so be sure to start as soon as possible.
Basic Requirements (click HERE)
● Must be a for-profit company
● Principal Place of Business in the US
● More than 50% of your firm's equity must be directly owned by
-One or more individuals who are citizens or permanent resident aliens of the U.S;
-Other for-profit small business concerns (each of which is directly owned and
controlled individuals who are citizens or permanent resident alien of the U.S.); or
-A combination of both;
-Multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, or
any combination of these, so long as no one such firm owns or controls more than
50% of the equity
Requirements by the EPA (more information on each at the program application link)
The whole process may take between 6-8 weeks to complete if you do not currently have any of the proper registrations, so be sure to get started right away. The application DEADLINE FOR 2021 IS AUGUST 28, 2020. All of the following registrations are required before you can submit your application:
● Employer Identification Number (EIN) – The EIN base for the organization is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Identification (ID) number. For individuals, it is their social security number, both of which are nine-digit numbers. Business owners must have this available for registration and before issuance of funding awards.
● Dun and Bradstreet Universal Numbering System – All registrations require that applicants be issued a DUNS number. This number will be used for Company registration to the System for Award Management (SAM) and Small Business Administration (SBA).
● System for Award Management – Applicants must complete and maintain an active registration, which requires renewal at least annually. The renewal process may require as much time as the initial registration.
● FedConnect.net – FedConnect is a web portal to find and apply for opportunities for federal contracts, grants, and other types of assistance funding.
● SB Company Registry – All applicants are required to register at the SBA Company Registry prior to application submission and attach proof of registration to their application.
How to Apply for the Open Solicitation
The official solicitation, or application, is open through FedConnect.
Go to FedConnect
Use the FedConnect search function to Search Public Opportunities ONLY
Select Reference Number in the Search Criteria drop-down menu
Enter "68HERC20R0111" into the text box and select the search option.
Select the SBIR solicitation title with Reference Number 68HERC20R0111.
The EPA has provided a guide on how to apply HERE.
Important to Note
This is not a fast cash process. It will take a lot of time and effort to create a promising proposal. For small business owners that either are not wanting to change directions or can afford to wait so long for money, you should pursue other opportunities. However, owners who are already in the field and truly believe they can be a game changer of environmental impact, this is a great opportunity. Having some time to take a step back and pursue something you're passionate about is not an opportunity that comes every day, so take advantage of the current situation.
If you decide to pursue this contract with the EPA, remember this is a highly competitive program. Proposals need to be innovative and unlike any current technology in order to be successful. In 2020, hundreds of applications were submitted, but only 23 were approved. Of the 23 businesses that received Phase I funding, only 10 made it to the second round.
Closing Thoughts on Environmental Effects of Covid-19
A bright spot in an otherwise gloomy forecast, the pandemic had actually led to environmental benefits. From cleaner air and waters to increased animal populations, it looked as though the break from constant travel and human impact was doing the world some good. As we begin to reopen, though, the hope of a cleaner Earth may be more gloomy than before. Currently, carbon emissions are only down 5% from where they were last year and levels are expected to rise. A similar situation with lowered emissions during the financial crisis of 2008 led to similar results.
One of the biggest fears is that polluters will come back from the pandemic even stronger and more profitable than ever before, leading to more pollution and less accountability. Industries, like airlines and oil companies, have been granted massive amounts of money from the government and will ramp up production when the time is right. For the full article, visit National Geographic.
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