Talk to the Federal Agency!

An earlier posting touched on doing your homework in getting to know the federal agency you are applying to for SBIR funding and also understanding the competition for your technology. Next you need to talk to the people at the agency who should be interested in your technology about how it can solve their problems. Some agencies encourage this, others allow it, and a few make it difficult. However, it is important with all of them.

Why would you want to talk to the federal agency? After all, the problem they want solved is stated in their SBIR solicitation. There are several reasons:

  1. You want to introduce yourself, your company and your technology. People, even federal employees, would rather do business, including funding R&D, with people they know. So, let’s start that process by introducing yourself.
  2. You want to get feedback on whether your technological approach would be considered. If they tell you that they have already wasted much time and money on approaches similar to yours, you may have just saved yourself a considerable amount of unproductive effort. While you will never get a positive commitment to fund a project, you might get encouragement and even guidance on points to include in your proposal.
  3. You might need clarification on what the agency wants so that you can better focus your proposal. Intelligent, insightful questions can give you added information and build creditability.

But before you pick up the phone or shoot off an email, realize two things:

  1. This communication will either start to build your creditability or undercut it.
  2. The federal employee you are contacting is a busy person therefore you will not have an unlimited amount of their time.

So, you must be organized and get to the important points.

Not sure about who to contact, when to contact them, or what to say? The answers vary from one agency to another. The ATDC staff members who provide guidance on the SBIR program (John Mills, Connie Ruffner and Julie Collins) can answer these and other questions.