Jul 9, 2020

Four Arkansas Companies Awarded SBIR from NASA

NASA awarded 312 U.S. small businesses funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program on June 30, 2020. Among the recipients, four of those companies are based in Northwest Arkansas and each will receive $125,000 in the first phase of funding.


NASA distributed over $50 million to proposals that exhibit innovative technologies that have aeronautical and earth applications. The Phase I funding helps small businesses make their ideas come to fruition. The program allows recipients six months to use the money and submit a Phase II proposal for additional funding. Past proposals have included technologies that contributed in sending rovers to Mars and creating small satellites for Amazon.


The Arkansas businesses selected include Nanomatronix, Ozark Integrated Circuits and WattGlass based in Fayetteville and Catalyze H2O which is based in Elkins, Arkansas.


Catalyze H2O is one of the 85 women or minority owned businesses awarded by NASA. The company  has been able to develop their research and technology further because of funding from SBIRs. With the aid of the SBIRs, the company will be able to improve spacecraft cabins and the agricultural, water, healthcare and oil and gas industries through technology that will detect and monitor microbial growth.


“Without the new funding from the NASA SBIR, the commercialization of our sensor technology would be at a standstill,” Shelby Foster, CEO of Catalyze H2O said. “We do not have an internal funding method to advance independent research and development, so we rely on SBIR funding to get a new product idea off the ground.”


The close proximity of these businesses allows them to support one another by sharing their expertise and testing facilities, which makes the grants a success for many other science and technology based companies in the Arkansas community.


“This award is the first NASA award that we’ve received, and Matt Francis from OzarkIC was a huge resource for us as we went through the application process,” Corey Thompson, CEO of WattGlass said. “On a day to day basis, we bounce ideas off of other founders and are constantly impressed with how willing people are to help other companies grow.”


The SBIR program is essential in funding the research and technology development for these companies. “Through the involvement with multiple start-ups, I’ve been utilizing SBIR/STTR funds the entire time,” Matt Leftwich, CEO and Engineering Director of Nanomatronix said. “Four of the five start-up companies I have or have had ownership utilized federal SBIR funds. Their utilization is inherent in our business development and finance models.”


The SBIRs serve as a high risk, high reward incentive to continue developing ideas into applicable technology and explore their commercialization potential. “The Phase I award from NASA lets us extend the range of our ultra high-temperature (500 series) technologies into analog sensing, further helping us fill our product line,” Ian Getreu, Director of Business Development and Partnerships for Ozark IC said. “In addition to future Venus surface exploration, these products are critical to next-generation turbine engines, energy exploration and hypersonic systems that need electronics for sensing and actuation.”


There are many initiatives in Arkansas that provide support for science and technology-based companies to further the research and development of their product. The Phase I selections would not have been achieved without the assistance of small business consulting organizations in Arkansas. The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) has eight locations across the state and offers free assistance to give small businesses an edge in completing the entire SBIR process.


“Being an entrepreneur or part of an early-stage company is difficult and can be lonely and exhausting,” Gwen Green, Marketing and Communications Manager of ASBTDC said. “Since Arkansas is a small state, our research-based and innovation-based companies tend to know each other and try to support each other, in the same way entrepreneurial service providers around the state do.”


ASBTDC’s innovation specialist, Rebecca Todd, is regarded as one of the nation’s leading experts on SBIR/STTR proposals. She has assisted with dozens of winning proposals and served on national review panels.

“Rebecca Todd has provided essential marketing support and AEDC has provided funds, including matching grants, and Letters of Support,” Getreu from OzarkIC said. “StartupJunkie has also provided excellent advice and contacts. The whole Arkansas small business support ecology system is incredibly effective.”

The Startup Junkie Foundation has partnered with Innovate Arkansas, the Northwest Arkansas Council, and the University of Arkansas to launch the Science Venture Studio (SVS). The program launched June 2020 and features an expert team including a grant specialist, small business advisor, University of Arkansas Commercialization Fellows, and technology mentors. The team will target early stage science and technology companies eligible for funding and provide one on one assistance to help these companies achieve SBIR funding.

“The NWA companies that were awarded the Phase I funding during this round of NASA solicitations shows the power that connectedness can have on a community. These companies have demonstrated that support and mentoring can lead to big successes,” Katie Thompson, Director of SVS said. Our aim at SVS is to take what these companies accomplished and develop it into a sophisticated model that will benefit companies and the community at large.”