The SBIR program supports the funding stream through Phase II. However, at the completion of this phase, the small business must identify non-SBIR funding for technology maturity and validation efforts. At this transition point, often called the “Valley of Death,” failure to incorporate SBIR into overall program planning can make it difficult to identify funding in a manner that supports timely insertion of the SBIR technology.
Since the Technology Development Strategy (TDS) lays out the acquisition program plan for managing research and development for the life of the program, it is extremely important to address SBIR in this document. The TDS presentation of overall R&D cost, schedule and performance goals should include planning for the maturation of SBIR technologies. SBIRs should be denoted as a source of technologies and development should be aligned with the program schedule, including execution of any required testing.
It is also imperative to map out appropriate funding for SBIR technologies in the TDS to support transition of the technologies in step with acquisition program schedules and requirements. Sufficient resources should be programmed to continue funding of the SBIR from the conclusion of Phase II to the desired maturity level.
The SBIR technology development plan outlined in the TDS can be applied to prepare a Technology Transition Agreement during Phase II. This is a required document at many commands. A Technology Transition Agreement, or TTA, documents the commitment and responsibilities of the acquisition program sponsor, command SBIR manager, and SBIR firm in developing, delivering and integrating a technology into an acquisition program.
The TTA establishes exit criteria for program acceptance and technology insertion. The agreement should include the intended customer or end-user of a SBIR technology, funding sources for development beyond Phase II, and an integration and test strategy. Proper development and execution of a TTA will significantly enhance the likelihood that a SBIR project will transition in a manner beneficial to the acquisition program.
Other tools available to enable transition success are transition agents or relationship managers. An individual in this position provides expertise in transition planning and management, and serves as a liaison between the acquisition, S&T, and small business communities. As a resource, transition agents have the benefit of sole focus on the task of walking technologies through program development to the end goal: transition to the warfighter. At this time, the Army, Navy and Air Force all have transition agents or relationships managers operating in some capacity.
SBIR can be employed during the Technology Development Phase for technology risk reduction, competitive prototyping and the identification of the appropriate set of technologies to be integrated into a full system. This technology development is achieved through an iterative process of assessing technologies and refining user performance parameters.
The links below provide access to interviews conducted with government representatives and large businesses regarding their experience in using the SBIR program to mitigate risk.
One way to derive maximum value from SBIR is to include specific award fee clauses in contract language to target and reward incorporation of SBIR technologies by prime contractors. This following is an example of appropriate language to encourage use of SBIR technology:
“Two percent of the total award fee pool shall be dedicated to an evaluation of success in applying technology from SBIR projects.”
In addition, the Acquisition Strategy should also lay out plans for meeting small business contracting goals. For fiscal year 2007, the Department of Defense, with the Small Business Administration, set a goal of awarding 23% of prime contracts to small businesses. In addition, DoD prime contractors are expected to award 35% of subcontracts to small business. Contracts awarded through SBIR qualify as progress toward achieving these small business targets—simultaneously bringing technology innovation to bear and achieving contracting goals.