Now is the time to launch or accelerate a startup in Alabama

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rep startup match 550pxA number of federal agencies distribute funding to support research and development activities through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Recent legislation designed to spark statewide innovation in Alabama could be a new catalyst for UAB investigators pursing research commercialization.

Under the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR), U.S.-based small businesses can apply for grants of up to $250,000 (Phase I) or $750,000 (Phase II) to stimulate technical innovation and commercialization.

SBIR and STTR federal programs award more than $4 billion annually to more than 5,000 companies. In fiscal year 2020, Alabama received nearly $50 million in SBIR and STTR funding for more than 120 projects and 45 companies across the state. In the same year, companies partnered with UAB researchers were awarded $1.8 million in Phase I funding across four projects.

Those numbers could soon increase. Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed legislation to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship, including the Innovate Alabama Matching Program (House Bill 609) to match federal awards to Alabama-based SBIR and STTR recipients. The program will receive annual appropriations of $5 million.

The new policies add extra incentive for campus innovators and local small businesses looking to spur research and development.

“UAB is committed to improving society through innovative processes and products,” said Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director of the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and chair of clinical and diagnostic sciences in the School of Health Professions. “Federal SBIR and STTR funding has always presented a unique opportunity for research commercialization, and the new match program will help accelerate UAB research development and facilitate increased partnerships with small businesses across the state.”

A new blueprint for commercialization

As “America’s Seed Fund,” SBIR and STTR programs drive university and community innovation. Through partnerships with local small businesses, UAB researchers can turn campus discoveries into groundbreaking products and services that benefit the public.

There are many paths to research commercialization in which faculty entrepreneurship plays a key role. Whether an inventor forms a startup based on new ideas or partners with a company interested in advancing research in their area of expertise, such entrepreneurial activities are encouraged but can give rise to potential conflicts of interest.

Every innovation starts with an idea. But what’s the next step? What campus and community resources are available to support employee entrepreneurs as they navigate the startup process? What policies apply to SBIR/SBIR funded projects? The UAB Startup Guide details the commercialization process — step by step.

Following the new legislation, the guide was refreshed to include a section dedicated to pursuing SBIR and STTR funding as a UAB employee or faculty member. The guide and online resources can help campus entrepreneurs harness the new state-matched funding opportunities by clarifying the process, timeline and related university policies.

“We wanted to create a roadmap for navigating the UAB entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Jason Nichols, OD, Ph.D., associate vice president for research engagement and partnerships. “UAB is an institution of public trust and strives to balance innovation and entrepreneurial activities with transactional transparency.”

The guide is a product of the UAB Entrepreneurial Development Committee, which launched in 2019 to help employee entrepreneurs seeking to launch startup companies based on university research.

The Entrepreneurial Development Committee brings campus leaders together to facilitate new UAB startup companies and address key commercialization processes and issues. The cross-disciplinary team includes representatives from the Office of the Vice President of Research, Office of UAB Counsel, University Compliance and Risk Assurance, Office of the Provost, Office of Sponsored Programs, School of Medicine, Collat School of Business and Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“UAB has a long history of entrepreneurial activity,” Nugent said. “We want to make the research commercialization process as simple as possible and empower faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs to use their gifts to positively impact society.”



Briana Bryant, marketing manager for the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, wrote this for UAB Reporter.