What do successful companies like Symantec, Qualcomm, ViaSat and Boston Engineering Corp. have in common? They’ve all used the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs to develop their technology-driven businesses. Symantec, for example, grew out of an SBIR research project that led to the company’s Norton Internet security products.
Waltham-based Boston Engineering, a contract engineering firm, has won eleven awards totaling approximately $5 million in SBIR and STTR grants which has enabled them to develop robotics products for the Department of Navy and Homeland Security. The company was named one of the top 10 robotics companies in Massachusetts by Mass High Tech in April 2013.
SBIR is a federal program that awards grants and contracts to high-technology small businesses to allow these entrepreneurs to carry out the research and development necessary to develop innovative technological products that can be brought to market and also help the federal government meet its research and development needs.
SBIR targets the entrepreneurial sector because that is where most innovation and innovators thrive. However, the risk and expense of conducting serious R&D efforts are often beyond the means of many small businesses. By reserving a specific percentage of federal R&D funds for small businesses like Boston Engineering, SBIR protects the small business and enables it to compete on the same level as larger businesses.
SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and it encourages the commercialization of the technology, product, or service, which, in turn, stimulates the U.S. economy. Since its enactment in 1982, the SBIR program has helped thousands of small businesses to compete for federal R&D awards. Their contributions have enhanced the nation's defense, protected our environment, advanced health care, and improved our ability to manage information and manipulate data.
Boston Engineering’s most recent project is the biomimetically-inspired BIOSwimmer, an unmanned underwater vehicle modeled after a tuna fish which is said to have the ideal natural shape for this type of vehicle. The BIOSwimmer’s ultra-flexible body coupled with mechanical fins and tail allow it to dart around the water just like a real fish even in the harshest of environments.
The research funded by SBIR grants from Homeland Security to shore up its increasingly high-tech underwater arsenal is designed to safeguard the coastline of America. While the BIOSwimmer has a number of security applications, its high maneuverability makes it perfectly suited for accessing hard-to-reach places such as flooded areas of ships, sea chests and parts of oil tankers. Other potential uses include inspecting and protecting harbors and piers, performing area searches and military applications.
Bob Treiber and Mark Smithers founded Boston Engineering in 1995. Treiber, an electrical engineer, and Smithers, a mechanical engineer, were co-workers at an innovative contracting engineering firm where they helped develop robots to perform hazardous work in the nuclear power industry. Their mutual love of innovation and technology led them to start an “engineer’s paradise” – a company where engineers could innovate, and develop solutions to help mankind, and to prosper from all their hard work.
Before embarking on this journey, the founders sought advice and suggestions from experts about the wisdom and “how-to’s” of starting a business. The men attended a “Getting Started in Business” workshop in Boston offered by the Boston SCORE Chapter, a SBA resource partner, and then met with a SCORE volunteer counselor who was a retired engineer. The men drew on the information conveyed by SCORE along with their other research to launch Boston Engineering.
In addition to SCORE counseling, the company obtained two SBA-backed loans to help support growth.
The team has grown to more than 50 people who’ve helped hundreds of clients in the medical, defense, alternative energy and industrial markets to design and introduce new products, to develop new technologies and to solve complex engineering challenges. The BIOSwimmer, the company’s own novel swimming robotic technology, will be commercialized and will eventually save lives.
When asked what makes him most proud about his business, Treiber spoke about feedback from a marketing firm recently hired to rebrand the company. Treiber said that “the feedback (from the marketing firm) about the people and the company truly being happy and of high moral fiber really meant a lot to me.”
Treiber said “I never thought that I would work for a small business, never mind own one. But having started and built one now for 17 years, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I highly recommend it.”
RJ Wronski Associates, Inc.
100 Everett Avenue, Suite #4
Chelsea, Massachusetts 02150
On the Watchlist
Every business leader recognizes the importance of employee development but few have the resources or talent to train staff on all facets of business leadership. A local company fills the gap between corporate capability and its training needs.
Boston-based RJ Wronski Associates, Inc., founded by Richard Wronski in 1984, was originally an information technology training business focused on mainframes, programming languages, and database technologies. Richard’s son Stephan Wronski, who has been with the company since 1998, was named president in 2012, and with his father’s support, has expanded the business into a leadership development organization with global reach. Onsite training has been delivered on six continents, 33 countries and 37 states to companies like Johnson & Johnson, Chevron, Nielsen, Manulife and other companies committed to the development of their staff
Wronski Associates brings together instructors, coaches and consultants to design comprehensive leadership programs that deliver leadership, technical and business skills to engineering, operations and IT professionals at all levels of the customer’s organization from new hires to senior executives. Courses are delivered either onsite in a traditional classroom environment or as blended online solutions using the most advanced e-learning technologies and platforms.
When Stephan was transitioning into his role as president in 2012, he recognized that he had to become more of a strategic thinker in his new role. Fortunately, he learned about SBA’s e200 Program, now called SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative, and its MBA-style program for CEOs, COOs, CFOs, which was just about to begin in April. The course included approximately 100+ hours of professional specialized training and peer-to-peer counseling delivered over the course of seven months
Stephan completed the course which ran from April through October 2012 and took away a three-year strategic growth action plan with benchmarks and performance targets. Wronski states that “I may not have made the time to develop this plan without the support and push from the e200 instructor and fellow students.”
The effort served him well and helped him achieve one of the growth strategies contained in his e200 Growth Action Plan to improve the company’s branding and image to be on par with academy-minded clients for whom they regularly provide leadership development solutions. A key component of this strategy was to capture three or more industry awards. Recently Wronski Associates nailed this goal by being named to Training Industy.com’s 2013 Leadership Training Companies Watch List which is quite an honor given that this status was awarded to just 16 companies.
For more information on Wronski Associates, visit http://www.wronskitraining.com/ ">http://www.wronskitraining.com/ and more information about SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative, go to http://www.sba.gov/content/sba-emerging-200-initiative.
Denise Jones, President & CEO
Dnutch Associates, Inc.
13 Branch Street, Suite 208
Methuen, MA 01944
Across the country, women-owned businesses are proving to be one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community. In the 1970s, only about 5% of businesses were owned by women. Today, it is closer to 30%. Denise Jones’ company, Dnutch Associates, Inc. (“Dnutch”), is one powerful example of this progress.
Founded in 1993 in Methuen, Massachusetts by a unique association of software and network engineering professionals, Dnutch provides expertise in the design, verification, development, and testing of large-scale information technology (IT) systems for public and private sector clients. They also ensure that their clients become more competitive by using best practices in IT.
Before the launch of Dnutch, Ms. Jones worked to make a name for herself in the government and IT sectors. A strong and intelligent woman with an engineer’s mind and a very technical background, Ms. Jones served in the U.S. Air Force and is a Vietnam Era Veteran, worked for a government contractor that supported NASA during the time of its first space shuttle launch, helped improve IT security for military bases in Massachusetts, and partnered with others in IT to launch several businesses. This experience ultimately gave Ms. Jones the confidence to start her own company, a dream she had always wanted to pursue.
Since Dnutch first opened its doors for business, Ms. Jones has hired about 15 full-time employees and several part-time and temporary employees to serve both public and private customers. Over time, Ms. Jones has worked with the SBA to help her company grow. She applied for and was accepted to the 8(a) business development program, which gives small businesses preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. In 2012, Ms. Jones also joined the SBA’s Emerging 200 program, which involved months of intensive training on different business topics for promising CEOs. Thanks to her passion and careful planning, Dnutch earned close to $3.0 million last year and continues to grow.
When she is not in Washington, D.C. working with clients or in Methuen, Massachusetts plotting her next move, Ms. Jones makes sure to give back to causes and communities that are important to her. For this reason, she works as a fundraiser for scholarships for local high school students, and also works as a mentor to struggling mothers in Cambridge. She also assists the Community Brotherhood in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Ms. Jones carefully plans for the future of her company by weighing the risks and searching for new opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, Dnutch Associates, Inc. is likely to enjoy enormous success in the years to come.