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Help for Start-Ups, Part 3: Technical Assistance Programs from SBA, NASA and the Department of Energy

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Help for Start-Ups, Part 3: Technical Assistance Programs from SBA, NASA and the Department of Energy

By nicoj
Published: August 11, 2011 Updated: August 11, 2011

We’re getting the word out on how the federal government can help start-ups. This blog article is the third in our series cataloguing programs for high-technology entrepreneurs (sometimes referred to as “high-growth, high-impact firms” or high-tech start-ups). In the first part of the series, we looked at grant programs. Last week, we outlined loan programs. This week, we’re highlighting five technical assistance resources for high-tech start-ups.

What is Technical Assistance?

For start-ups, technical assistance generally means getting access to tools and expertise that help make a product ready for the market. Many entrepreneurs face barriers in getting high-tech products ready for commercialization. In some cases, government-sponsored technical assistance programs can break down those barriers.

For example: let’s say your start-up is trying to develop (and market) a new kind of home light bulb. You may have the talent and the vision to take this product from concept to product, but you probably don’t have a large research facility to test it in, a liberal budget to help find the right materials, and years of expertise on the best manufacturing practices. Technical assistance – whether it’s being able to talk to an expert in your field or being able to use a high-tech lab to run some tests – can be vital to your start-up success.

The following five government programs contain a technical assistance component that can help entrepreneurs who are looking to start “innovation-driven” small businesses. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all technical assistance programs, but rather five that show the broad spectrum of programs available.

Regional Clusters / Innovative Economies Initiative (Small Business Administration)

 Regional Clusters are local economic partnerships that bring together small businesses, public organizations, universities and other groups to drive collaboration, innovation and job growth in a particular region and industry. Last year, SBA announced new funding to increase the involvement of small businesses in 10 existing “clusters.”.  The regions these clusters serve and the industries they support are spread across the U.S.

To get your small business involved, check out this list of clusters and websites. If one of them looks like a good fit for your business and region, you can contact the cluster organization directly and enquire about opportunities for your business. Most clusters provide direct contact information on their websites.

Clean Energy Alliance Partnership (Department of Energy)

The Clean Energy Alliance is made up of some of the nation’s leading business incubators. Since 2000, they’ve provided technical and financial help to many high-tech start-ups, particularly those focused on clean energy products. Last year, the Department of Energy introduced funds to help even more clean energy firms bring their products to the market, enabling incubators to support companies with an array of services: technical assistance, business planning, legal and accounting support, marketing, networking, and access to capital.

The 20+ incubators in the program serve different regions from coast to coast. See this list of incubators to find one that fits your location and your industry focus. Contact information is provided for each incubator.

Industry Growth Forum (Department of Energy)

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory sponsors the annual Industry Growth Forum, a networking event for clean-energy start-ups that connects entrepreneurs with investors, venture capitalists, and other start-ups. The event features a number of presentations, panels and organized networking opportunities. Since 2003, it’s helped participating companies raise over $4 billion in capital. For interested small businesses, visit this page to apply to be a presenter.

The “Nanofab” Lab (National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Nanotechnology, an emerging science that involves the manipulation of atomic particles, is showing up more often in consumer products like cookware, window cleaners and cell phone chips. NIST is on the forefront of nanotechnologies, and the agency operates a state-of-the-art nanolab.

If your start-up is developing a product using nanomaterials, this lab may be able to help you -- NIST allows entrepreneurs, universities and others to use the lab for minimal or reduced rates.  “Remote” users can also work with NIST researchers to do nanotech testing without going to the lab themselves. To learn about the lab’s offerings, check out this equipment listing page.  If you’re interested in using the lab, this ‘How to Become a User’ page explains how to set up a project.

Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), NASA

If you’re an entrepreneur developing a product related to NASA technology, this program is worth taking a look at. Through SATOP, NASA gives small businesses free technical assistance to help develop products – it’s that simple. SATOP operates facilities in New York, Texas, New Mexico and Florida, leveraging the expertise of space companies, universities, and the NASA Space Program.

To send in a request for technical assistance, fill out SATOP’s application sheet. For program FAQ’s, click here.

About the Author:

Nico Janssen
My name is Nico and I'm serving as a moderator for the Community.

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