Alright, now we’ve reached a Phase I award which is always very exciting! So, what’s next? In this blog post, we’ll unpack some of the steps from Phase I to Phase II and how that builds into a larger transition strategy. The process varies based upon the agency, so we’ll hone in on the DoD’s variety of topics here and highlight how the Air Force and Navy specifically take the lead in bringing innovation to the warfighter.
In the last blog post, we discussed the DoD “Traditional SBIR Topics” and how they’ve been the normal way of SBIR programs for the last several years. As a reminder, these topics are very specific to a DoD problem and come out in three cycles during the course of each year.
The focus around these topics centered on research and development. Again, earlier stage companies with developing technology are often a great fit for these topics. It provides funding to build out, test, and prototype technology for DoD specific problem sets. The goal in Phase I for traditional topics is to prove the “feasibility” of the idea. Serious prototyping often doesn’t happen until Phase II contracts.
These traditional topics are great because they are typically assigned a Technical Point of Contact (TPOC). These TPOCs have often dealt with the specific DoD problems that small businesses are trying to address. They may also be connected to the ultimate end-user or program that can incorporate the small businesses technology. Meaning, there’s a potential transition pathway as soon as you win the Phase I award. It’s not a sure bet and can vary widely based on the TPOC that is assigned, but at the very least you have a lead!
The downside is that these contracts typically take 4-6 months for the award of the Phase I, and can often take a year or longer before the Phase II award is made. Additionally, once the Phase II is awarded, there are still several years of development and prototyping before the solution is ready for the DoD or commercial market. These days, most industries are moving at a faster pace.
With that being said, the new flavor of SBIRs has been well received by innovative companies in the industry. Both the Navy and the Air Force have accelerated timelines that recognize many technology startups move at a faster pace or their DoD technology iteration may be based on an existing commercial solution.
The Navy is still better about tying the topics to specific problems and end-users. However, this approach does limit access from industry and doesn’t leave room for companies to bring technologies or solutions to the table that the Navy is unaware of. The benefit, similar to the traditional SBIRs, is that the transition pathway to Phase II and III is much more defined.
The Air Force, on the other hand, has repeatedly kicked down the door to Phase I and allows a wide variety of technologies and solutions to be brought into their Phase I award. However, the difficulty is that once in a Phase I, the companies are left to fend for themselves. There is minimal guidance through the process and no connections to AF end-users provided. The challenge is finding interested customers who have to sign paperwork in order to support a Phase II contract.
The key to successfully transitioning a Phase I contract to a Phase II for the Air Force is to be fully concentrated on finding an Air Force end-user and customer. An end-user is someone within the Air Force that will actually put their hands on your technology and use it. A customer is the one that pays for it- confusing, we know. A customer is typically a program office, which are large organizations dedicated to “acquisitions” of capabilities. This function is often completely separated from the end-users.
Once you have that end-user and customer identified, signed supporting documents will be required, which will all be incorporated into the Phase II proposal. For the AF, this Phase II proposal essentially shows that you have an end-user, customer, and plan should you be awarded a Phase II.
In the next blog post, we’ll talk more about performing a successful Phase II and talk more about the transition to Phase III!