SBIRs

One day, our founder decided to go to attend a SBA training program. They taught him about a business plan, and recommended that he answer the RPs requested in DARPA and DoD SBIRs. So I got t read a lot of SBIRs. And, I got to waste time writing proposals. Reading SBIRs is one thing. Replying to them another.

Our technology was about decision making in loosely coupled networks. This was back in the day before Microsoft hijacked the term loosely coupled network. DARPA had inferential warfare in mind. They took the OODA Loop and made it formal. Then they looked at the individual commanders doing their OODA loops from the perspective of the commanders of those commanders, and the providers of external services for things like artillery, and air strikes. Lags were involved as were conflicts of interest, so some other researchers came up with solutions built around shifting points of view. Nice stuff. Stuff you’ll see executives asking for in about a decade as the officers trained on the stuff move into the private sector.

An army SBIR was asking for tools that would give them the bigger picture of large-scale coordinated hacks. This involved masses of streamed data from server logs all over the network. In discussions with the lead for this particular project, the lead insisted that what he was asking for could not be done. Well, the company I worked for before I got involved with this founder could do it, but probably never thought to sell it to the federal government sector, because of the overhead involved. They got acquired so the VCs could leave, and the technology vanished. The acquirer had competing technology that couldn’t do the job. These SBIRs are research projects, phased research projects. Get into Phase I, or forget about it.

In another discussion, we were looking at a later phase of a project, this before we learned not to do this, and found that SBIRs are awarded to academic researchers, not technology startups looking for clients. So it boils down to SBIRs not being the way to go. After an SBIR project, those academics can form companies that sell the SBIR technology into the private sector, but the private sector won’t startup within one of these projects.

Subscribe to SBIR lists, read SBIRs, get a grasp of future technologies, do your research thing, know how your market populations will change as the technologies in those SBIRs are adopted. But, don’t write proposals in response to SBIRs.

There are companies that respond to SBIRs, but they were set up to comply with federal service acquisition laws. A bare bones software startup does not exist in that world.

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