The successful transfer of innovative technologies from the commercial sector to government end users is crucial for our nation’s success. The issue of transitioning innovations in government has become a widely discussed topic over the past several years, and we’re here to provide actionable insights to help you along the way.
While there are varying definitions for the “Valley of Death”, it generally refers to the gap between the development of a technology or product and its successful transition into operational use or commercialization. This term is often used when discussing the challenges faced by small businesses or startups working on innovative technologies for defense applications. Even after a company has successfully developed a technology, often with the help of early-stage funding such as SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants, many get swallowed by struggles to secure the resources, partnerships, or additional funding needed to transition the technology into a full-scale product or service for the DoD or commercial markets. That is why The Outpost exists.
Small businesses can adopt several strategies to overcome some of these challenges
Leverage SBIR/STTR programs
Small businesses can use the SBIR and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) programs to secure additional funding for continued research, development, and testing of their technologies. Phase II and III of these programs can be particularly helpful in bridging the gap between initial development and commercialization.
Despite some drawbacks and limitations, the SBIR and STTR programs have had a significant positive impact on innovation and the growth of small businesses in the United States. By understanding these challenges and addressing them proactively, small businesses can better navigate the funding process and maximize the potential benefits of these programs.
Build strategic partnerships
SBIR contracts can provide dual-use technology companies with direct access to government agencies and their resources. This can help your team better understand the specific needs and requirements of the defense or government market, tailor your products accordingly, and potentially secure additional contracts or partnerships with these agencies in the future.
Forming partnerships with larger defense contractors, prime contractors, or other industry players can help your businesses access the resources, expertise, and connections needed to transition your technologies into operational use. These partnerships can also provide credibility and open doors to further opportunities within the defense sector.
Participating in the SBIR program can offer dual-use technology companies access to technical assistance, mentoring, and networking opportunities. This can help your team overcome technical challenges, refine your business strategies, and establish connections with potential partners, customers, or investors.
Engage with end-users and program offices
Partnerships with large organizations is certainly important, but it is also vital to stay connected with end-users and program offices. Small businesses should actively engage with the end-users of their technologies, such as military personnel or other government agencies, to understand their needs and requirements better. This will help ensure the technology is tailored to address real-world problems and fits mission requirements, increasing the likelihood of successful adoption and integration.
Develop a strong commercialization plan
A well-defined plan is crucial for navigating the Valley of Death. Your plan should outline the target markets, potential customers, competitive advantages, intellectual property protection, manufacturing, distribution, and revenue projections for the technology. Having a solid plan in place can help attract additional funding and partnerships.
While SBIR contracts primarily focus on research and development, the program encourages commercializing developed technologies. The support provided by the SBIR program, particularly during Phase III, can help dual-use technology companies navigate the challenges of bringing their products to market, both in the private sector and the defense or government markets.
Receiving an SBIR contract can serve as a form of market validation for a dual-use technology company. It can signal to investors, partners, and customers that the your technology has been recognized as innovative and valuable by the government. This, in turn, can help your company attract additional funding, partnerships, and commercial opportunities.
Pursue non-dilutive funding
Besides SBIR/STTR grants, your business can explore other non-dilutive funding options, such as government contracts, or grants from other agencies. These funding sources can provide critical resources for the development and commercialization of defense technologies without requiring your company to give up equity or control.
Participate in defense-focused accelerators or incubators
Defense-focused accelerators or incubators can provide small businesses with resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities to help them navigate the challenges of working in the defense sector. These programs can also provide access to potential investors, partners, and customers, helping to bridge the Valley of Death.
We are here to help
The Outpost is dedicated to empowering startups, technology innovators, government agencies, and private-sector companies in the national security and commercial sectors by simplifying the complexities of the DoD innovation ecosystem. By leveraging their deep expertise, extensive network, and proven track record, The Outpost helps clients navigate the SBIR/STTR process, secure funding, and forge strategic public-private partnerships. Through our dedication to national security and doing good, The Outpost drives innovation and ensures that clients win, ultimately contributing to a safer and more prosperous nation.