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SGNT in Washington, D.C. – NSF SBIR Grant Phase I Conference – Part 1

Today is the last day of our grant conference. I’m sitting in hotel lobby reflecting on the last few days drinking a much-desired latte (the hotel coffee was largely unsatisfying). Emil and I arrived in the D.C. area for our National Science Foundation SBIR Phase I Grant workshop.

Monday was the kick-off, starting with the Boot the Odds Bootcamp. While the purpose of a Phase I grant is to conduct research and development on our technology, and de-risk the technology, commercialization is ultimately critical. Afterall, if you discover something amazing, but it sits in a lab and never benefits humanity, what’s the point!?

Part of our Phase I grant requires us to participate in this bootcamp, which has a specific focus on customer discovery and early-stage commercialization. In a nutshell we were required to build a preliminary Business Canvas with a primary focus on discovering Customer Segments and the most important Value Propositions. Once that was built out, we were required to conduct “customer interviews” in order to discover the true customer needs and how our product might be used.

Even though we have been conducting customer interviews on our own for a while, diving deeper into this process with more focus was extremely insightful. We were required to conduct at least 30 interviews, and I’m proud to say I hit about 45 by the time the conference had started. I can tell you though, this was not an easy task to get started. Additionally, because of the government shutdown, we began the process about a whole month late.

At first, we started cold-calling and e-mailing companies in industries we were interested in. This was, to be blunt, excruciating at first. It was slow, frustrating, and took a bit of time to get going. We could have continued down this path but were afraid we wouldn’t hit our magic number of 30 before the conference. So, we pivoted our approach and leaned hard on our advisors and personal network for connections.

Simply stated, networking paid off! The amount of connections and interviews started to pour in, and I got the bulk of them done in about a 2-week period. I actually had to tell some our advisors to tap on the brakes since I had so many connections coming in. We are truly grateful for the assistance they provided, and I’m not sure if we would have hit our goal without them!

With our interviews completed and documented, all that was left was to put a Power Point presentation together on our findings and insights and present it to our NSF Program Director Rick Schwerdtfeger and coaches at the conference. Emil presented on Monday and I feel it went very well.

We definitely learned a lot in this process and at the conference, but I’ll talk about that more in Part 2.

Tommy R
March 21, 2019
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