SBIR awards granted by the USDA give small businesses the power to enhance American agriculture. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of 11 federal agencies participating in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Through SBIR, the USDA offers competitively awarded grants to eligible and qualified small businesses that develop products, services, and processes to address problems in agriculture and provide significant public benefits.

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In facilitating comprehensive accounting services for a slew of small businesses, Team 80 has come across many important initiatives that aim to better the lives of countless individuals. This front-row seat to meaningful innovation is one of the many perks we enjoy while crunching numbers for clients.

The strides made by startups awarded funds through the USDA’s SBIR program are truly impressive—altering the very landscape of American agriculture, the environment, rural communities, and rural healthcare.

Throughout this article, we’ll examine the finer details of the USDA program and tell you everything you need to know to apply. We’ll also highlight some of the most remarkable awardees.

What Does USDA SBIR Stand For?

USDA SBIR stands for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the USDA’s SBIR program awards projects that focus on bolstering American agriculture while protecting the environment and strengthening rural communities and the healthcare that keeps them safe.

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What is the USDA SBIR Mission?

The USDA is one of 11 federal agencies participating in the SBIR program, which awards grants and funds to eligible small businesses. The USDA seeks to select qualified small companies with proposals for high-quality, advanced research projects through the SBIR program. The research must relate to scientific opportunities and issues within agriculture, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the public.

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The USDA’s SBIR program stimulates technological innovations in the private sector, strengthens the role of small businesses in federal research projects, increases the potential commercialization of innovations, and fosters the advancement of women-owned and socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses.

Ultimately, the USDA wants these SBIR projects to provide solutions for American agricultural efforts and society. This is facilitated by combining science, research, production, and marketing in a way that transforms innovative ideas into practical realities.

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USDA SBIR Phase I

Open to all eligible small businesses, Phase I establishes the first step in the USDA’s SBIR process. The objective is to determine the scientific feasibility of the small business idea and map out its commercial potential.

How Much is the USDA SBIR Phase I Award?

The funding limit for the USDA SBIR Phase I award is $100,000.

The duration of the USDA SBIR Phase I is eight months.

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USDA SBIR Phase II

Open only to previous Phase I awardees, USDA SBIR Phase II continues the research and development established in Phase I while scaling up the efforts and funds awarded. Phase II also allows the small business to begin planning commercialization and implementing the technology, product, or service.

The funding limit for the USDA Phase II award is $600,000.

How Do I Apply for a USDA SBIR Award?

To apply for a USDA SBIR award, you must first establish whether or not your company is eligible.  Eligibility comes down to your company’s size, ownership, and control requirements—all established by the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Guide to SBIR/STTR Program Eligibility. The requirements include:

  • Must be a small business in the U.S. with no more than 500 employees, including affiliates.
  • It must be a for-profit business.
  • Must be more than 50 percent owned and controlled by U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens.
  • The bulk of the ownership and work must reside with the grant recipient, though you may have business partners and contract out a minor share of the work.
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Move forward with your application process by registering your business on the SBIR/STTR Company Registry. This gives you access to the SBIR.gov system and will provide you with a unique control ID for all of your submissions.

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What are the USDA Research Topics?

The USDA addresses various agricultural, environmental, community, and health concerns, represented by specific SBIR research areas. Research topics include:

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  • Forests and Related Resources
    • Projects related to forests and grasslands’ health, diversity, and productivity. The main area of focus should be on sustaining forest resources, addressing the impact of climate change, developing value-added materials, and protecting existing ecosystems.

  • Plant Production and Protection — Biology
    • A biological approach to enhancing crop production and protection. Projects should aim to reduce the impact of harmful agents, advance plant improvement methods, and develop new food and specialty crops.

  • Plant Production and Protection — Engineering
    • An engineering approach to the same crop enhancement and protections mentioned above, this area utilizes economically and environmentally sound production, post-harvest, and storage systems. 

  • Animal Production and Protection
    • Supports the development of innovative technologies that assist agricultural concerns and animal producers to improve efficiency while preventing disease and outbreaks, conserving resources, and reducing production costs.

  • Conservation of Natural Resources
    • Focused on air, soil, and water, this area creates tech for conserving and protecting essential natural resources. Projects must work to sustain farm and forest productivity by reducing erosion, enhancing quality, developing irrigation techniques, reducing pollution, and promoting these transformative technologies. 
  • Food Science and Nutrition
    • Efforts in this area must develop products and processes related to what we eat and how it relates to health. Projects can work to improve processing and packaging methods for better quality and nutritional value, promote programs and products that increase the consumption and understanding of healthy foods, and reduce childhood obesity.

  • Rural and Community Development
    • Improve the economic vitality of rural communities and reduce poverty by conceptualizing and commercializing tech, products, processes, and services. In addition, projects should enhance the efficiency and equity of public and private investments, build a diversified workforce, and increase resilience to disasters. 

  • Aquaculture
    • Projects include a wide array of concerns related to ocean life, such as increasing reproductive efficiency and genetic improvement in fish and shellfish, enhancing animal health, food safety, production efficiency, cost-effective production of alternative proteins, and reducing water usage.

 

  • Biofuels and Biobased Products
    • Efforts should promote product usage through innovative technologies that increase bio-production from agriculture materials and provide new opportunities to diversify agriculture’s role in the raw materials industry. 

 

  • Small and Mid-Size Farms
    • Projects aimed at increasing the sustainability and profitability of farms and ranches through plant, animal, organic, and natural products. There are also opportunities to enhance farm safety, increase operational efficiency, and conserve natural resources. 

SBIR Phase I TABA

  • Phase I awardees can request an additional $6,500 through TABA. Applicants awarded a USDA SBIR Phase I grant will receive a contact from a USDA-funded vendor on what services are available and how to obtain those services at no cost to your business. If you select your own TABA provider, you must include this as “Other Direct Costs” in your budget. You must also have a detailed budget justification and a signed letter of commitment from the provider. 

SBIR Phase II TABA

  • Phase II awardees can request up to an additional $50,000 through TABA. Grant recipients in Phase II must select their own TABA vendor while also including the requested TABA amount in their budget as “Other Direct Costs” and provide a detailed budget justification and a signed letter of commitment from the vendor.
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Note: TABA funds may not be used for research and development (R&D) activities that the grant funds otherwise support. However, electing to use TABA will not take away from a company’s R&D budget. Instead, it is in addition to the USDA SBIR grant and can only be used for TABA services.

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The highly competitive nature of the SBIR program makes it a grueling process—but it’s this characteristic that also makes winning the award deeply gratifying. Over the years, USDA SBIR Phase II awardees have run the gamut from projects that enhance food safety and nutrition to projects that fortify agricultural efforts and animal protection. To give you a general idea of what it takes to receive a grant from the USDA, here are some past winners of the agency’s SBIR program Phase II.

Whole Trees, LLC

Answering the call by USDA officials to “develop new markets for forest byproducts that encourage healthy timber management,” Whole Trees, LLC created value from an abundant, near-waste byproduct of well-managed forests. The Wisconsin-based company utilized the $579,540 Phase II award to develop a process to use de-barked, un-milled whole timbers and proprietary steel connections as a cost-competitive and environmentally sound structural building material for columns, beams, and truss assemblies in place of steel, concrete, or milled lumber. The R&D led to an expanded supply chain, improved design values, associated cost reductions, and enhanced product safety, performance, and reliability.

Green Heron Tools

Thirty percent of U.S. farmworkers are women. However, farming tools have never been explicitly designed with women in mind. That all changed with Green Heron Tools, a woman-owned, Pennsylvania-based company that received SBIR Phase II awards totaling $532,157. Green Heron Tools developed a new line of ergonomically efficient garden tools to address the specific needs of women’s bodies. The Phase II award led to the development and commercialization of HERShoval, a safer, scientifically designed alternative to standard unisex tools and tools made smaller solely for aesthetic purposes.

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The USDA’s SBIR Directly Serves Citizens

Projects born from the USDA’s SBIR program seem geared explicitly toward addressing the overarching health of the average citizen and the day-to-day issues faced by America’s working farmers. It’s innovation with an immediate impact!

However, that impact can be dulled if you fall short of SBIR accounting requirements.

Like the SBIR programs across all federal agencies, the USDA boasts accounting rules and regulations that can seriously slow progress. The requirements are numerous and highly consequential, from the separation of direct and indirect costs to general ledger management to error-free timekeeping records.

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Team 80 has the experience necessary in the arena of government grants to make this process as headache-free as possible—giving you the bandwidth to focus on your innovation.

Get A Free Consultation for Your USDA SBIR Accounting Services
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Sarah Sinicki

Partner & Director of Business Development at Team 80 LLC

Sarah is a Colorado native and loves everything about our beautiful state. In her free time you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids and her Yorkie named Marley. She also enjoys paddle-boarding, riding her cruiser bike, and just hanging out with friends and family. Sarah is also an avid Colorado Avalanche fan, so if you ever want to talk about hockey, she’s your gal. As one of the Partners of Team 80, she certainly does have a passion for helping small businesses. She is able to apply her 20 years of experience to tailor an accounting solution for a business owner no matter what industry they might be in.

Been with Team 80: May 2008

Education
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Degree Name: BS
Field Of Study Accounting
Graduated: 1998

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