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Strong: April conference connects researchers, fed funding

By Brian Clark
For WisBusiness.com

Federal officials from as many as 10 agencies are set to attend an April conference in Madison that one entrepreneur says is a good indicator for the Midwest economy.

This spring’s national Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) conference is set for April 10-13 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.

“To have the conference come to Madison is a strong indicator that the folks in the Small Business Administration see (not only) the value that Madison brings across the country, but also as an example of good things that are happening in the Midwest,'' says Laura Strong, president of the cancer drug development company Quintessence Biosciences.

She said the people who run small firms in Wisconsin need to take advantage of the opportunity and meet with potential federal funders.

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“Even if companies already have connections, this is a chance to learn more first-hand about funding priorities and develop relationships,” said Strong, who is co-chair of the conference.

“And there certainly is a lot to be said for that face-to-face interaction that you can’t get from the telephone or email.”

The conference will feature expert speakers and panelists discussing innovations in the areas of biomedical/health, defense/security, energy/cleantech, agricultural/food and fuel industries. For details, see http://conferencing.uwex.edu/conferences/sbir2011/.

Strong, who earned her doctorate in organic chemistry at UW-Madison before starting Madison-based Quintessence, said federal agencies set aside a small percentage of their funding to help small businesses develop innovative ideas and products.

Her company, which has seven employees, has received more than $1 million in SBIR grants from the National Cancer Institute. Thanks in part to those awards, Quintessence now has a drug in a clinical trial.

Dozens of other Wisconsin companies have received SBIR awards as well. (See http://www.wisconsinsbir.org/past_award.cfm?aYear=2001 for a list of recipients during the past decade.)

She called the process for getting these federal grants rigorous.

“They are very competitive programs,” she said. “You write a grant application, send it in and it gets reviewed folks who have a significant amount of experience in their fields. There is a very strong peer review process.”

She said conference participants can learn how to apply for grants, what reviewers might be interested in learning about an applicant’s technology and how a company plans to commercialize an idea.

In addition, she said, the conference will have speakers who will discuss a variety of topics, including SBIR’s new Start-Up America initiative, which has a $1 billion early stage innovation fund.

“There will be legislative updates from people who do a lot of work in Washington, too,” she said. “So it’s not just about how to write successful grant applications.”

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