R&D Investments for Small Businesses

Dan General, Industry News Release

funding small businessesAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that 76 small businesses around the country will receive $7.4 million in grants to conduct research related to food security, natural resources, and agricultural issues. The grants are made through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a competitive funding source that is coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by 11 federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in high-growth research and development that has the potential for commercialization and could lead to significant public benefit.

“USDA is proud to stand behind America’s small businesses, whose ingenuity and commitment to community is appreciated worldwide,” said Vilsack. “Rural America is finally on the road to recovery after one of the worst economic recessions in our history, and we cannot underestimate the role that small businesses’ innovation has played in bringing jobs back to their hometowns. The Small Business Innovation Research Program is one of many ways that USDA has helped thousands of rural businesses expand on new ideas for the benefit of their own operations and for our society as a whole. ”

Examples of projects that will receive funding today include:

  • Unmanned Experts, Inc. in Denver, Colo., is receiving a grant today to conduct research to accelerate the adoption of unmanned aircraft systems for better fire and natural resource management, and improved safety for wildland firefighters and aviators.
  • Foundation Instruments, Inc. in Collierville, Tenn., will use a grant to evaluate the feasibility of a mobile drinking water laboratory to improve water quality and reduce costs at rural water treatment plants. This project will develop a mobile laboratory that can be shared between members of a rural cooperative to provide rural water treatment plants the same access to high-tech, on-site monitoring programs that are available to large metropolitan systems. This will allow rural water treatment plans to optimize their treatment practices, minimize treatment costs, and improve water quality for their customers.
  • Hazel Technologies, LLC in Skokie, Ill., is working to reduce food waste by developing materials that inhibit ethylene gas, a hormone that plants produce as they age, in a wider variety of plants and later in the supply chain than is typically done currently.

The National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers USDA’s portion of the SBIR program with additional funding provided by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. More information on the SBIR projects announced today may be viewed on the NIFA website.

Past examples of successful USDA-funded SBIR projects include Eldertide LLC’s research to cultivate elderberry varieties with high antioxidant levels that are now harvested and marketed for their anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Another business, Micronic Technologies, has developed a sustainable water desalination and purification technology. Its water treatment system, MicroDesal, is capable of taking water from any source and cleaning it to potable water standards. See more examples of SBIR-funded projects in the SBIR brochure.

The SBIR program is also currently accepting Phase I grant applications for the next round of funding until Oct. 6. See the request for applications for more information. Proposed Phase I projects should prove the scientific or technical feasibility of the approach or concept. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all SBIR topic areas.

Since 1983, the SBIR program has awarded more than 2,000 research and development grants to American-owned, independently operated, for-profit businesses with 500 employees or fewer. Research areas funded include Air, Soil and Water; Animal Production and Protection; Aquaculture; Biofuels and Biobased products; Food Science and Nutrition; Forests and Related Resources; Plant Production and Protection – Biology; Plant Production and Protection – Engineering; Rural and Community Development; and Small and Midsized Farms.

NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.

For nearly eight years, the Obama Administration, spearheaded by USDA, has vigorously invested in the rural way of life; working to help more families make possible the dream of finding a safe and affordable place to live; building schools, libraries, hospitals and public spaces; facilitating the 21st century basic infrastructure of broadband; and jumpstarting the rural economy by infusing communities with the tools they need to innovate, thrive, stay competitive and draw in a more talented rural labor force for a wider array of businesses. We’ve also driven policy and investment around building a sustainable economic future for our nation’s rural communities, outlining four key pillars that contribute to a modern rural American economy and rallying our partners to help draw investment from the private and foundational sectors to build these new markets and new opportunities from the bottom up. To read more about USDA’s investments in rural America and its successful turnaround, visit USDA’s latest entry on, Rural America Is Back in Business.