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ASTA Commercialization Programs Nurture Early-Stage Innovation (Guest Post)

April 22nd, 2015 by Steve Stanley

Dr. Steve Stanley of the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority contributed this post to L2L.

Lab2Launch Blog Guest Post by Dr. Steve Stanley of Arkansas Science & Technology AuthorityThe Arkansas Science & Technology Authority (ASTA) was established in 1983 with a mission to advance the talent and innovation necessary for Arkansas to prosper. ASTA uses a number of different programs to promote this mission.

Three of these programs were specifically designed to move promising technology from the research bench into a technology-based Arkansas business:

  • Technology Transfer Assistance Grant (TTAG) – This matching grant program provides limited financial support for technology transfer into Arkansas-based enterprises.
  • Technology Development Program (TDP) – This investment program provides royalty financing for innovative technology-based projects with the potential to produce economic and employment growth in Arkansas.
  • Seed Capital Investment Program (SCIP) – This investment program provides working capital to help support the initial capitalization or expansion of technology-based companies in Arkansas.

The TTAG program was created to support the acquisition or creation of promising technology for commercialization by an Arkansas company. The grants are small, $5,000 or less, but the program is a perennial favorite. The most common use is to support the preparation of federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant proposals.

In the TDP and SCIP programs, the state makes a direct investment to support the commercialization of technologies with the potential to enhance the Arkansas economy. Generally this means the creation of high-paying knowledge-based jobs. The state has stepped into this traditionally private market function because the high risk of making these investments restricts the private investments and can lead to unattractive investment terms when private investments are made.

The three programs work best in concert with each other and with the federal research and SBIR grant programs. Although it is not a requirement, many of the technologies being supported by ASTA were created with federal basic research grants and then developed with SBIR grants. Success in these federal programs benefits the ASTA committee that reviews and recommends state funding by validating the underlying technology.

The process for reviewing TTAG applications has been streamlined and a determination on funding can often be reached in two or three weeks. All TDP and SCIP investment decisions are made by the ASTA Board of Directors and the process for reviewing and approving the applications is more involved, generally taking three months or more.

It is important to remember that the goal of these programs is not to make money for the state. Because of the high level of risk involved in these early-stage investments the majority are not expected to succeed. Those that do succeed help replenish the investment fund, allowing more investments to be made in the future.

But the real value to the state is not the repayment; it’s the high-paying jobs created. The diversification of the Arkansas economy with high-paying technology-based job is critical to our ability to maintain and improve our standard of living.

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