BUILDING COLLABORATION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES THROUGH A POWERFUL OHIO NETWORK
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners understand that networking is part of doing business. Entreprenuer.com categorizes the “5 Types of Business Networking Organizations” that most professionals can expect to have networking success. Strong contact networks, described as “Organizations whose purpose is principally to help members exchange business referrals,” are considered the most promising for business growth. Small businesses that work with the federal government may have a difficult time finding a network like this. Competition for relationships and information that leads to contract dollars can create an environment that makes networking feel dangerous for the bottom line. And without networks to build trust, collaboration seems unattainable.
When the Ohio Federal Military Jobs Commission created the Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN) in 2015, the goal was to make networking, and ultimately collaboration, easier for industry, academia and federal labs located within the state. As of January 2017, OFRN has awarded $15.6 million across 18 projects in the areas of aerospace, manufacturing, materials, communications, data analytics and energy storage. They’ve also established six Centers of Excellence (COE), currently organized and located at universities throughout Ohio. Leveraging Department of Defense technologies can potentially bring the Buckeye State 2,500 new jobs and $350 million in private sector investment (Guth, 2017).
Until January of 2018, The Air Force Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) community hadn’t been invited to the networking party. Ad hoc events, hosted by two universities, were the only opportunities for SBIR/STTR businesses to learn more about OFRN collaboration opportunities. With 44% of Ohio’s SBIR awards going to companies in the Dayton region (800 of 1800) (Frazier, 2018 4), WBI recognized the need to connect OFRN into Dayton’s Innovation District.
In January 2018 WBI hosted a Collider entitled “Deep Dive into the Air Force STTR Program”, with a focus on building connections between SBIR/STTR small businesses interested in technology transfer, and OFRN. Held in the heart of the Innovation District at the 444 E. Second St. location, the Collider resulted in connections between five small businesses and OFRN’s university network. One of the companies, D’Angelo Technologies, was thrilled to make so many new research contacts, and the OFRN researchers were happy to link up with a new potential partner.
As SBIR/STTR companies become connected to networks like OFRN, needs across a variety of sectors will become more transparent. Having a collaborative relationship in place means that opportunities can be obtained for the good of the entire network, moving the region away from competitive networks, into collaborative ones. This all translates into faster transition times to the military. And collaborative participation by SMEs means exposure to new researchers and partners. WBI is already planning follow-on efforts that will dive into subjects such as answering requests for proposals, alternative funding opportunities and commercialization efforts. For more information on upcoming Collider events follow meetup.com/collider 5.
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