In a potentially favorable move for Black institutions and enterprises, NASA has awarded $50 million in funding to small businesses.
The money, aimed to help hundreds of small businesses, will be managed by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology (STTR) program. According to NASA, it picked “small businesses and research institutions to develop technology to help drive the future of space exploration.”
The investments will be dispersed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. Some 333 proposals from 257 small businesses and 41 research institutions—including 10 minority-serving institutions—will receive first-round funding for technology development under the selection, according to a news release.
Roughly 25 percent of the selected companies are woman-owned, veteran-owned, disadvantaged and or HUBzone small businesses. NASA indicates each proposal team will receive $150,000, a 20 percent gain over funding in prior years. It will be used to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations. Phase I SBIR contracts are awarded to small businesses and last for six months. Phase I STTR contracts are awarded to small businesses in partnership with a research institution and last for 13 months.
“Finding and building a diverse community of entrepreneurs is a central part of our program’s outreach, and the efforts to reach them can start even before Phase I,” said Gynelle Steele, deputy program executive for NASA’s SBIR/STTR program at NASA.
“For example, working in partnership with NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP), we started offering M-STTR planning grants last year, which incentivized partnerships between MSIs and small businesses and prepared them to submit a STTR Phase I proposal in 2022.”
The MUREP is run through NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, according to the website.
Oakwood University, an M-STTR awardee and HBCU in Huntsville, Alabama., will keep working alongside SSS Optical Technologies, a small business also based in Huntsville, NASA reported. The school will use its Phase I award to develop a new type of coating for photovoltaic (PV) cells embedded in solar sails. The technology could improve the efficiency of commercial solar panels.