Green Government Opportunities

By G. Nagesh Rao

From my personal experience in the startup scene,  I have noted that the three critical types of capital required for success are: Human, Financial, and Political. Thus, being able to minimize time spent hunting down these various important resources to help scale a company up, is crucial in today’s rapidly changing world.

During my time at the U.S. Department of Commerce and afterward, my dalliance in the Los Angeles clean tech startup scene, I was constantly reminded of how unaware many entrepreneurs were of the various types of funding opportunities available publicly. Generally speaking, the typical pattern recognition of financing for an entrepreneur is to bootstrap, followed by soliciting friends and family, and then finally chasing after an Angel or VC while hoping for a revenue stream to emanate.

However the notion of seeking out government grants may seem like a “pie in the sky” chase, given the tedious, bureaucratic process, which in all fairness makes sense, since these funding opportunities are devised through the taxes we pay. Nonetheless, typical federal grants, such as SBIR and STTR, can prove to be quite effective since they do not dilute a company’s equity stake and can help raise a company’s valuation given the acquisition of funding, thus showing the free market a vote of confidence in the technology’s feasibility towards proof of concept. The nice thing about these types of grants is that the money does not have to be paid back. The grantee is mainly obligated to be forthright and honest about the use of the funds applied towards the necessary R&D required to develop and commercialize the technology.

Unless one has spent time as a government official (more so in a career civil servant capacity), navigating the United States government in search of these opportunities can be challenging. That is why, under the Startup America umbrella, a series of programmatic initiatives were launched to reduce barriers to high growth entrepreneurship. One, in particular, revolves around clean tech procurement, where SBA initially partnered up with the U.S. Navy to help accelerate the development of clean technologies. Ahson Wardak, Director of IT Systems at SBA, realized with his colleagues that there was a critical gap in the user interface between the public and the federal government in discovering relevant grants. He said to me recently:

“The vision of is to create an opportunity for clean tech startups to see relevant opportunities to work with the federal government that they would not have seen, previously.  The site itself is a proof-of-concept.  Through the API/web services, we fully expect others to build better tools with the available data than the government may be to able to or maintain.  But we can reliably make the data freely available.”

As part of the U.S. government’s push towards open data access and innovation, this programmatic endeavor shows the commitment to help reduce the unnecessary barriers and empower you, a local citizen, with the information required to push forward with your clean tech startup endeavor. These new models of engagement with government are experimental but if  support and interest is shown by you in participating in the process, then we can truly maintain our ability of keeping government accountable in a fair and pragmatic manner.

{Image Credit: SBA}

G. Nagesh Rao was a former Senior Policy Advisor & Patent Examiner with the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Currently he serves as an Expert Strategist on IP-Law and Technology Commercialization to a number of  cutting edge organizations and councils including Publicbeat, Launch:Energy, LACI, and Global Access in Action. Finally he does randomly tweet on twitter when incentivized to do so.


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