The world has changed dramatically yet some things remain the same. The old adage of “It’s Who You Know” still holds true when applying for corporate and community foundation grants (but not government grants). This is both fortunate and unfortunate depending on which side of the fence you’re on. When your organization is applying for either a corporate or foundation grant, dig around to see if you have any friends, colleagues, or board members who know someone at that corporation or foundation. If so, ask them to place a call to their contact to give them a heads-up on the upcoming submission. This call serves as a form of relationship cultivation and can go a long way toward your goal of getting funded. It could also create an opportunity to have a meeting with a program officer at a corporation or foundation to both vet your program to make sure it’s a good fit and galvanize the relationship. And, make sure your grant writer reinforces this connection in the cover letter. Bon chance!
In an era of accountability, measuring the success of your program is critical in the eyes of potential funders. How will you know your program is successful? Today you must put some effort into answering this question on a grant application. Yet in the last-minute scurry of grant preparation, people often don’t give this component enough attention.
When cash flow isn’t an issue, organizations will hire a professional evaluator and write this expense into a grant. This works. But when cash flow is an issue, however, creating your own online survey via SurveyMonkey is another option.
Recently, the Urban Institute and its partners, Child Trends and Social Solutions offer more solutions with an evolving Web site featuring free evaluation tools at www.performwell.org. The evidence-based content includes model surveys and assessments in 119 outcome categories and 89 program areas. This free portal “is designed to give nonprofits accessible, valid tools for evidence-based measurement of their work,” according to Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute.
I love the PerformWell site and jumped at the chance to find valid evaluation tools for a grant I recently wrote for a youth mentoring program. I found a Youth (Mentee) Survey, Mentor’s Monthly Report, Parent-Guardian Exit Survey, Mentee Exit Survey, Attitude Toward Neighborhood and Civic Obligation Survey, and a Youth Risk Behavior Survey on this site. All these tools will help program staff measure the objectives of the program. And, what’s interesting about this process is that you can tweak your objectives depending upon the evaluation tools you find. One of the things I love about grant writing is the interconnectedness of all the different parts of a grant. When all the parts effectively complement each other, that’s a sign of a well-written grant. I recommend going to the PerformWell site when you have some leisure time (what’s that?) to thoughtfully approach the evaluation piece. It’s worth the effort!
Have you noticed how our day-to-day parlance changes all the time? It’s in constant flux. Words are in the air, we hear them, repeat them, and they’re in vogue for a time. Perhaps they make their way into the dictionary like “boomerang children.” For instance, “sweet” has replaced “awesome,” and suddenly everyone saying “It is what it is…” A few years ago, we constantly heard “At the end of the day….”
In the philanthropic arena, words are constantly changing as well. For example, “underrepresented” is replaced by “underserved,” and “low-income” is replaced by “economically disadvantaged.” While conducting prospect research for your organization, make a list of “sound bites” or phrases funders use on their Web sites that speak to their current priorities. This list will give you an idea of philanthropic trends in your funding area as well as terminology currently in vogue as funders respond to the times. You can tweak your organization’s vision, goals, and objectives by using some of these sound bites to align your organization with potential funders, which will help you attract funding. Your grant proposal is a sales document; you don’t want to be using dated language or concepts. Also use the phrases on your sound bites list in grant proposals to make you look “current.” And while writing a proposal for a specific foundation or agency, sprinkle in sound bites from their Web site. This will help you look like more of a perfect match.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) government funding consists of R & D (research and development) money set aside for high risk, high payoff research conducted by small, for-profit businesses. SBIR government funding is $2.5 billion annually. Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding is $300 million annually. In addition to R & D, the technology should be intended to be commercially deployed and have a potentially large national impact.
Eleven government agencies offer these opportunities that can be searched from the SBIR Gateway, www.zyn.com/sbir and www.sbir.gov. Award amounts vary from agency to agency. Phase I awards can range from $150K to $220K to $450K. Phase II awards can be $1 million, $1.5 million or $3 million, depending on the topic. Typically, 1 in 6 to 1 in 12 Phase I SBIR proposals receive funding, and approximately 2 in 5 Phase II proposals win. Thirty-three (33) percent of businesses are first-time winners of Phase I funding. In 2011, 1856 companies were awarded in Minnesota, totaling $432 million.
If you’re planning on submitting one of these proposals, here are some helpful tips from a Webinar presented by Mark Henry, CEO of Grow Emerging Companies, LLC in Depoe Bay, Oregon, http://grow-ec.com/government-funding.html.
- Plan ahead: You’ll need an EIN and DUNs number, and it takes 44 days to complete government registration via System for Award Management (SAM), www.sam.gov, formerly CCR (Central Contractor Registry). You’ll also need a case number at grants.gov.
- Preparing a Phase I proposal takes from 100 to 300 hours, or 10 to 12 weeks. Your proposal must be a top fit for the agency topics. Search on Google Scholar to search papers on your topic.
- In Phase I proposals, reviewers will want you to push the envelope for commercial impact.
- Understand the playing field. Then write about your idea and sell it. Your proposal is a sales document. Set the stage for your innovation and quantify the problem. Get the audience interested in the problem and quantify the problem. Identify and substantiate the need. Summarize state-of-the-art technology and its shortcomings. Don’t rely on the government’s definition of technical challenges.
- If your company doesn’t have a strong commercialization track record, make sure some of your team members, consultants, and advisers have commercialization and intellectual property experience.
- Your proposal has to be a research project with research questions. SBIR/STTR funding is not appropriate for product development. You’ll need preliminary data; give the reviewers the confidence that your plan will work. In Phase I proposals, you need metrics to measure success.
- Your proposal must have technical merit, innovation, and credibility … and impact is getting more attention now.
- Focus on your idea and where you want your company to be in 3-1/2 to 5 years (average funding cycle).
- Be smart about collaborations and teaming. Don’t work in a vacuum.
- Add academics to your team.
- Collaboration with academics, other firms, and national labs are allowed, but they should be considered outside costs.
- Agency program managers will not serve as the reviewers. They don’t have control over your proposal.
- What you may learn with one government agency SBIR proposal will not translate to another agency.
- More than half the funding in these programs are contracts. Contracts are the government’s ideas that are reviewed by internal staff and are not as flexible as grants. (DOE is a contract agency in “grant clothing;” focus on clear responsiveness to their topics. These reviewers are a complex audience, i.e., a mix of grant and contract approaches for reviews; and they mix both internal staff and external experts.)
- Treat the proposal as a business venture, not just a proposal. It should be a combination of something that works (involving inventors) and something that sells (involving entrepreneurs).
- It’s never a good idea to treat the whole budget as a direct cost. The budget has to be a realistic relationship between direct and indirect funds.
- Be careful about what you ask for in equipment.
- These opportunities are not usually price sensitive.
- Assign consultants an hourly rate.
- There are 3 phases. Don’t over promise work in Phase I. This should be a proof of concept feasibility study (9 months). You must win a Phase I to get to Phase II.
- DOE (Department of Energy) does not allow co-PIs.
- Your principal investigator (PI) must be in the company, not somewhere else.
- The work plan is usually from five to seven pages, not a 2-page bulleted list.
- Prior to submission, get outside pre-reviews of your proposal and have confidentiality agreements in place.
- USDA SBIR/STTR opps are once a year.
- DOE opps are twice a year and possibly three.
Here are some notes about government grants gleaned from a presentation by Charesse Gendron of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
First of all, institutional buy-in is absolutely necessary. If your organization is luke warm about the venture, skip it. Since government grants are difficult and time-consuming, it’s imperative that your organization has skin in the game. Ideally, at least three people should have a vested interest in the proposed project.
Why? These grants take more than 100 hours to put together. And competition is stiff. On a recent occasion, 46 grants were awarded from a pool of 600 applicants.
The submission consists of a proposal narrative, (10 single-spaced pages in a small font), and as many as 25 attachments. Before putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, make sure your program is rock solid and stands a chance of being awarded. Read (if not memorize) the RFP (request for proposal) carefully and make sure your program is a good fit. Then call a program officer at the government agency and tell them about your project. Listen carefully to their response and ask them as many questions as you can think of. They know the RFP inside and out and it’s their job to help you. Program officers do administrative work; they will not be reviewing your proposal. A panel of peers from around the country will review your proposal.
What are they looking for?
- You are a partner with the government agency. They want taxpayers and legislators to know that tax dollars are reaching the public and doing good.
- Government agencies are looking for breath and depth. They want their awarded programs to reach a lot of people. Your proposal will be stronger if it’s national in scope, or perhaps replicable by others.
- Your program or project should develop relationships with constituents over a longer term.
- Make sure that your program demonstrates a positive impact on others.
What makes a good proposal?
- Write clearly and succinctly.
- Pitch your language to an educated, general audience and avoid using professional jargon or buzz words.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. For example, make sure you have both the staff capacity and money to carry out the program, otherwise you’ll have to return both the awarded contract and the money.
- Do your homework. Make sure your project will not duplicate a project or research already in the field, or serve as research pulled from the Internet.
- The more innovative the program the better, which will serve your constituents and the field.
- Have a sound evaluation plan that answers the question: How will you know that your program is successful? Keep in mind that you’re a research partner with the government agency. They’re collecting information on what works. (If you’re hiring an evaluation professional, you can create a line item for them in the project budget.)
- Getting in-kind gifts or additional support for your project is always attractive to potential funders.
- Resolve inconsistencies in the proposal. Do all the pieces make sense?
- Case studies can be persuasive.
- Have at least three people look at the submission before it goes out the door.
To get started, visit grants.gov. Good luck!
For decades, environmentalists, economists, and scientists have identified an exhaustive list of problems in our unsustainable world that we are now experiencing firsthand: CO2 emissions, dramatic climate change, waning resources (food, water, energy), air and water pollution, over-consumption, and overpopulation. Clearly, we’re in crisis mode, and as the title suggests, the Solutions Summit 2012 at the University of Minnesota last week smartly focused on solutions for our unsustainable world.
A brilliant array of visionaries and world leaders briefly shared what keeps them awake at night and went straight to the solutions. Each speaker was as inspiring and engaging as the next. Topics reinforced the conference brochure that says “one-size-fits-all solutions are unlikely. The most robust and resilient solutions will be those that are co-created by diverse stakeholders through shared understanding, pooled resources, and joint action.” Speakers from industry, nonprofits, and academia touched on defining the new leverage points to changing behavioral systems; identifying where we can be most responsive to change; supply chain economics; the problem of scale; the need to engage in unlikely partnerships, i.e., the cross-disciplinary nature of sustainability; the need for marketing genius and the continuance of social marketing based on reputation; the next generation and its entrepreneurs; and the necessity of working around the federal government stalemate on the issue. Time permits my ability to share only conference highlights from a very inspiring day.
Brian Richter, river scientist and head of the Global Freshwater Program at the Nature Conservancy, focused on water scarcity and the difference between water withdrawals and water consumption. He said, “Some of all the water that we use goes back into the original freshwater source. Moreover, very little water is depleted from homes, businesses, manufacturing, or thermal electric production. Agriculture is the dominant water user at 92 percent, which has a direct impact on our food supply.” For example, last year’s draught in Texas had a devastating impact on the state’s economy. Texas lost $1 billion in agriculture production due to water depletion.
Richter sees the solutions in following three areas: 1) the role of governments and their ability to control how much water is allocated and to whom; 2) corporations: more than two-thirds of water is flowing through corporate supply chains; and 3) cities: they need affordable technology. Rapidly growing cities with watersheds that are being depleted need to come up with a new water supply. He added that there is great potential for urban-rural partnerships.
Andrew Hutson, of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said we are guided by science and economics and recommends unlikely partnerships to find practical and lasting solutions. “We need to change how we’re working with farmers, grocers, and restaurants to create market incentives—to have a different impact on the entire system,” he said. One problem he grapples with is: “How do we create a low carbohydrate, low nitrogen corn to lower fertilizer use?” Hutson cites the Mississippi River as a source of 70 percent of the nitrogen runoff from ground water that contributes to the hypoxic zone. EDF is in the beginning stages of thinking about agricultural retailers, crop advisors, and supply chains. “Scale is the biggest issue that we face. How do we get everyone in the same room to harness the issues?” He recommends developing close partnerships one-on-one with market leaders. “There’s a lot of work to do with farmers. Hopefully, it will bubble up to the national level. We all win if we move in this direction.”
Professor Kyo Suh of the Institute of GreenBio Science and Technology at Seoul National University in Korea, spoke about the global challenges of food shortage and high cost of resources. Suh says, “Korea is known for its electronics and automobile industries, but it’s a poor resource country that imports 100 percent.” The key Korean solutions consist of a well-educated workforce, big business, and exports. He’s happy to report that food waste recycling in Korea is at 94 percent, as opposed to 3 percent in the U.S. He looks to the Korean government for solutions, which currently guarantees the price of rice, up to 85 percent of the target price.
Elizabeth Wilson, associate professor of energy and environmental policy and law at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, talked about the need to remove 80 percent of CO2 to stabilize the atmosphere. She also spoke about the interrelationship of energy and water: energy affects water and vice versa. Her solutions include exploring new networks, conducting feasibility studies, and commercialization. She, too, advocates for unlikely partnerships and recommends the creation of synergies between academia, corporations, the federal government, and farms.
Nationally recognized organizational strategist Jason Pearson of TRUTHstudio presented an analysis of the Direct Environmental Impacts of Key Supply Chains and Upstream Environmental Impacts of Economic Demand. His solutions lie in the impacts in the eight supply chain areas he identifies, along with public education, government policy, and educational leadership. “Every little bit counts,” he says.
Akshay R. Rao, General Mills Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, recommends focusing on the demand side of sustainability. “Demand will create production, which will create jobs. The federal government is a potential source of support, based on the premise of jobs.” Rao’s focus, of course, is on marketing. “How do we get people to do things without realizing it? What can we do to get consumers to change their behavior?” He recommends using incentives to change behaviors such as attaching a smiley face, or giving a pat on the back, which has been commercialized by the O Power Company. “Social media is based on a concept of reputations that are publicly visible so we can influence people. We need to use incentives toward reputation; we need to change the structure of the marketplace. The Recycle Bank provides rewards to curbside recyclers. We need to change the social norms; they are a powerful means of fostering pro-social behavior with relatively small economic costs. “It will require marketing genius to identify the consumer,” he said. “Sustainability needs to be tough, as opposed to gentle and soft, like the veneer of the green movement.” Rao recommends rethinking the basic populace, new government systems, and the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Environmentalist, serial entrepreneur, and widely acclaimed author Paul Hawken served as the keynote speaker. First he talked about his solar panel company, One Sun, Inc., followed by his philosophic and passionate perspective of the situation we’re in.
One Sun, Inc. focuses on ultra low-cost solar based on green chemistry and bio-mimicry. When Hawken and his partners formed the company, they didn’t want it to be involved with government subsidies. “It’s like looking for love in all the wrong places. Government moves too slow; it’s designed to move slow. We need rapid failure for rapid innovation,” he said. The solar panels his company makes are 90 percent recycled plastic (upcycling) from all parts of the world and is 100 percent recyclable. They make electricity as soon as the sun comes up. The energy return on energy invested (EROI) with solar is 5:1. One Sun’s EROI is 200:1.
Hawken believes that sustainability is a social movement about changing the way human beings relate to one another. “Environmentalism hasn’t failed. There’s only action. We teach by being, not by telling. We heal a system by connecting more of it to itself; pathology is about disconnection,” he says.
“Sustainability is not about fixing. You’re separate if you see things as components,” he says. “I prefer to think of sustainability as ‘regeneration,’ or ‘spiritual rebirth,’ according to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). You can’t think of it as a resource issue but as the complex relation between living systems. Our best thinking got us here. There’s enormous complexity between systems that’s not understood. We think nature’s out the window; it’s not true. We are a system as humans. We’re a community of organisms, both bacterial and viral …. Natural systems and organisms will always regenerate. Collectively, we’re an organism. That’s what we’re here to discover …. How do we create a world to respond to the assaults and insults? It’s not going to be okay. Is this happening to us or for us? There are 7 billion people and 2 billion to come. It is a gift to come here. Our purpose here is to benefit others, which is technical, social, and market based. We’re getting this fantastic hall pass from the Creator to change who we are, how we feel. We’re here for people we don’t know and we’ll never meet. That’s when we’re really alive.”
The conference was sponsored by the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. For more information, visit northstar.environment.umn.edu.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced that up to $2.5 million will be available this year for applied research to advance clean biomass cookstove technologies for use in developing countries. The funding will support the development of innovative cookstove designs that allow users to burn wood or crop residues more efficiently and with less smoke than open fires and traditional stoves. DOE, along with other federal agencies, is a founding partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership to advance cookstove technologies that improve indoor air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and deliver important benefits for developing nations around the world.
The World Health Organization cites indoor smoke from cooking and heating as one of the top 10 threats to public health in developing countries, contributing to nearly two million deaths each year. Clean cookstoves with reduced emissions and increased energy efficiency will help prevent some of these deaths caused by smoke exposure. Energy-efficient cookstoves also reduce fuel use, slow deforestation, and reduce the time families have to spend collecting fuel.
The proposal deadline is May 23, 2012. For more information about DE-FOA-0000709, see https://eere-exchange.energy.gov or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the conversation at the upcoming Minnesota STEM Network meeting, which will be held at Boston Scientific in Maple Grove, Minnesota on Tuesday, May 1, from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Minnesota STEM Network is a statewide alliance of diverse individuals and organizations in Minnesota advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in education, workforce development, and community engagement.
Technology is driving the demand for more highly educated workers, says Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former Minnesota House of Representatives and president of Minnesota High Tech Association. STEM is one of the fastest growing sectors of Minnesota’s job market. By 2018, the state will have 188,000 good-paying STEM-related jobs although economists are skeptical that our schools will produce enough graduates to meet this demand. (Minnesota Business, September 2011)
The meeting will focus on four opportunities:
- Network with peers across sectors in an exhibit hall of our own programs
- Learn results of our strategic planning and advance the purpose of our collective impact
- Contribute to discussions on effective practices in STEM learning and regional network development
- Learn about Iowa’s STEM network development via our keynote speaker, Dr. Jeffrey Weld, Director of the Iowa Mathematics & Science Education Partnership.
Registration is open now until 5p.m. on Wednesday, April 25. The registration fee is $49. For more information and to register, visit http://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1085403.
The algae industry has been propelled onto the world stage with the use of microalgae as an alternative biofuel feedstock, gaining renewed interest from entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, and corporations around the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped towards the race to harness the maximum potential of algae biofuel and turn algae into a commercially viable energy source. Algae is also touted as a valuable feedstock in industries such as nutrition, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, including animal and aquaculture feed. Its roles in carbon capture and wastewater treatment have also gained massive interest from the cement, water, and power industries.
The 4th Algae World Europe conference will be held in Munich, Germany on May 22-23, 2012. The conference theme, “Towards High Value Applications and Commercialization,” will include presentations from the industry’s major players including Lux Research, Icos Capital Management BV, Ingrepro BV, Photonz Corporation, Wageningen University and Research Centre, University of Florence, GMB GmbH, AlgaeStream SA, Toeps, Feyecon, the Finnish Environment Institute, Technische Universitat Munchen, Pall Corporation (HQ), University of Sheffield, Fraunhofer Institute, Novasep Process SAS, and University College London.
Some of the topics include:
- How to Approach Commercialization
- Attracting Funding and Capital Investment for Algae
- Microalgae for Animal Feed
- Commercialization of Omega-3 Fatty Acid EPA
- Microalgae Biorefinery and co-products
- Algae Strains and Technologies
For more information, visit Centre for Management Technology, www.cmtevents.com.