My name is Ron Flavin, and thank you for having me here today. I’m really happy to be here. Like Jeff said, I’ve been an entrepreneur almost my entire adult life. I’ve been in the retail business, I’ve been in the manufacturing business, consumer goods, international business. I’ve been in a lot of different industries.
Along the way what I realized is, what I enjoyed most out of all the things that I’ve done is helping organizations and companies to grow, to get to where they want to be, wherever that is.
My expertise is developing strategies to get from point A to point B, and then connecting organizations and businesses with the resources to get there. Usually that involves financing.
My particular area of expertise is government funding, government grants and contracts, most specifically government grants. You notice that I do not have any dollar signs on my suit jacket so I won’t tell you any lies and I won’t make any false promises about free government money.
Having said that, I will get started. Like I say, there are people who would have you believe that there’s this huge, free pot of government grant money for somebody who wants to start a business, expand a business, pay off debts, or whatever the case might be. That’s not true.
The federal government does give out more than $500 billion in grants every year, and of that, about $26 billion is awarded to for‑profit firms. But none of that money, zero dollars, is ever given to start a business or to pay off debt.
The federal government gives grant money out to for‑profit firms that are aligned to the government’s national interests funding priorities. It’s just not this free pot of money.
There are 21 one different federal agencies that award grants. There’s $26 billion, 21 different categories of federal grants. The other avenue for companies to access federal dollars is through contracts. There are millions of contracts awarded every year in billions and billions and billions of dollars.
Today, I really want to focus on the grants. I’m going to touch up on the contracts a little bit. Mostly focus on the grants because the contracting side is really an area all onto itself.
Grant’s different from loans. You don’t have to pay grant money back when a government agency or a foundation award your grant, that’s your money to use for whatever purpose you specified in your funding proposal.
The advantage that that has with in contrast to say, an angel investors or venture capital is that you don’t have to give up equity. If you are able to attain a federal grant or a state grant, that money doesn’t take away any of your equity in your company.
A grant awards can range anywhere from just a few thousand dollars up to multi‑million dollars. I’ve gotten a grant award of more than nine million in dollars, a number of different times. They can vary from any size. Most grant awards are around the $500,000 range.
Grant money is not always free. Much like if you’re buying a piece of real estate, the bank expects you to put in some of your own money a lot of times with grant funds.
In fact, most of the time with grants that are awarded to for‑profit businesses, you’re required to put up a certain percentage of the funds yourself. That could range from anywhere from as little as five percent up to a dollar‑for‑dollar match.
If it’s a dollar‑for‑dollar match, if you’re awarded a grant of a million dollars, that means you have to come up with a million dollars on your own. Generally, it runs anywhere from about 5 percent up to 20 and 25 percent is a typical matching funds. I’ve already talked about that.
These are some of the national interests that are priorities for the federal government. Anything that’s national security, public safety, health care, healthcare technologies.
In particular when you’re talking about healthcare, they’re interested in technologies and processes that increase access to health care, that reduce costs, that increase of efficiency, increase of effectiveness. Those are projects that are of interest to the federal government.
Education, college and career readiness. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics STEM. Technologies, processes and services, that support that priority, are of interest to the government.
Energy savings, renewable energy, energy efficiency. That is a very strong interest for the government. Telecommunications and telecommunications technologies, broadband. [laughs] I’ve worked a lot with the number of different broadband projects all over the country.
Any type of technological innovation that is a great leap forward, that is a game changing technology. The government is generally interested in those types of projects.
There’s two ways that for‑profit firms can access federal grants one is the $26 billion that I mentioned. Those are grants that are awarded directly to for‑profit firms.
The government issues a request for proposals and being in the eligibility they said it’ll say that it’s open to small businesses or for‑profit businesses. With business supplies for that, funding is awarded in the funds flow directly to the farm.
There’s another way. I work with Motorola, I work with Cisco, I work with a lot of different large multinational corporations that access federal grants through a different avenue.
Cisco, I’ll use that as an example. They do telecommunications technologies. A lot of their technologies are of interest to public safety organizations, law‑enforcement, firefighters, educational institutions…
What they do is they scan the federal grant opportunities. When they see a federal grant program, that is only available to public safety, educational institutions, municipalities, whatever the case may be. It supports the priority of the project supports telecommunications, increase public safety.
They go to send out to their potential client list of municipalities and public safety agencies and say, “Hey, there’s this grant opportunity available. You can get $1 million for your police department to buy new interoperable telecommunications technologies. We know a grant writer who can get you the money.
All you need to do is buy a certain percentage of your equipment from Cisco. I work with them directly with the municipality or the law‑enforcement agency, write the grant, they secure. They get the funds.
They purchase a certain portion of their grant money goes towards Cisco technologies. The remainder goes to whatever it is else that they need. Turn out gear or uniforms or whatever the case may be.”
That’s another way that for‑profit farms are able to access government grants. Now, that has to be done within the confines of government regulations so that it’s about the board. There’s no backdoor dealings going on, but that’s all very durable.
The key elements in that are for working with a Cisco or Motorola or another company that is not able to access the funds directly for certain opportunity is that they have to establish a relationship with municipalities, educational institutions, whatever the case may be.
Then they have to look at the request for proposals to make sure that everything that they do is above the board, ethical and is in compliance with the current guidelines. You don’t want anything like that come back and make the news and that’s bad. Everything has to follow the federal procurement guidelines.
Next. These are some of the different types of grants that are available to for for‑profit firms. Got the small business Innovation Research. We’ve got the small business Technology Transfer, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health. All of these grant program support research, development and commercialization of innovative technologies.
Grant size awards can be 1.5 million, 500,000, 10 million it really varies. Our National Institutes of Health grants are generally around $1.5 million maximum but there are certain exceptions, so that they can be they can be higher.
If you’re looking at the National NIH grant, you typically need to partner with a research institution. Those are very heavily focused research grants, but I’ve worked with a number of companies that have been successful in working with NIH and partnering with the University like, Clemson or something similar that is a research institution.
If your technology can support military operations, there are a wide variety of ways that the different technologies can support military outfit options.
The Department of Defense through the DARPA, has a number of different Grant Funding Programs. They’re particularly interested in very game changing technologies.
They have what’s called, “Broad Agency Announcement.” Those are very…they’re very broad. They are open to new ideas with these, when they issued BAAs. It’s because they’re looking for something new. They don’t necessarily have anything particular in mind.
Sometimes what they’ll do is they’ll have a list of priorities or general areas of it that are of interest to them.
There are a number of really good opportunities, grant opportunities with the Department of Defense. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Education. All of the 26 different federal agencies that award grants, offer some opportunities for for‑profit firms.
These are some of the grants that I’ve worked with and for‑profit firms. I mentioned the $9.3 million. This was for a startup technology company based in California in the bay area. They were at the startup fairs where they were not even able to quit their jobs.
They were attorneys, they were engineers, they all had a regular day job. What they did is they had a validated concept for an innovative data server that uses just 10 percent of the electricity of a typical data server and takes up 25 percent of the space.
Data servers are huge gobblers electricity around the globe. They knew this. They’d talk to potential customers Google, Yahoo and whatnot. There was interest from these technology companies in their data server technology so we are able to go to the Department of Energy.
They were awarded a $9.3 million grant to develop a prototype and actually begin testing the data server. They are now well on their way to commercializing the product.
I also worked with another group in Southern California, where they were also another startup, where they still had their day jobs. They’ve developed a paralysis machine, which converts biomass into energy.
Paralysis is nothing new. The technology has been around for over hundred years. A typical paralysis machine is huge, it’s giant. It cost millions and millions of dollars.
What they had done is, it scaled‑down the technology and come up with the biomass machine, a paralysis machine that could be hooked onto the back of a pickup truck.
Meaning that farmers could put it on the back of their truck and they could drive it out onto the field and take it to the source of the biomass. In this particular case, it was poultry letter, which is chicken poop. You don’t know what that is. [laughs]
They were able to drive this around these massive chicken poultry farms and convert poultry litter into syngas and biochar, which is a natural fertilizer and wood vinegar.
Again, that was a start up where they still have their day jobs. We worked with the US Department of Agriculture. We got them $1 million grant to build two machines and test them in working Texas, at the world’s largest egg farm. That was another example.
I’ve worked with a group, several groups up in the northwest to deploy broadband networks in rural areas. There we did, those were established telecommunications companies. We got them at $1.5 million. We actually just got another $6.7 million to deploy broad broadband network in rural Humboldt County in Northern California.
Another good example, this is a telecommunications company that I worked with. I think it was Motorola.
We’ve got them $7 million to deploy an interoperable radio network in the state of North Carolina to improve their Public Safety and ensure that the police officers in one jurisdiction could communicate with the firefighters in another jurisdiction during an emergency situation.
Prior to that, everybody was using a different technology. They couldn’t communicate with one another.
We got them $7 million to build out this network. Motorola was the recipient of the grant funds. It was the ultimate recipient, the subcontractor. Just I want to touch on contracting opportunities. There’s two different ways for companies to access federal contracts.
One is through the General Services Administration contracts. It’s a cumbersome process, but if you are awarded a GSA contract to put you in a government purchasing catalog and electronic catalog. Government buyers from different agencies can find your products and they can buy them.
It’s great, but the downside of it is the orders tend to be very small. They like to have very low minimum so you might get $1000 dollar order or $500 order or $100 order, or whatever. Not that it can’t be a good avenue, but you have to expect that your orders are going to be lots of small ones rather than large ones.
The other way to do it is to obtain a federal contract through a request for proposals or a request for quotes. Those contracts tend to be much larger. They could be $50,000 or 100,000. It could be tens of millions.
The Department of Defense is investing $7.1 billion in retrofitting military bases, with renewal energy technologies, energy‑efficient lighting.
Some of these contracts can be massive but they require a lot of work. Like I say, a contracting is an Avenue onto itself. I’m very experienced on it, but I really wanted today, to focus on the grants.
These are some of the other different areas, the chicken that I have… Technology, small business Innovation Research, Department of Energy, USDA, Telecommunication in the telecommunications field.
You can access grants through the US Department of Agriculture, through the National Science Foundation, through the US Department of Justice. You can see that there are a lot of different agencies that cover technology and different areas.
If anybody wants to email me afterwards I’m happy to send you this presentation so that you can…because there’s a lot of information there for me and I don’t want to waste time. Let me just go through all of that.
If you have an educational technology, Department of Education, Department of Labor, small business Innovation Research, small business Technology Transfer, there are number of different programs if you are involved in educational technology or educational services.
This is an overview of how to find government grants. You can see that there’s a lot of difference. The federal government is, obviously, is huge, with the 26 different agencies. It used to be very difficult to uncover the grant opportunity.
What they did is they created “grants.gov” and grants.gov is a central database, where all federal grant opportunities and cooperative agreements opportunities are listed. A cooperative agreement essentially is a grant. The difference is minimal. Everything is in grants.gov.
Up until last year, the grants.gov user interface was horribly unfriendly, but now, since I think it was last July, they completely revamped the grants.gov user interface.
Now, it is very friendly. You can search by agency, you can search by category. Let’s say, if you were interested in technology or whatever. You can search by category, you can search by eligibility.
If you want to search for only grant opportunities that are open to small businesses, you can click on that “link” and you can check the box, “Eligibility small businesses.” It will only return those grant opportunities that are open to small businesses. They’ve really improved the usability factor with grants.gov.
One thing I want to point out about that is all of the information about federal grants and even state grants is available online. It’s for free. All of it. There are no insiders, insider guides or insider list of secret government grants. They don’t exist.
Everything is available online for free. All you need is grants.gov to find all of the federal grants.
Unfortunately, there is no central database of state grant opportunities. Those of you need to search for, you can look for South Carolina. If you do business in 25 different states, then you need to do, unfortunately, you need to do 25 different searches. There is no central database for state grant opportunities.
If you’re looking for federal contracting opportunities, all with the government contract opportunities are posted in fedbizops.gov. That is a central database where all opportunities are posted. The search feature is a little cumbersome.
If you just search for technology, you might get 1,700 results. You need to use the advanced search feature so that you can narrow it down, but everything you would, every federal contracting opportunity you might want to find is available on fedbizops.gov. There are a couple of tools that I use that I think you might find helpful.
If you want to find out what your competitors are, if your competitors are receiving federal dollars, you can go to usaspending.gov. It is a database that contains every dollar of government contracting money that is spent.
If you’re looking to see if your competitor…I worked with a correctional management company. They’re in competition with the biggest correctional solutions of America or something like that based out of Tennessee.
You go to all I did was, I went to usaspending.gov. Went through the search function, holdup every contract, it’s ever been awarded to that company so that they could see exactly what they’re up against. What kind of contracts they were obtaining the dollar value, the length of the contract.
The usaspending.gov is an incredibly valuable search tool, if you’re looking for information about where the government is spending its contract dollars and if you are looking for information about whether or not your competitors are accessing federal contracting opportunities.
The link at the bottom is to forecasts. That’s another really useful tool that I use a lot in the government contracting side of my business. You can go there and you can look at the different federal agencies. They will have forecast of what they expect the contracting opportunities they anticipate opening up in the coming year.
You can look at the Department of Defense, Department of Education and any of the agencies. You can get a sense of what they might be looking for over the next 12 months.
Some of the granting agencies do that as well, but it’s very inconsistent. Department of Education issues grants forecast. I think maybe one or two more, but it’s very inconsistent on the ground side. On the contract side, most of the agencies participate. That’s a very useful tool.
One of the things that when Jeff introduced me, he mentioned that I’ve brought in $146 million for my clients in grants. Not to boast, but a typical person who does what I do, might say I’ve raised 5 or $10 million over the last 10 years and I’ve brought in 146 million.
One of the reasons that I do what I do so well is I also work for the federal government as a proposal reviewer. I’ve never reviewed my own proposals or anything of that. Sorry.
I would love to say, but I do that for the experience. I’ve worked for the Department of Energy, Department of Education, US Department of Agriculture, the US treasury, a number of different agencies that award grants and contracts to for‑profit firms.
Throughout the year, I work as a professional reviewer for these firms and for these agencies so I know exactly the kinds of projects that the government is funding. What they look for when they review these proposals and score them, and decide who’s going to get funded and who’s not.
That’s one of the reasons that I am so successful in doing what I do is because I have that insider knowledge of what’s going on in the funding landscape. I’ve also worked with nongovernmental agencies as well, to review their funding proposals for the private sector.
A typical grant proposal, funding proposal includes different elements. The need for the project organizational background, history, mission. A description of the problem that the technology or the process can solve.
One of the things I was talking to Phil about this last week or the week before, that I see where for‑profit firms go wrong. When they develop their grant proposals they are so focused on their technology or their process.
That’s where they keep all of their efforts in their focus on that part of the proposal. They failed to look at the other elements that are necessary to make a well‑rounded fundable proposal. A big part of that is the capacity of the team.
When I look it any type of grant funding, I look at that as a venture capitalist or an angel investor. The government is only going to support projects that are going to be successful. A venture capitalist doesn’t want to invest in a company that isn’t going to be around in five years, neither does the government.
When you develop these grant proposals it’s extremely important to focus on the capacity of the team, who’s going to be carrying out the project activities. You need to talk about their experience, their qualifications, why these are of the right people to make sure that this project is a success.
It’s not just about the technology and all the great things they can do. You have to have all of those other elements in place. Just like, if you were going to an angel investor or venture capitalist or even a bank for loan. They want to know about their commercialization plan.
Once you develop this technology or tested or do build a prototype, how are you going to bring it to the market? What steps are you going to take? How long is it going to take?
Who are your customers? How do you know that your customers are going to buy it? How did you validate your customer model? How did you validate your marketplace? What resources do you need to get from here to there?
It’s a very complex proposal. A lot of information needs to be packed in there. Like I say, you need to look at it as if you were preparing a proposal for a venture capitalist or an angel investor or a bank loan.
It needs to be a well‑rounded proposal that includes all of the elements, not just the technology.
Another area of an importance when you’re developing the proposals is how are you going to measure your success? How do you know if you are achieving everything that you set out that you’re going to achieve when you write your paper…when you develop the proposal?
That’s when I review proposals, that’s a key area where I see many small businesses failing is they don’t put in milestones so they can mark their success.
How are they going to know that their project is on track, on time, hitting the milestones they want to hit?
All funding proposals need to have measurable objective which the government likes to see smart. There’s called, “smart objectives.” Which is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific.
When you talk about these objectives, you need to by this date we will have achieved this. By this date, we will have produced X number of prototypes and will have achieved the scale, whatever the case may be. Objectives need to be measurable and they need to be part of the proposal.
When grant reviewers review the proposals, they score each section of the proposal. They have reviewed criteria that they have on one hand and then they have your proposal on the other hand.
When those proposals are reviewed, they are typically reviewed by teams of persons of the three to five people. They’ll review 5, 10, 15 different proposals and score them independently. Then what they do is they get together and compare notes.
The proposals that universally achieve the highest scores are the ones that are recommended for funding. That’s what I do as a proposal reviewer.
Each section carries a certain weight and is worth a certain number of points. When we look at that, we have to go through and make sure that all of those elements that are in the review criteria are properly addressed in the proposal. Then we give it scores and then we discuss the scores, either recommend for funding or don’t recommend it for funding.
I have to say that in my experience, and this is not just my experience, but I’ve talked with a lot of other reviewers in a lot of different funding agencies. On average only about three to eight percent of all proposals, funded proposals that are submitted are going to get awarded funding.
Generally, it’s close to five percent. 95 percent of all grant proposals that are submitted are rejected. There are a lot of different reasons for it, but the number that they get rejected is because they didn’t follow the directions laid out in the request for proposals.
More than half of the grant proposals that I review get rejected because they didn’t follow the directions. They didn’t answer all the questions, they didn’t include all the attachments.
They didn’t include the financial statements, they didn’t include the commercialization plan or whatever the case maybe but somewhere along the line they’ve failed to follow the instructions.
That’s why they don’t get funded and that’s why somebody like me does what I do because I know I’m familiar with the process. I know exactly what needs to be included so that I’ve never had a proposal rejected because I didn’t follow the instructions.