DARPA opens door to more private equity-backed firms

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency adjusts the requirements for bidders on Small Business Innovation Research contracts to allow participation by private equity-backed firms.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will now allow small businesses that are majority owned by private equity firms to bid on both Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer opportunities.

DARPA's tweaks to the parameters of its latest broad agency announcement came out on Feb. 19 and replaced the word “ineligible” with “eligible.” The original BAA came out on Jan. 4. Private equity-backed companies still need to qualify as small businesses, but the ownership structure is not a factor in eligibility.

Companies have until Dec. 31 to apply for an SBIR or STTR award.

That change is apparently a recognition of how many private equity firms own small business contractors. It also recognizes how many emerging technology companies are backed by private equity and venture capital firms, among others.

DARPA regularly puts out a BAA calling on companies to submit proposal across a range of technologies areas where the Defense Department is looking for innovations.

This BAA lists 12 key technology areas:

  • Air platforms
  • Chemical and biological defense
  • Information systems technology
  • Ground and sea vehicles
  • Materials and processes
  • Biomedical
  • Sensors, electronics and electronic warfare
  • Space platforms
  • Human systems
  • Weapons
  • Nuclear technology
  • Battlespace environments

Several of these are rich in IT-related opportunities. The information systems technology category for example lists needs such as decision making, information assurance, seamless communication, modeling and simulation and computing and software technology.

Human systems lists needs such as systems interfaces and cognitive processing.

The SBIR/STTR program is a DARPA tool to make early investments in technologies that can have a long-term impact on national security.