ANALYSIS

Hidden opportunities: Research start-up puts focus on SBIR, OTA funds

The government contracting arena is replete with search tools and other databases that help users track activity throughout the entire process.

Following that activity from a contract’s inception all the way through to award and subsequent protests is difficult. That degree of difficulty increases and information gets more scarce when following alternative contracting methods that could include Other Transaction Authority and Small Business Innovation Research grants.

Entering into this void is InterKn, founded in 2014 by former Sierra Nevada Corp. employee Mike Pansky to mine government databases and find who awards those alternative contracts to whom. Over the past year, the Reno, Nev.-based company has transitioned its tool from a beta pilot to an early adopters program that targets as subscribers small businesses and startups seeking federal research funds.

The goal is to help connect smaller and younger companies without much experience in contracting with agencies in search of innovations, Pansky told Washington Technology.

“I see this as a platform for changing how the government looks at and works with non-traditional users and be that bridge to getting startups to work with government,” Pansky said.

The Interkn platform also follows Small Technology Transfer Research spending in addition to government obligations on OTAs and SBIR funds. Pansky estimated agencies obligated roughly $3.7 billion in funds for alternative contracts, a “needle in a haystack” for the total $1.1 trillion federal budget.

SBIR funding started in the 1980s, but Pansky said it is “still not well known by companies across the U.S. as an alternative source for traditional venture capital,” according to Pansky. The same idea applies to OTAs, which have even deeper roots going back to the 1950s with NASA.

Additive manufacturing and three-dimensional printing techniques are becoming prime focus areas for agencies to use these alternative methods and in particular national research laboratories, Pansky said. Artificial intelligence and related machine learning technologies are other areas he has his eye on.

“We’re tracking a lot of work and it’s an interesting market, it can solve a lot of problems but brings new problems,” he said. “The government is trying to nail down a lot of where machine learning can improve how the government interacts with its citizens.”

Users of Interkn have access to data on private equity investors and other similar groups behind many startups, Pansky said.

“We track the venture money through that ecosystem and have a lot of tools for traditional VC and early stage startups,” he said.

Interkn’s name is a blend of the words “intern” and “knowledge,” Pansky said. He generated the idea during his two-year stint at Sierra Nevada and time at Westfield Labs prior to InterKn’s founding. He saw heightened SBIR contract activity.

What was lacking, Pansky said, was information a “digestible format to understand” who the companies were, their backers, founders and what they produced under

“I couldn’t find much on organizations in a holistic view of what they produced,” Pansky said.

He then went to work on building the InterKn platform and integrating in statistics and other information on what they patent, investments, acquisitions and joint ventures they participate in.

Along with small businesses, some of the largest IT systems integrators and internal research-and-development organizations at companies have shown interest, Pansky said.

“We want to be that bridge to connect disparate worlds in expanding what is happening in the world of innovation,” he said.

“Long-term, we strategically are looking how to make it a simplified, easy process to remove some friction and get commercial enterprise working with government to get amazing technologies to individuals that need it.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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