Part of running a small business innovation or research team is to excel at leveraging the resources available to you. Often, we find ourselves with critical needs in a very narrow area of specialization or need access to a highly specialized piece of equipment to complete a test or analysis. Often we try to train ourselves at great expense of time and quality of delivery or make do with what is available even if is not what is needed.
The U.S. has the best research centers in the world. The Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) were created to tackle critical scientific and technological challenges and maintain U.S. technological leadership, as such they possess world class researchers and facilities, many of which are cannot be found any where else in the world.
While the FFRDC role is to provide solutions to critical scientific challenges, they prioritize collaborations with small businesses to develop or transfer those solutions to the market.
Who do we collaborate with?
In order to find the right FFRDC to collaborate with, you need to understand what your need is and how it is aligned with their mission. It is important to note that these are not engineering services and they cannot compete with commercial entities. The Research Centers possess Subject Matter Expertise usually not widely available. There are 41 FFRDCs so it is important to understand their role or mission and the area of technology or industry that they support.
So it is important to identify the expertise and facilities available for collaboration. For example, if you are interested in advanced materials the key materials laboratories are; Oakridge National Laboratory they are the leaders in Advanced Materials including processing, characterization. The National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) is focused on development of advancing measurement science. Sandia National Laboratory is the leader in performance and reliability prediction for materials and devices. To find the right collaborating partner it will require some homework to make sure the needs of your research project and the lab mission are aligned.
What are the partnering mechanisms?
There are usually different mechanisms to partner with research centers for them to share technological know-how with the private sector. The two most used agreements are the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) and Work for Others (WFO) agreement.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA)
This agreement facilitates the collaboration of small business with research centers for joint research and development (R&D). Usually the lab retains the rights to intellectual property (IP) generated under the CRADA. The industry partner receives first right to negotiate a license with the laboratory for the IP generated. If funding is available, the costs are shared through contributions of personnel, equipment, services, facilities, and funds by both the government through laboratory funding and the industry partner’s own resources.
Work for Others (WFO) agreement.
This agreement facilitates a small business to have the research center perform a pre-approved scope of work that leverages the unique capabilities of the laboratory. The small business covers all costs (including personnel and materials) for the effort to be completed under the statement of work. Work must use a unique capability of the laboratory and not place the laboratory in direct competition with the private sector.
Additionally some laboratories offer further support and benefits to small business by providing facilities and equipment to use at low or no cost, subject matter experts you can consult and other small business collaborations programs.
For further contact:
Technology & Business Innovation