SBIR Targeted Technologies ("START) Program

Non-dilutive grant funding and support for Massachusetts based companies that have received SBIR/STTR phase II or equivalent federal funding

Through the MassVentures’ START program we have been able to take creative ideas and bring them through to commercialization. We are very thankful to MassVentures for this funding, recognition, and the expertise they have provided to help scale our technology during the past three years.

Mark Smithers

CTO of Boston Engineering

MassVentures has been with us from the start, arming us with the capital, experience, mentoring and network to help our transition to a high-growth company. The START program is critical for SBIR-funded companies that need this type of support to move from a research-driven company to commercialization.

Reshma Shetty

Co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks

About the program

The SBIR Targeted Technologies (START) program helps growing Massachusetts-based companies commercialize technologies developed under SBIR and STTR contracts. The START program plays an important role in powering Massachusetts’ Innovation Economy. Since the program’s founding in 2012, START has:

  • Provided $22.1 million in grant funding to 90+ deserving SBIR projects
  • Helped winning companies raise additional capital of more than $1.5 billion
  • Catalyzed employment of over 2500 people in Massachusetts
  • Grown the state’s Innovation Economy by supporting companies in Barnstable, Canton, Charlton, Chelmsford, Georgetown, Littleton, Newburyport, Newton, Wakefield, Westford, Wilbraham and Woburn
  • Created an ecosystem of 200+ unique companies, reviewers, service providers and advisors to create the next generation of companies to drive Massachusetts’ economy

All START awards are contingent on state funding.  The state has fully funded the program each year since its inception in 2012.

How it works

The MassVentures START program was initiated in 2012 to assist Massachusetts-based companies in commercializing technologies developed under SBIR and STTR contracts.

Each year, the programs awards:

  • Ten (10) “Stage I” grants of $100,000 each,
  • Five (5) “Stage II” grants of $200,000 each to the most promising “Stage I” winners from last year and
  • Two (2) “Stage III” opportunities: up to $500,000 each of seed capital in a commercial spinout (or other commercial arrangement intended to provide a return on investment to MassVentures) from the most successful Stage II companies.

A new crop of Stage I candidates every year perpetuates the cycle.

Important 2020 dates

STAGE I

  • January 31: RFP for Stage I applications released
  • February 4: Information session (in-person) for prospective applicants. 1-2:30pm.  Details TBD.
  • February 5: Information session (conference call) for prospective applicants
  • February 27: Stage I application deadline
  • March 27: Invitations to present to judges are issued
  • April 6: Deadline for additional materials submission by presenting applicants
  • April 15: Presentations to judging panel
  • April 24: Preliminary notification of Stage I grant winners
  • May 20: Contracts signed
  • June 22: Class of 2019 Stages I, II and III kickoff meeting (funds distribution)
  • July – October: Site visits

STAGE II

  • February 5: RFP for Stage II applications released
  • February 19: Information session (conference call) for prospective applicants.
  • March 4: Stage II application deadline
  • March 13: “Office hours” for Stage II applicants
  • March 30: Stage II presentations
  • April 3: Preliminary notification of Stage II grant winners
  • May 20: Stage II contracts signed
  • June 22: Class of 2019 Stages I, II and III kickoff meeting (funds distribution)
  • July – October: Site visits

STAGE III

  • March 3: Invitations e-mailed to companies to apply for Stage III (RFP)
  • April 3: Deadline for Stage III companies to submit business plans
  • April 9: “Office hours” for Stage III applicants
  • April 27: Stage III presentations
  • May 27: Stage III contracts signed
  • June 22: Class of 2019 Stages I, II and III kickoff meeting (funds distribution)

Eligibility

Massachusetts companies that have received a Phase II SBIR or STTR award are eligible to apply for a Stage I START grant provided the Phase II SBIR/STTR was received within the past four years or alternatively, the company has gained either (i) “meaningful commercial traction” for the technology within the past four years or (ii) the technology otherwise remains commercially viable today. (Please see the FAQ section of the website for information on what constitutes “meaningful commercial traction”)

Any life science-based product that requires FDA approval is generally NOT eligible for MassVentures’ START grants as complementary programs are offered by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

For further details on these requirements, please visit the FAQ section of the START site. Eligibility rules may be changed by MassVentures in its sole discretion.

For information about the SBIR/STTR program, please go to this website.

Mass Ventures is aware that the recent federal government shutdown has, in many cases, adversely impacted SBIR awardees.  If your company has been impacted in a way that makes it difficult for you to comply with one or more of the eligibility requirements for START (for example, regarding date of receipt of funds from the federal funding agency), please let us know and we will consider ways to assist you in maintaining eligibility.  We will consider each such situation on a case-by-case basis.  If you are a company that will have difficulty with an eligibility requirement due to the government shutdown, please e-mail John Fitzpatrick at jfitzpatrick@mass-ventures.com, with a brief explanation of the circumstances.

Application process

The START Program Phase I application process is designed to be streamlined and user-friendly. Applicants shall submit, by e-mail to start.application@mass-ventures.com, a single PDF file containing the following documents, which shall constitute an application for Stage I funding:

  1. 2019 Application Cover Sheet
  2. A 2-page summary of the technology and its commercial potential, addressing the following criteria: a brief description of the technology and its commercial applications, with particular focus on why it is superior to existing solutions, the size of the target commercial market(s), now and in the future, the key challenges to successful commercialization of the technology, and any other factors that the applicant deems relevant
  3. A “QUAD Chart” highlighting the key information and proposing how the company will spend its grant in the next 12 months
  4. The cover page to the SBIR Phase II award contract 

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS AND SCORING GUIDELINES

Applicants will be evaluated in part based on their ability to follow these instructions. Please follow them carefully.

Following an initial screening of these written materials by external, independent reviewers, a number of companies will then be invited to make a brief presentation to the START review board and answer questions from the board. Preliminary determinations of START Program Stage I grants will be made, and presenters will be notified of the board’s decision, within a few days of that meeting.

In order to receive any funds under the program, those companies selected on a preliminary basis to receive a Stage I grant will need to:

  • Submit additional supporting documents to start.application@mass-ventures.com, as a pre-condition to receiving any funding from the program. Interested companies should begin gathering those materials as soon as possible. PLEASE NOTE THAT MASSVENTURES CANNOT ENTER INTO ANY CONFIDENTIALITY OR NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH THIS PROGRAM. However, state law permits MassVentures to maintain as non-public records (a) all commercial and financial information submitted by an applicant for a period of three years and (b) all trade secrets of an applicant for so long as they remain trade secrets
  • Enter into an agreement with MassVentures setting forth its rights and obligations under the program. Agreements will be sent to successful companies along with the notice of preliminary selection for a Phase I grant.

THE START PROGRAM IS COMPETITIVE AND MASSVENTURES HAS FULL DISCRETION AND AUTHORITY TO DETERMINE (1) WHICH COMPANIES, IF ANY, ARE ENTITLED TO RECEIVE AWARDS UNDER THE PROGRAM AND (2) THE AMOUNTS OF ANY SUCH AWARDS. SUBMISSION OF AN APPLICATION DOES NOT GUARANTEE THE AWARD OR RECEIPT OF ANY AWARD OR OTHER BENEFIT UNDER THE PROGRAM.

Diligence materials

From the initial applicant pool, 15-20 companies will be chosen to advance to the next level.  These companies will make an oral presentation to the Stage I selection committee, as well as comply with due diligence requirements.  The following must be submitted by all applicants selected to make a presentation to the Stage I selection committee:

  1. The full SBIR Phase II contract or written confirmation of the SBIR federally defined start date issued by the granting agency.
  2. A list of all company offices and facilities, with addresses
  3. The names and addresses of all key outsourcing partners (for example, contract R&D/engineering companies or contract manufacturers)
  4. A list of the names and principal corporate affiliations of the stockholders, directors and officers of the company
  5. Brief biographies of key management personnel
  6. A brief description of any facts or circumstances (such as agreements, claims, disputes or other factors) that might in the future impact the company’s ability to freely commercialize the technology; such as: any funding, partnership or collaboration agreements that grant any current or future rights or options in the technology to any third party, any licenses relating to the technology, any non-competition agreements relating to the technology, any claims by any person or entity asserting any rights in the technology, or any material pending or threatened litigation against the company
  7. A brief description of any funds from any source other than the MassVentures’ START program and the SBIR program that are being used to commercialize the technology
  8. A brief description of any objections the applicant has to the START Phase I contract template
  9. A copy of any slides that the applicant intends to use in its presentation to the START program Advisory Board

Further details will be provided with notification of advancement.

Companies selected to receive a Stage I grant will also be required to submit the following materials as a precondition to receipt of any funds:

  1. Current Certificates of Good Standing (issued in the 2019 calendar year) from the (i) Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and (ii) the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.
  2. Such additional information as MassVentures reasonably requires to determine that the company has sufficient rights to commercialize the intellectual property in question.

All materials submitted that the company considers to be trade secrets must be clearly labeled as such by the company prior to submission.

FAQs

  • Who is eligible?

    Any Massachusetts applicant whose application to the program is not based on life sciences and has received a Phase II SBIR or STTR award within the last four years (or, alternatively, has either gained ‘meaningful commercial traction” as defined below, within the past four years or the technology otherwise remains commercially viable today). It is expected that the qualifying Phase II SBIR would have been awarded by the Department of Defense or a federal agency other than the National Institutes of Health. A “Massachusetts company” is one that conducts its research, development, manufacturing and commercialization primarily in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and for the purposes of this program commits to continuing to do so. It is expected that START funds will be spent primarily in Massachusetts. MassVentures reserves the right to amend eligibility criteria in its discretion.

  • What if a company moves out of Massachusetts after receiving START funds?

    The program requires that each recipient company be committed to remaining in Massachusetts at the time it receives START funds. Its plans must show that the proceeds from START shall be substantially spent within Massachusetts, using Massachusetts’ service providers. A company that does not comply with this provision will be ineligible for subsequent stages.

  • How much can my company receive?

    A company may receive a Stage I grant of up to $100,000 for each successful application and, based upon progress demonstrated over the first year, an additional Stage II grant of up to $200,000.


    If the company is then selected in Stage III, up to an additional $500,000 in the form of an equity or “equity-like” investment by MassVentures in the company or its SBIR-based spinout. Therefore, the most successful START applicants may thereby receive a total of up to $800,000. If a company is not selected for Stage II or Stage III, it is under no further obligation to MassVentures and may seek alternative funding. However, if selected for Stage III, the company will be obligated to either include MassVentures as a seed stage equity investor in the SBIR-based entity under terms and conditions acceptable to the company and all participating investors, or reach another form of arm’s-length commercial deal with MassVentures.

  • What is an “equity like” investment?

    An “equity-like” investment in Stage III will be one designed to produce a commercial return on MassVentures’ invested risk capital. Possible structures for such an investment include, for example, a purchase of common or preferred stock, a loan with warrants to purchase stock, or royalties on products that include technology supported by MassVentures’ investment. An equity investment from a syndicate that includes MassVentures is another desirable outcome.

  • Can I apply directly for Stage II funds?

    No. START will make all initial awards as Stage I grants. However, if a company achieves all of its Stage I goals in less than a year from the date of the Stage I grant, it may use any remaining funds to begin Stage II, thereby increasing its chances of being selected for a Stage II award. If Stage I or Stage II goals are achieved in less than a year from the applicable grant, MassVentures may in its discretion seek to accelerate funding for Stage III or “promote” a company directly from Stage I to Stage III, but will be under no obligation to do so.

  • What does MassVentures receive in return?

    At the end of Stage I or Stage II, the company owes MassVentures nothing, except a right to participate in certain future fundings. If not selected for Stage II or Stage III, the company may seek alternative funding or license or sell its technology to others. Only if selected for Stage III is the company obligated to negotiate in good faith an “equity-like” investment by MassVentures in the SBIR-based venture on terms designed to provide MassVentures with a commercial return. The specific terms of such a commercial arrangement, should it occur, will be determined at the time of the negotiation.

  • How do I apply?

    First, check the application process page for program updates. You can sign up for email notifications of program updates. On that site you will be able to access a formal request for proposals. At that time, you will have sufficient opportunity to contact the START program with any additional questions before the deadline for submitting your application. If you have had more than one SBIR Phase II that you believe should be considered, please submit a separate application for each. The application will consist of basic information about the company and its officers, the name of the proposed project manager, and the proposed uses of funds. A two page Executive Summary and accompanying Quad Chart (see next question for a description) must be submitted. No more than two pages plus the Quad Chart will be read, so do not submit additional information, brochures or other material for review.

  • What is a Quad Chart?

    The basic format of a Quad Chart for this program is as follows:

    • Upper Left Quadrant: Graphical depiction of the product or service in its ultimate, commercial form.
    • Upper Right Quadrant: What is the market need for this product and why is this technology the enabling innovation?
    • Lower Left Quadrant: What is the current status of the technology and product development under or since Phase II?
    • Lower Right Quadrant: What are the milestones to be achieved in the next 12 months and how will START funding be used?
  • What are my chances for a Stage I grant?

    Typically, over 200 SBIR and STTR Phase IIs are awarded each year to Massachusetts companies. Assuming at least half of these deal with technologies that are eligible for START funding, the past four years of SBIR and STTR Phase II recipients should yield approximately 400 candidate technologies. However, only those technologies that have real commercial potential will be considered for START, so the realistic universe of applicants will be somewhat smaller.

  • How will the winning companies be selected?

    The evaluation factors will be published in the request for proposal. All START applications will be reviewed and scored by approximately 5 experts. 15-20 applicants will be selected for a brief presentation, using their Quad Charts and other materials, to the judging panel. Stage I awards will be made by this panel with the concurrence of MassVentures. It is anticipated that 10 applications will be initially selected, along with two or three alternates.

  • What happens next?

    Once selected for a START Stage I, each company will enter into an agreement with MassVentures that will describe the commercialization goals of the Stage I effort and metrics for evaluation of the company’s progress in meeting these goals. While MassVentures will not direct the company to any specific vendor, it reserves the right to approve the vendor choices made by the company.

  • What are qualifying expenses?

    Qualifying expenses are those expenses directly related to the commercialization of the technology that are pre-approved by MassVentures. Such expenses will include but are not limited to:

    • Patent expenses incurred with approved law firms;
    • Expenses relating to prototyping or product development with approved engineering firms;
    • Expenses related to business plan creation with approved consulting companies;
    • Costs of market research incurred with approved firms; and
    • Other approved expenses related to commercialization of the technology.
  • We received our SBIR Phase II award more than four years ago. However, we have received our most recent SBIR funding for that technology within last four years. Are we eligible for the START program?

    In order to be eligible for the START program, the first SBIR or STTR Phase II funding for the technology that is the subject of the START application must have been received after February 1, 2015.


    Alternatively, if the first SBIR/STTR Phase II funding for the technology was received before February 1, 2015, the technology is still eligible for the START program if it has either (A) attained “meaningful commercial traction” within the last four years or (B) otherwise remains commercially viable today.


    What constitutes “meaningful commercial traction or continuing commercial viability” will be determined by MassVentures on a case-by-case basis in its discretion. Examples of events that might constitute “meaningful commercial traction” include, but are not necessarily limited to:

    • Significant sales of the technology (either to the federal government or to non-government commercial customers);
    • Commercial contracts (for example, technology licenses or production/manufacturing contracts) or recent written communications from potential commercial partners, suggesting that sales are likely to be forthcoming; or
    • Joint ventures, strategic alliances or other significant commercial collaborations.

    START applicants whose technology received an initial SBIR/STTR Phase II funding prior to February 1, 2015 should specifically note this fact in the application and describe the “meaningful commercial traction” that has occurred more recently or the reasons for its continuing commercial viability.

  • We received our SBIR Phase II award from the National Institutes of Health, but our technology is not a life sciences technology. (Rather, for example, it is a health care information technology). Are we eligible for the START program?

    If the commercial product is based on a life sciences technology and requires FDA approval to be sold to consumers, that technology is generally not eligible for the START program. Programs supporting such technologies are available through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. If you received your SBIR Phase II award from NIH, but the commercial product based on that technology does not require FDA approval, you are eligible for the START program.  If an applicant has specific questions about whether an NIH-funded technology is eligible, the applicant can contact the START program manager here.

  • We have been told by our federal SBIR funding agency that we will soon be receiving an SBIR Phase II award; however, we won’t have it by the time the START application is due. Are we still eligible to apply?

    Yes, you may submit a START Stage I application based on an informal indication from your federal funding agency that an SBIR Phase II award is forthcoming.  In those circumstances, you must subsequently obtain a government “Start Date” for the SBIR Phase II award that is before the START Stage I contract signing date (which will be in June 2018).  If you apply under those circumstances, are selected as a conditional START grant winner, but ultimately do not receive a federal “Start Date” that predates our own contract date, then you will not be eligible receive a 2018 START grant.

  • If we are not interested in a START Stage III “equity-like” investment from MassVentures, are we still eligible to apply for a Stage I grant?

    Yes, applying for and receiving a START Stage I grant does not obligate a recipient to apply for later stages of the START program.

  • Would such a stated lack of interest in Stage III put us at a disadvantage for Stage I and II applications?

    The START program is interested in creating high-growth commercial companies that will have a significant impact on the Massachusetts economy. Provided that an applicant has a well-designed plan to achieve this goal without a START Stage III funding, a lack of interest in such a funding would not necessarily disadvantage the applicant in Stages I and II.

  • My company received a qualifying SBIR Phase II funding but more recently my company was acquired. As a result of the acquisition, the new company is no longer eligible for the SBIR program. However, we would otherwise qualify for the START program. Are we eligible?

    Yes, provided the technology would otherwise qualify for the START program and so continue to have the requisite potential to have a positive impact on the Massachusetts economy, the fact that the company was since acquired does not necessarily disqualify the applicant.

  • Can we see the proposed START Stage I agreement before submitting an application?

    No. The proposed agreement will be issued after the application deadline. However, like the START application process itself, the agreement will be designed to be as simple and “user-friendly” as possible. Submitting an application for the START program does not obligate a company to enter into an agreement with MassVentures.

  • We have a proposal that is ITAR-restricted, do you have a process to cover that?

    No. Applications to the START program will be reviewed by external, independent reviewers. Also, MassVentures is unable to enter into confidentiality agreements with applicants. If the terms of your SBIR award would not allow you to submit a START application under these circumstances, please do not do so.  ITAR compliance is the sole responsibility of SBIR awardee.

  • Only expenses with pre-approved MassVentures firms are allowed. Is there a process for having our preferred service providers approved by MassVentures?

    Yes. The policy of requiring that START funds be spent with MassVentures-approved firms is designed to ensure that START funds are spent appropriately consistent with program goals. If a successful applicant desires to spend START funds on particular service providers, MassVentures will consider such requests.

  • Can we use START funds to do a piece of work in-house? If so, are overheads, reimbursable?

    Yes. As indicated above, MassVentures is concerned with ensuring that START funds are spent appropriately consistent with program goals. If an applicant feels that a particular piece of work (for example, product prototyping) is most appropriately done in-house, MassVentures will consider such requests. The START program policy for reimbursement of overheads will be consistent with the SBIR policy on that subject.

  • My company received a qualifying SBIR Phase II funding within but the company is no longer a “small business,” so it is no longer eligible for new grants from the SBIR program. However, the technology that previously received SBIR funding would otherwise qualify for the START program. Are we eligible?

    Yes, provided the technology would otherwise qualify for the START program and so continue to have the requisite potential to have a positive impact on the Massachusetts economy, the fact that the company is no longer a “small business” does not necessarily disqualify the applicant.

  • We understand that MassVentures cannot enter into non-disclosure agreements with START applicants. How should we handle our trade secrets under these circumstances?

    Because the START program is focused on commercialization, your application should cover only what is necessary for the external reviewers to understand the commercial potential of the technology. You should not disclose any trade secrets or valuable proprietary processes in your application.

  • If a proposal is ITAR-restricted, do we still need to submit the full SBIR Phase II contract to MassVentures?

    If you are selected to make a presentation to the START review board, you will need to submit to us your full SBIR Phase II contract. If the terms of your SBIR award would not allow you to submit a START application under the processes MassVentures has outlined, please do not do so.

  • To what extent are overheads reimbursable for a piece of commercialization work that is done in-house?

    Overheads will be reimbursable at standard SBIR rates for in-house projects.

  • We received our first SBIR Phase I award more than four years ago, but we received our first SBIR Phase II award within the last four years. Are we eligible for the START program?

    Yes. In order to be eligible for the START program, the first SBIR or STTR Phase II funding for the technology that is the subject of the START application must have been received after February 1, 2015 or, alternatively, the technology must have attained “meaningful commercial traction” within the past four year or otherwise remains commercially viable today.

  • Are there any particular technologies that MassVentures has an interest in funding under the START program?

    No. The START program is focused on creating high-growth commercial companies that will have a significant impact on the Massachusetts economy. If the technology has the potential to fulfill that goal and it is otherwise eligible under the criteria for the program, it is a good candidate for this program.

START winners