An entrepreneurial program created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) has resulted in 11 new businesses that have generated $2.7 million in annual revenue.
The NIST Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Program (N-STEP) is a joint effort by the NIST Technology Partnerships Office (TPO) and TEDCO to facilitate new company formations by departing NIST employees and commercialization of NIST technologies, which, in turn, creates jobs. Informally, two-way tech transfer is also happening as N-STEP recipients maintain relationships with their NIST contacts.
Since the start of the program in 2016, N-STEP has resulted in the creation of 11 businesses (including eight in Maryland), which have generated $2.7 million in annual revenue, $1.2 million in investment, an additional
$4.8 million in follow-on funding (e.g., grants), and 26 jobs reported through February 2020.
Individuals who are nearing the end of their term of NIST employment are eligible for N-STEP; these include postdoctoral researchers (an average of 85 each year) and associate researchers who are at NIST on temporary appointments (more than 3,500 each year).
Departing NIST employees in the N-STEP program get to launch their own companies, built on NIST research and their own skills, with the support they need for start-up success.
TEDCO, an independent instrumentality of the State of Maryland, provides business assistance and funding for early-stage, technology-based businesses and fosters technology transfer and commercialization from state universities and federal labs.
N-STEP can be characterized as having low hurdles for its participants to clear. Participants receive mentorship and training, leading to a business proposal that participants present to the TEDCO staff. If they are successful, a contingent award is made, and the participants learn how to form a company and secure a patent license.
N-STEP funding is $100,000 for a one-year project to advance a technology toward commercialization. An additional $12,000 must be used to develop the entrepreneur’s business acumen. Companies are encouraged to pursue follow-on grant funding to further develop and sustain the company.
N-STEP uses standard technology transfer mechanisms, starting with a research license at no cost to the company, preserving the start-up’s cash for operations and translational development efforts. The knowledge transfer is often facilitated with a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), allowing access to unique facilities, equipment, etc., and lowering the cost for the start-up.
Three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards have come from NIST, and four have come from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. N-STEP companies have raised money from investors, Maryland small-business funding sources (including TEDCO) and a corporate bank loan. Some start-ups have also developed strategic partnerships with international corporations.