First Impressions: an Introduction to EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program
By Nick Werner
The first day of work at a new job can be a daunting, maybe even a mildly-panic-inducing-event. And chances are, every last one of us has experienced the first-day jitters at least a couple times in our lives and the butterflies will likely still be there for our next go around as “the new kid.” In a lot of ways, the first day of work at a new job parallels the first day of class at a new school – you must begin to memorize the names and interests of your coworkers, learn about the type and amount of work you will be undertaking, find out what your bosses will expect from you, carefully pick where you want to sit at lunch, and so on. However, work and school are also similar in that, after about the first week or two, you have started to find your niche in your new environment.
In my case, fittingly enough, my new environment was the Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA), and my niche was the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The SBIR program is a competition that, for over 30 years now, has served as a source of early-stage funding for innovative small companies in the green tech field. Internally, it is a close-knit group of dedicated people, striving towards bettering the world by ensuring that the necessary funding goes to teams that can create tangible change. And because we are all passionate about the same topics, it has made the transition from “new kid” to “team member” a relatively seamless process.
From the moment I stepped off the elevator, I was introduced to the idea that even though EPA has a number of independent programs, they are all interconnected. Student-oriented competitions such as Science to Achieve Results fellowships and the People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program provide research funding to individuals and teams of students. Some of the projects have gone from competing in P3 to becoming a small business with an EPA SBIR contract – including Lucid Connects, Environmental Fuel Research (EFR), and SimpleWater. In fact, both Lucid and EFR will be in attendance at the SBIR National Conference, which will be held in conjunction with the Tech Connect World Innovation Conference and Expo this week. The conference will comprise of a number of events, including many informative panel sessions – highlighted by the one with Lucid and EFR on bringing innovative environmental technologies to market.
My role in this program centers on improving organization and efficiency, so that more focus can be placed on the individuals and teams who are striving to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our world today. The experience and freedom to solve problems in creative ways will certainly aid me in the future as I endeavor to leave my mark on the world as well.
About the Author: Nick Werner is a student contractor working with the People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) program, and assisting with the SBIR program, both of which are in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Nick is an avid sports fan who hopes to pursue a graduate degree in marine biology or marine conservation in the near future.
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