SBIR and STTR Guidance
The federally-funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage small businesses to engage in research and development that could lead to technology commercialization. Small businesses collaborate with a research institution, such as Virginia Tech, in phases I and II through the issuance of a subaward to the research institution.
Virginia Tech supports faculty participation in SBIR/STTR programs as this can facilitate rapid progress towards commercialization of important inventions. However, when a member of the Virginia Tech research team has a financial interest in the small business applicant and they will also conduct Virginia Tech research funded by the small business, this creates a financial conflict of interest (FCOI) for that individual. Important - due to state law considerations, the situation could still be an FCOI and require next steps even if the person isn’t involved in the Virginia Tech research.
An FCOI assessment is based on the factual context of the situation and is not based on any implied judgment about the character or intent of the individual. SBIR/STTR programs have a unique potential for conflicts of interest, which could lead to a:
- Concern that the individual might be using Virginia Tech laboratories, students, colleagues, funds, or other university resources to support the small business, which could jeopardize academic research and degree progression;
- Concern that research objectivity has been compromised; and
- Blurring of the boundary between the university and the for-profit small business.
Therefore, the following guidelines have been developed to guide faculty as they prepare SBIR and STTR proposals and manage grant subawards.
Note that the principles that govern Virginia Tech research and the potential concerns identified above remain the same regardless of the type of funding; therefore, although the federal rules for FCOI exempt phase I SBIR projects from FCOI requirements, Virginia Tech policy does not exempt these relationships from review and management.
Guidelines for Faculty Participation in SBIR and STTR Programs
Outside activities and certain financial interests must be disclosed to Virginia Tech in the Disclosure and Management System, as described on the Disclosure Guidance page. The module you use depends on your relationship with the small business applicant. After the disclosure is submitted, the Research Conflict of Interest program will reach out to coordinate next steps, if any.
- Note that the information on this website pertains to disclosing to Virginia Tech. Disclosures, as described throughout these pages and recorded in the Disclosure and Management System, do not alleviate the obligation to disclose to federal sponsors in the proposal being submitted by the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP). If you have questions about what should be disclosed in the proposal to the sponsor, review the guidance on OSP’s website or contact email@example.com.
Due to the primary employment requirement for SBIR programs and some National Science Foundation (NSF) STTR programs, full-time Virginia Tech faculty cannot serve as principal investigator for the small business. Faculty who plan to serve as the small business principal investigator on SBIR or NSF STTR programs must reduce their employment at the university or take a leave of absence/research leave to serve in this role.
An investigator may not serve as the principal investigator on both sides of the project (i.e., as the small business principal investigator and the university subaward principal investigator). Any exceptions must be approved by the Management Plan Advisory Committee as described by Policy 13010, Conflict of Interest.
Faculty may serve as the principal investigator for either the small business or the subaward to Virginia Tech. If you or any member of the study team have disclosed a financial interest in the small business issuing the subaward that represents a financial conflict of interest, a management plan will be put into place to mitigate the FCOI, promote research objectivity, and provide academic protection for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. See the FCOI Review section below for more information.
If you or any member of the study team have disclosed a financial interest in the small business issuing the subaward that represents a financial conflict of interest, the Research Conflict of Interest program will develop a plan for managing the FCOI. The management plan is designed to mitigate the conflict, promote research objectivity, and provide academic and professional protection of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, respectively. If needed, the Management Plan Advisory Committee (MPAC), a standing committee of the university, will make recommendations to the program director regarding how the financial conflict of interest should be managed to ensure that sponsored research will be objective and free from bias to the extent possible. The management plan must be adopted prior to the start of the research.
- It is critical to note that financial interests related to the small business must be submitted and reviewed by the Research Conflict of Interest program before the university enters into a contract with the small business. Disclosures must be updated within 30 days of changes (e.g., when financial interests change).
The elements of the management plan will depend on the nature of the financial interest and the proposed research, but will include, at a minimum, disclosure of the financial interest to the study team, including students and post-docs, and in presentations and publications. Management plan terms are formalized and accepted in the Disclosure and Management System.
The use of university resources on behalf of a small business is not permitted unless Virginia Tech is performing the scope of work authorized through the subaward from the small business to Virginia Tech and that subaward is fully executed before work begins. Only the documented subawarded work is authorized to be performed using Virginia Tech resources.
The University Facilities Usage and Events policy (No. 5000) allows you to use university resources if you pay the rate determined by the Controller's Office and the use is approved by your department/college in the context of your outside activity disclosure, which documents the use of university resources. This only applies in the context of approved consulting activities, and the proposed use cannot interfere with or have priority over anticipated university use of the equipment or facilities.
Note that rights to intellectual property cannot generally be assigned to an entity other than Virginia Tech except as permitted pursuant to Policy 13000, Policy on Intellectual Property.
University personnel cannot support the small business funding application whatsoever, including developing a budget or proposal on behalf of the small business. The involvement of the university in such activities occurs only to the extent that Virginia Tech is an intended subawardee in the research, in which case typical involvement of Virginia Tech researchers and research administrators is permissible. University personnel cannot provide any pre- or post-award support to the small business or make arrangements/handle reimbursements for small business travel.
Graduate students and post-docs might be involved in research sponsored by a faculty-owned business. In developing the management plan for sponsored research involving an FCOI, the Research Conflict of Interest program will consider putting academic or professional protections in place for graduate students or postdoctoral scholars, respectively.
Graduate students must disclose additional employment outside of the Disclosure and Management System in certain limited circumstances. See the section for Additional Employment for Students Holding a Graduate Assistantship in the Graduate Catalog. Contact the Graduate School with any questions.
Postdocs should refer to the Disclosure section above.