Small business workshop promotes innovation

FVSU's Joy Moten-Thomas helps entrepreneurs find funding for innovative agriculture-related ideas

Jul. 12, 2018

Supporting the growth of research and ideas that could impact agriculture and community development

Aspiring innovators looking to implement a new product or service to benefit agriculture and build stronger communities recently gained insight on turning those ideas into reality.

More than 20 people from the Atlanta area and surrounding communities visited Fort Valley State University’s campus to attend a workshop at the Family Development and Quality Child Care Center Complex. They received information about the many opportunities available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The SBIR program offers competitively awarded grants to qualified small businesses. It supports the growth of research and ideas into products and services that could lead to significant public benefit in agriculture and community development.

SBIR Phase I grants are limited to $100,000 and a duration of eight months. Phase II grants are limited to $600,000 and a duration of 24 months and are only open to previous Phase I awardees.

During the workshop, attendees heard from hosts Joy Moten-Thomas, assistant administrator for community development and outreach for FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program, and Andrea Scarrow, family and consumer sciences program development coordinator for the University of Georgia (UGA) Cooperative Extension Program.

“We are looking for agriculture-related innovative ideas that can be funded,” Moten-Thomas said.

In addition, she said the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is interested in increasing the number of applications received from states like Georgia that have low or no application submissions to the program each year.

Following the workshop, Douglas County, Georgia, grower Clara Lewis said she plans to submit an application. “I was definitely interested in learning about the program and how to get funding to support an agricultural technology venture that I’m undertaking,” she said.

Her research project involves using controlled environment agriculture to grow specialty crops. Lewis aims to see what kind of partnership she can develop and explore with FVSU.

“My particular project fills a void here in the state. I think that with more time and research it can be an ideal solution for a certain sector in Georgia,” she said.

Interested in similar opportunities, marketer Ly Eldridge, of Decatur, Georgia, said she and her business partner are looking to develop an aquaponics farm in the metro Atlanta area. They began this quest 15 years ago, receiving certification at the University of the Virgin Islands. Eldridge wishes to apply new technology to her venture to compete for the grant.

Additionally, insurance owner William Mills, of Marietta, Georgia, who is pursuing creating various types of hot sauce flavors, said his purpose for attending the workshop was to find out everything he could about starting a new business. “It helped me formulate other areas that I could go into,” he said.

Passionate about people, Mari Brown Strong, a pastor in Warner Robins, Georgia, plans to investigate the SBIR program further. She is interested in opening a transitional school to help people get back into the work field.

“Being a single mother, I realize that we go through different things whether it’s a loss of a loved one, hitting financial hard times or if we make a mistake. I’ve always wanted to help people start over again,” Strong said. Her goal is to open the first facility in her hometown, Fitzgerald, Georgia, and then Warner Robins.

The USDA SBIR program office directs all activities required under the SBIR law and executes the policy established by the Small Business Administration. NIFA administers the program.

The SBIR program is not a loan. Scarrow said for-profit companies that employ 500 or less employees are eligible to apply. Proposals undergo a confidential peer review process using outside experts from nonprofit organizations.

For more information about the SBIR program, visit https://bit.ly/2sKGVZQ.