Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 33)
This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Ryan Starks, managing director of Business Services at GOED, and Mary Cardon, director of the Utah Industry and Innovation Center.
Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Ryan Starks: (00:20) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m Ryan Starks, managing director of business services at GOED. Today, we’re excited to announce changes to some of our business service programs at GOED. One of our great programs is called the SBIR: Small Business Innovation Research.
Another program is called our cluster program or targeted industries. For the past decade or so, these programs have done great things for the state, but recently we decided to combine them into one office and rebrand. I’m here with Mary Cardon, the director of the Utah SBIR center, now known as the Utah Industry and Innovation Center.
Mary, thanks for joining me. How are you today?
Mary Cardon: (01:06) Really good. Very excited today. Thanks, Ryan.
Ryan Starks: (01:10) Well, we’re excited to have you as part of our GOED family. How long have you been with the state system?
Mary Cardon: (01:16) On July 8th, it will be 12 years. I started with Utah Science Technology and Research initiative directing the SBIR and STTR Center.
Ryan Starks: (01:29) How did you land that job? What a unique role.
Mary Cardon: (01:32) It was a unique role. It has been, as we say, a varied path. I went to college in journalism. When I left, I found that I needed to have more money than newly minted journalists could make. I went to the advertising side of newspapers and ended up on the production side of newspapers.
I lived in that world for about 20 years with newspapers in Idaho. California, San Diego and in Utah. At the end of those 20 years, I had an opportunity to move into the small business world. I did that with a fledgling company. We did a good job of creating a new arm for the company.
And that led me to a job at General Electric through serendipity wherein I worked on grants and contracts with the government for General Electric money. We landed some pretty big contracts and that was a remarkable experience. That led right into the SBIR Center when it was being launched, by the governing authority of USTAR.
I applied for the job and it’s been a miracle it’s been wonderful ever since.
Ryan Starks: (02:44) Well, everybody that knows Mary Cardon will be very quick to sing her praises. The state of Utah is really lucky to have you Mary
Mary Cardon: (02:52) Thank you.
Ryan Starks: (02:52) The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is lucky to have your talents as well. You haven’t been with GOED for a very long time. Tell us about that transition.
Mary Cardon: (00:03:01) The SBIR Center was run under USTAR, as I’ve mentioned, and you start going through a downsizing and defunding by the SBIR Center was kept both from the Legislature. We had good support from the Legislature and we had strong public support. Our office has helped bring in dollars. I guess we should explain to everyone what SBIR centers are.
Small business innovation research dollars are federal funds that are competitively one to help research and development in small businesses without taking any equity. We call it non-equity funding. They don’t take any IP, no part of the company. It is free money. You work very hard to get that free money, but they take no part of the company and the SBIR Center has helped bring in over $42 million to small companies in the state of Utah. We have a win rate that is nearly twice the national average. When you work with us, it’s about 27% right now. and nationally it’s between 14% and 17%, depending on the agency. We can do a good job helping companies submit proposals. That was registered with, not only the public, but the Legislature. We also work on a very small three person staff. We’re very lean. So we were taken under the wing of GOED, where we have just flourished and we’re very excited to move into this next step.
Ryan Starks: (04:27) That’s really exciting. I’m glad that the public took note of the good work that you were doing. You started an amazing organization. Due to various factors, you know, we don’t have USTAR today. At least we have the SBIR which I think continues to pay dividends for Utah companies.
So what type of companies would you say is your focus area within the SBIR?
Mary Cardon: (04:49) One of the reasons that we are so excited about moving into the Industry and Innovation Center, because they absolutely cross all of these industries. We have aerospace and defense. We have energy. We have software. We’ve got financial services. Every aspect of the targeted industries is part of the significance in our center.
It’s a perfect dovetail.
Ryan Starks: (05:20) The SBIR grants aren’t just for life science companies. For example, you’re saying that maybe an aerospace and defense company could apply for, and receive, assistance through your office.
Mary Cardon: (05:31) That’s right. They have. Life sciences is one of the biggest sectors that we have in the state and we work very strongly with a number of medical device companies. Companies that are bringing in new devices that will absolutely revolutionize the world. Not to mention some pharmaceuticals.
In aerospace and defense, we have companies that have developed new satellites, new chips. We are making things better and faster. A lot of these are really, really cutting edge.
Ryan Starks: (06:00) I’m glad you mentioned aerospace and defense. Chanel Flores, who’s our director over that cluster or that targeted area industry, has done a fantastic job over the past few years really trying to grow that segment of our economy. She’s been at the table with the Department of Defense and with various aerospace companies really trying to grow the industry.
Chanel will join you and your team. You’re growing from three to four people. Tell us, how do you envision that working out.
Mary Cardon: (06:33) I think that’s why it’s going to work so well. Chanel has a reputation that precedes her when she walks through the door. She has worked with these industries from the public perspective, as well as public companies. As well as working with Hill Air Force Base and the companies that surround them. Her reputation leads companies to her. People say, ‘Oh, you have to go talk to Chanel. Let’s see how she can get you some help and work.’ The SBIRs, they’re waiting for those companies, small businesses who are doing research and development.There’s an excellent match. We’re going to be able to bolster each of these entities to make sure that they’re maximized.
It’s going to be a great one stop shop.
Ryan Starks: (07:17) Chanel has a background in aerospace and defense. You also have a talented staff and Linda Cabrales and April Bennett. Tell us just a little bit about the skills that they bring.
Mary Cardon: (07:27) Both Linda and April have a strong background in marketing. They are very able to help with every aspect of the work that we’re going to be doing. April has a degree and a background in health sciences. She will be looking over our life science and healthcare industries. Linda has had opportunities in the past to work with both financial services and software.
So we’re looking for leads in that area as well.
Ryan Starks: (07:57) Well, we’re really excited just with the talent, commitment and the focus. One term we use is a one stop shop. We like to think that now a company can come to your office, and whether they’re in aerospace and defense, life sciences or technology, financial services, they can receive the services that you offer in the form of SBIR guidance.
I think it goes beyond that. You become a convener, you become a connector, you help these businesses. You point them in the right direction to help them grow. As a result, these segments within our economy continue to be strengthened, continue to grow. I think that’s really what’s put Utah on the map this past decade.
Mary Cardon: (08:44) I would agree completely. That’s what we do is we facilitate. That is one of the reasons we have such a high win rate with our SBIR. We say, “Let me connect you here.” “Let me let you talk to this person.” “Let me see if I can’t do blank.”. That’s what we’re going to do. As we convene all of these into one place we hope we can say “Here’s where you can go.” “This is what you can do.” “How can we help you?” This is where you need to be stronger. We do some introductions, we make sure that people are aware of all of the capabilities within the state, and can take advantage of all of those.
Ryan Starks: (09:17) That’s wonderful. Mary, as part of this merger, we’ve decided to go ahead and rename the center as well.
The SBIR is something that’s familiar to people who have worked with you, but it might not be familiar to everyday businesses.Tell us a little bit about the name change, and why you think that provides some value.
Mary Cardon: (09:38) Sure. Being the Utah SBIR Center, people are like, “yay”. We don’t know what that is because it’s an acronym. Now, by saying that we are the Utah Industry and Innovation Center that brings to mind. Okay. I have an innovation, I’m industry specific. How can this Center help? Just those general questions will likely come to us a bit quicker. You’re going to be more inclined to say, what if nothing else, “What does that mean?” We don’t mean for it to be general, but we certainly were way too specific with the Utah SBIR Center.
I don’t think we were reaching the audience that we needed all the time. Now we have an opportunity with a very broad one name to help people to come to us. Then we can help explore where they need to go from here.
Ryan Starks: (10:29) Speaking of outreach. How do people learn about what you’re doing and what are some of the services that the former SBIR Center and now the Industry and Innovation Center provide.
Mary Cardon: (10:40) Sure. Thanks. Every month we have a one-on-one workshop on small business innovation research grants, That is available online and check on Eventbrite or course on our website. That gives us an overview. We want to see if it’s something that your company can do. Do you qualify? Do you have the right kind of staff? How are things working? That’s offered once a month and that is also available on our website. It’s about 40 minutes in length. If you don’t have the opportunity for that you can go to the website and listen to it at your leisure. We offer consultations, which we do regularly. We are also offering specific training for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health.
Those will be coming up. Those are not on the schedule yet. We’re very pleased that on August 10th and August 12th, we will be hosting an SBIR webinar where people will have an opportunity to learn from each of the agencies that participate, and speak with the people that are behind the scenes.
Those are things that are coming up regarding the Utah Industry and Innovation Center. We are excited that we’re going to be able to expand this to include the cluster folks, the targeted industries. Each has their own ongoing applications, ongoing workshops We’re going to help to boost those, make sure that our clients, that we’ve been working with over 700 of them. Make sure that the clients that are in the industries themselves are aware of each other’s opportunities so that we can all expand.
Ryan Starks: (12:19) It’s been said many times that Utah’s secret success is its collaborative nature. I think bringing together these industries with the focus on innovation, and being that one stop shop really highlights our collaborative spirit as a state. I’m excited for businesses to check out the newly created Utah Industry and Innovation Center.
I think it’s going to be a great win for the state of Utah.
Mary Cardon: (12:45) I couldn’t agree more.
Ryan Starks: (12:46) Mary, you mentioned that a lot of the workshops are online, that people can access the website and learn more. It’s really interesting timing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Are there resources available to companies who are struggling to get through this pandemic? And what do those resources look like for somebody who maybe is not quite ready to meet face to face yet?
Mary Cardon: (13:08) Certainly most of our work honestly has been done without face-to-face contact. Oftentimes, people do come to our workshops. Of course they want to see what those are. We are moving those online to help people to do that. We have a couple of companies that we’ve been working with for probably a decade that we have met.
Two or three times, but we know them. We know their children. We know who’s going to college and they know a lot about us. We’ve helped through the process. So, we are making adjustments to help folks with COVID-19. Frankly, those work well. We’ve always worked primarily electronically with all of the documents, etc. We still do sit down, and today we sit with you on a zoom call or a Google hangout, or whatever’s best available to give you feedback. We have these opportunities, they will be publicized, both on the GOED website as well as sent out through Eventbrite.Those will also always be available. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for companies to put their foot on the gas for things that they’ve been thinking about. We have had opportunities outside of COVID. There are companies that are covert centric, people who have new ventilators, people who have new ways of testing, people who have new ways of checking temperature.
We have a great many companies who are utilizing this time to put forward their SBIR and STTR applications. As we talked to the 11 agencies that are participating, applications are up everywhere. This is not a sleeper. At this point, we encourage everyone to apply because it is going full bore.
Ryan Starks: (15:01) Has the federal government provided any additional resources, knowing the applications are up?
Mary Cardon: (15:07) The federal government money is still the federal government money. However, they have opened up a few opportunities COVID-19 itself, and those are being fast tracked. They are quickly winding down just because they need the applications in and then the work to begin before the end of this fiscal year, which is September 30, for the federal government. That everybody’s just working at twice the speed and they’re doing a very good job.
Ryan Starks: (15:32) And so if a company were to apply for one of these funding sources typically what’s the turnaround time?
Mary Cardon: (15:38) This has not changed and it is not quick. Just to be clear, it has always been slow. If you were to apply today, you push the button today to apply for these competitive grants. It would be six months before you saw the money.
Ryan Starks: (15:54) Okay. But with notifications between now and six months so that you can plan accordingly?
Mary Cardon: (16:00) Nope. They do not, there is one or two agencies that will offer up questions in between here and there. But for the most part, you just get an award notice at the very end. Then the money comes very shortly thereafter.
Ryan Starks: (16:17) These services with you and your staff costs nothing to a business. Is that correct?
Mary Cardon: (16:23) Oh, thank you for pointing that out, right? Absolutely. We are free service. We do charge for some of our workshops, nominal fees, but all of our services are free to you. You do have to have a full presence and a license in the state. There are some qualifications to be an SBIR company, but in order to work with us, you need to be a Utah company.
Ryan Starks: (16:46) Wonderful. Well, thank you for your words of wisdom, Mary, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today on this podcast. Really excited to see the future and where the state goes with these industries and with innovation. Clearly you’re running a very tight ship and you’re doing a great job with the addition of these added targeted industries. I just think it really enhances the collaboration in the spirit of synergy. So excited to see the good things that you continue to do. Any listener can learn more at business.utah.gov, which is the GOED website. There’s a link to Mary’s office called the Industry and Innovation Center.
Mary Cardon. Thank you for joining us.
Mary Cardon: (17:28) Great pleasure. Thank you so much, Ryan.
Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.