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UND Center for Innovation awarded SBA funds for business and technology startups

Alongside business training and technology support, the $125,000 award will help grow partnerships with the North Spark Defense Lab at Grand Forks Air Force Base

UND Center for Innovation

The U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded the UND Center For Innovation $125,000 to help local startups and small businesses receive training and technical assistance.

The funding was awarded through the SBA’s Federal and State Technology (FAST) partnership program. Funds will be used to help local start-ups and small businesses benefit from the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The Center’s goal for the FAST grant is to improve participation for rural North Dakota businesses in the innovation and commercialization of new technology. The FAST program helps small and start-up businesses in underserved communities receive training, coaching and technical assistance for research and development.

“The FAST grant award is an exciting opportunity for the Center to promote the SBIR/STTR opportunities available to innovators in North Dakota,” said Amy Whitney, director of the UND Center for Innovation. “The Center has more than 30 years of experience as the lead technical assistance provider for SBIR and STTR funding in North Dakota, and we look forward to helping small businesses, start-ups, and researchers identify and secure funding in the future.”

The programs are known as “America’s Seed Fund.” They provide funding between federal agencies and small businesses to stimulate high-tech innovation and bring cutting edge technology to the marketplace. The SBA FAST program aligns with the Center’s mission of advancing innovative ideas, services, and businesses throughout the state.

The SBA announced the funding awards late last month.

There is also a unique opportunity with this grant for the Center to grow its partnership with the North Spark Defense Lab at Grand Forks Air Force Base. A portion of the grant can be used to identify U.S. Department of Defense technology needs that can be funded through the SBA programs.

“Having this relationship with North Spark is a unique opportunity that cannot be overstated,” Whitney said. “I am excited by all aspects of SBIR/STTR funding and what it could do for innovative North Dakota companies. The Department of Defense funding is particularly enticing as it is contract based and is the largest pool of SBIR/STTR funding available. Having a strong partnership with the North Spark Defense Lab is a recipe for excellence for DoD funding and applied research.”

Tyler Sletten, SBIR/STTR director at North Spark, works to streamline small business access and awareness of the SBA funding programs. Sletten, a civilian member of the base’s innovation council, said the grant aligns with DoD initiatives at UND, such as naming Mark Askelson as UND’s first associate vice president for national security research. Askelson was named to the position in July.

“These SBIR/STTR efforts fall inline perfectly with recent efforts by UND to focus on DoD activities and the creation of the office of associate vice president for national security research,” Sletten said.

The CFI and North Spark relationship has already resulted in the creation of one local startup business, Thread, to engage directly with the base on five funding proposals.

The Center will host hybrid pitch sessions with the North Spark Defense Lab to give small businesses the opportunity to share their technology innovations with GFAFB. In addition, the Center will also host weekly open office hours for SBIR assistance as well as National Science Foundation I-Corps training that will incorporate SBIR support.

Said Lt. Col. Michael Dunn, director of North Spark’s activities: “North Spark Defense Lab was established to give airmen the tools and training they need to bring innovative solutions into their workspaces. Many of the technology and tools that today’s airmen need have already been developed by industry. It’s our goal to get that technology into the hands of airmen who can use it to affect operations on today’s battlefield, especially in the air, space, and cyber domains.”

UND and the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at GFAFB entered into a partnership agreement in June to cooperate on mutually beneficial opportunities in education, innovation and research. Dunn praised the agreement that allows UND, the Center and North Spark to collaborate.

“UND offers an amazing talent pool of faculty, staff, and students, and the 319th Reconnaissance Wing brings talented airmen and military-sized problems,” Dunn said. “Together, UND, the Center for Innovation and North Spark Defense Lab bring the best of North Dakota to the best of the Air Force’s airmen.”

The goal of the FAST project is to scale SBIR/STTR efforts in the state. This will be accomplished by combining the Center’s robust network of financing connections, business coaching, and proposal and presentation development for potential investors with SBIR/STTR opportunities.

For more information on this topic, please call the UND Center for Innovation at (701) 777-3132 or email

About The University of North Dakota Center for Innovation (

The mission of the Center for Innovation is to advance the creation and development of innovative ideas, services, and businesses. The UND Center for Innovation is an entrepreneurial incubator that works to provide space for innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers to launch new ventures, commercialize new technology, and secure access to capital to ultimately encourage economic development in the state of North Dakota and the Northern Plains.