The Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) is an initiative within the DHS’ S&T arm that is designed to increase US small business involvement in developing solutions that support the mission of the DHS. Created under the 1982 Small Business Innovation Development Act and reauthorized in 2011, the SBIR empowers small companies with less than 500 employees to provide R&D prototypes to “federal, state and local emergency responders and managers, as well as internal DHS entities.” The SBIR is comprised of three main assessment phases.
According to the SBIR, Phase I evaluations determine the suitability of a particular project based on the “scientific and technical” potential of its proposal to aid the DHS. This first phase awards contracts limited to $100,000 and that are for a six-month term. Phase II contracts are awarded to successful Phase I enterprises for continued R&D and are limited to $750,000 for up to 24 months. Phase III “extends or completes” prior SBIR projects with funding from outside the SBIR. This final stage of work is usually directed at efforts to commercialize the assets developed under the SBIR development lifecycle. As Phase III work involves bringing new technologies to market, after being vetted for practicality and receiving funding, there is no cap on dollar values for contracts made to small businesses in this final phase, or limit on time between subsidy contracts.
After successfully completing a Phase I evaluation in November 2016, 13 small businesses across the US recently received roughly $750,000 each to develop their prototypes in Phase II of the SBIR – summing a total payout by the DHS of $9.7 million. The investment garners “some of the best scientific thinking to find solutions to apply in the current threat landscape,” according to DHS acting Under Secretary for Science and technology Dr. Robert Griffin.
Stephen Dennis, director of data analytics at the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), which is part of the S&T directorate of DHS, elaborated on the SBIR process for ETHNews:
“First phase is proof of principal. Very solid results from the first phase lead us to the second phase. We’re typically tough customers when it comes to selecting a second phase investment. We’re looking for tangible results to be documented coming out of phase one. That doesn’t mean you know all the details but the promise must have been refined and delivered during that first phase and in the second phase, we are building out those examples. There’s a lot more prototyping going on. There will be experiments and the idea there will be to highlight areas where blockchain can serve DHS. To the extent that we are able to identify robust capabilities there, then you’re are going to see phase three investment.”
While the DHS is not able to comment on its funding of advanced blockchain research with regard to the security mission, the funding of several companies into Phase II of the SBIR is an indicator of the US government’s continued interest in using blockchain technology to buttress the DHS mission.
“When we look at the blockchain, we think about it a little differently than the cryptocurrency folks,” said Dennis. “At the DHS, one of our core missions is information sharing. Being able to have a ledger that has different levels of transparency for different partners is probably something we would want to do.”
A complete list of Phase II recipients is below.
• BlockCypher (Redwood City, CA), Blockchain Platform for Multiple Blockchains, Applications, and Analytics
• BlueRISC Inc. (Amherst, MA), Cyber Attack Prediction for Situational Understanding and Preemptive Cyber Defense
• Card Smart Technologies (Basking Ridge, NJ), Composite Identity for High Assurance Remote Identity Proofing
• Digital Bazaar (Blacksburg, VA), Verifiable Claims and Fit-for-Purpose Decentralized Ledgers
• Evernym Inc. (Herriman, UT), Decentralized Key Management using Blockchain
• Evigia Systems, Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), Wide-Area Flood Alert Sensor Network
• Inferlink Corp. (El Segundo, CA), OpenWatch: An Architecture for Scalable Resiliency Assessment
• McQ Inc. (Fredericksburg, VA), MEGASCOP: Multi Interface Secure Audio/Video Rebroadcasting (SAVR) System
• Oceanit Laboratories (Honolulu, HI), FIND (First responder INdoor Determination)
• Physical Optics Corp. (Torrance, CA), Real-time Flood Forecasting and Reporting
• Physical Optics Corp. (Torrance, CA), Real-time Information Contextual Correlation and Analysis Software System
• Progeny Systems Corp. (Manassas, VA), Internet of Things (IoT) Low-Cost Flood Inundation Sensor
• Red Balloon Security (New York, NY), Hybrid Prediction for Embedded Malware