One of the more important functions for the health and well being of the SBIR/STTR programs are the biannual National SBIR Conferences that bring small businesses, government agencies, state/local economic development organizations, academia and industrial partners together. In the last two years these conferences dropped down to only one per year due to lack of people/organizations willing to step up, organize and take risks. For 2013 nobody had stepped up to lead or host the National SBIR Conference.
A major factor in lack of support was the "knee-jerk" response of the federal government to the immense negative publicity of a few outrageous conferences last year that resulted in most federal employees not being allowed to participate in, or travel to any conferences this year. Consequently no one was willing to host a National SBIR Conference for 2013.
John Williams found this to be unacceptable for the SBIR community, so he immediately went to work to find a solution . This was to be an extraordinarily uphill battle in light of government travel and conference restrictions.
Knowing that one of the most important functions of the National SBIR Conferences was to bring small businesses together with the federal program managers and staff, Williams had to find a vehicle in the DC area so most of the "feds" who were restricted from travelling could attend because they lived in the immediate area.
Williams found a possible vehicle in the form of the Tech Connect World and the National Innovation Summit being held in May of 2013. It was through a series of meetings with TechConnect World organizers Dr. Matthew Laudon and Ms. Jennifer Rocha that a plan of action resulted.
Laudon and Rocha were very motivated to try and make their venue accommodate Williams' SBIR Conference vision. They did incredible work to make the SBIR event possible. Now it was up to Williams to convince the other SBIR agencies to join with him and the Navy in pulling off this critical National SBIR Conference in only a few months time.
Williams, acting in the role as a senior SBIR statesman, approached all the agency SBIR program managers with his plan, and solicited input from the them as to how they could make the plan better and execute it in time to market the meeting to small businesses throughout the country. Williams also reached out to state support representatives and small businesses to find out what they would like to have presented.
Williams put together a team to work under his direction to secure speakers, organize the sessions, and bring the ideas to fruition. They worked very hard to achieve the goals and did so in record time.
The end result was the 2013 National SBIR Conference in DC, which was an amazing success considering all the elements. Many important sessions were presented and hundreds of small businesses as well as representatives from academia and industry attended the conference which was collocated with the TechConnect World and the National Innovation Summit. Several hundred one-on-one appointments were handled for small businesses meeting with federal SBIR program managers.
Due to the success of the 2013 conference, and the remaining uncertainty of federal travel and conference support, Williams is now helping lead another National SBIR Conference collocated with the TechConnect World and National Innovation Summit in the Washington DC area, June 16-18, 2014.
Williams' leadership in bringing the SBIR agency program managers together, and his work to save the National SBIR Conferences, took him above and beyond the SBIR call of duty. His bold efforts not only strengthened the program for his own agency, but for all the agencies, small businesses and the overall SBIR community.
For his work, courage and commitment to the SBIR programs and National Conference, we name Mr. John Williams the SBIR Person of the Year for 2013.
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