Turns out asking for free money from the government is really hard.
The National Science Foundation has a program called the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, whose “funding is intended to allow recipients to bring innovative new products and services to market that drive the commercial success of the small business.” Basically, if you’re working on some kind of new technology that advances scientific advancement or education, they can provide $225,000 (that you don’t have to pay back!) to develop it.
Obviously, this sort of thing is hella competitive and requires a lot of writing to convince them that you have a project that’s worth it. I spent the entire month of November building the grant from the ground up — fifteen pages of business plans, societal benefit justifications, market projections, budgets, and development milestones and timelines.
I don’t think I’ve ever done so much writing in such a short period of time, and had to get up to speed in areas I had no experience in. How the heck to you make a market projection? How do you calculate the cost of employee benefits? What organizations do you need to register your business with to interact with the government?
I had to ask for help, which can still be really hard for me. Drawing on Kickstarter backers, Portland devs, and the Reed community, I found people to help proofread, write letters of support, and edit the manuscript. And even with all this, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get it together if a developer friend I made through Playful Oasis hadn’t sent me a copy of her recently-successful application.
The difficulty of getting an SBIR grant weighed me down; what was the chances that they’d actually fund me? What if I was asking for all this help from people for a doomed venture? I had to make a rule to myself to not indulge in negative self-talk; I just had to press forward and focus on what I could learn about the process. I was gonna submit something by the deadline, gosh darn it.
And hey! The final product was actually pretty dang good, imho. It’s technically proprietary information so I don’t think I’m gonna publicly post the whole thing. However, if you’re working on a similar grant, I’d be happy to pay it forward and share it in private by email.
There’s a 4-6 month turnaround on these things, so now we’re just at the point where I’ve sent this off into the universe and gotta move on.
Other ca$h avenues:
- Applied for a dreamy job at Supergiant Games (Bastion/Transistor/Pyre). They’re an absolutely fantastic independent studio that happened to have a job opening that I’d love and fits my skills to a tee. If I started working with them, I’d put CL development on hold/weekend status.
- Gonna apply to the indie fund, a group of successful developers who invest in new developers. Being privately backed would add some constraints, which I’ve talked about, but I’m moving towards a commercial release anyway so I think the funding and connections would make it worthwhile.
- There’s a handful of more government grants out there that I’m gonna keep exploring and applying for as their deadlines approach. I’ll be glad to have done this first one.
This last week, I visited a high school in D.C. to informally demo Crescent Loom with students. A couple takeaways:
- Needs a lot more tutorials, still.
- Different people approach the game in very different ways. Some just click around to see what happens, others get the basic hang of things and then try to design for some self-made objective.
- Everybody loves it when you lay and egg and then your baby eats you.
- It’s actually a pretty flexible tool; you can use it to show different body designs, ecological interactions, and how different environments call for different strategies.
When I don’t know what to do with myself in situations, I just pop open my laptop and work on small features and bits of polish.
First, the difficulty in getting all the students’ computers set up with the game prompted me to make an installer for the game, now offered as an alternate windows download on itch.io.
Second, a feature that helps load creatures by filtering as you type:
Third, a new menu that lets you set up races:
Forth, painting + lights now listens to symmetry mode:
Finally, I’ve started work on an orientation sensor, with the idea that creatures will be able to use it to stay level. It still needs some significant work to be useful. You can see it here activate when the creature is pointing straight to the right (watch the graph in the bottom-right):
I think that it would be more useful to have an organ that detects the current orientation of the creature, instead of having just a single neuron activate at a set angle. So you’d place your orientation sensor on your creature (sort of like an “inner ear”) and array of neurons like this would show up in the brain:
But this will require some substantial work under-the-hood, e.g. linking multiple neurons so that they all get moved together, having a single organ create and keep track of them, and finding an initial open location for all of them. So it’s unlikely I’ll find the time to get all that set up until I’m a little more financially secure.