Case Name: Monique Aster, PhD
Employment: Genetics researcher in the biotech industry
Background: Monique has been researching gene therapy to develop a treatment for a metabolic disease that runs in her family. It will inactivate a gene that some of her relatives carry. She has worked on this treatment on the side for five years while working full-time in a cell and gene therapy startup on an unrelated product that allowed her to develop skills in human gene editing. Her family and a local biomedical entrepreneur support organization funded her original work, and a nonprofit foundation that raises money for research on the disease is her current source of funding. She saved money on research and development of the concept by using lab space in an incubator after hours.
Monique believes she now has enough data to start a company with an ultimate goal of developing a unique treatment. She is ready to try for SBIR funding to develop the proof of concept.
Scenario, Part 1: Monique has been talking to Mandy Jones, a scientist who does a similar type of research in the same lab and who already has an SBIR.
Mandy, I’m ready to start work on an SBIR proposal, but I need to find out about what’s involved in doing it right. I want to improve my chances of getting funding.
You have to know where to look. It’s all spelled out by the NIH and the NSF. I’ll help you find what you need.
Is there an online tutorial or something?
The NIH and NSF offer great webinars and online resources where you’ll learn much of what you need. There’s a website just for SBIRs (SBIR.gov). The Small Business Administration has many resources too.
Good, I want something that focuses on making sure I get funded.
This is one place in life where it’s not a good idea to be creative. Just give the awarding agency precisely what they request. They are not out to trick you. They describe very carefully what they need to know. Some of their webinars give you the opportunity for a one-on-one meeting with NIH decision-makers. I’ll send you the links to all this.
Thanks! I’ll check those out. Do you think I should get a more senior partner to act as principal investigator (PI) since I have never had an NIH grant in this area?
If you do, remember the PI must be employed by your business. However, being a new investigator is not considered a problem in getting funded if you show you can do the work. Around a quarter of awards go to new investigators.
But do I have what they are looking for?
With your history of obtaining other sources of funding, the progress you have made on a small budget, and your experience leading a small staff, you should be viewed favorably as the PI.
That’s reassuring. I will be the PI then.
Be sure to identify yourself as an early stage investigator in your profile. It is not a specific criterion for reviewers to consider, but it might help them understand they should look more at the potential you have rather than your past achievements.
Okay, I’ll do that.
Be sure to contact the NIH or NSF program staff once you have your specific aims or an executive summary. You can send and request feedback to make sure you are on a good track. Be sure to do this early enough, around six months before your due date, so you have time to incorporate their feedback.
Do you mean they are okay with someone just writing them and asking for help?
Yes, the NIH, NSF, and other agencies funding SBIRs encourage you to contact them. The program staff wants to support the translation of research to the market. They love a good product idea with market potential. I’ll include some links to help you find who to contact.
That’s good to know. I’ll do that. Thanks for offering to help me find them.
Sure thing! Let me know if you think of any other questions.
Mandy Jones <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Here are the links I promised.
- The NIH’s SEED website and the NSF’s America’s Seed Fund are great resources. Check out the SBIR events calendar for frequent webinars, training, and special annual events, which include the opportunity to meet one-on-one with NIH institute decision-makers.
- Regional biotech centers, many hosted by states, such as the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and VirginiaBio, host many excellent webinars too, and many are archived online. At the live events, you can ask questions.
- The NIH website has information on how to apply for SBIRs/STTRs. It spells out the steps and links to additional resources you will need.
- Looking at sample grant applications written by others can be very helpful.
- Try these resources to find the best agency for you to contact:
- SBIR Program Officials (AKA program directors, program officers) – List
- NIH RePorter/Matchmaker – Search by keywords to find others with similar research and learn what program manager they have.
- SEED Inquiries – Use this form if you are still not sure who to contact.
I thought of one more warning I wanted to give you: Be prepared for the possibility of not being funded the first time around and for a gap between hearing you will get the award and actually getting the money, which can take a couple of months.