Case Name: Monique Aster, PhD
Scenario, Part 2: Monique found instructions for an SBIR proposal on an SBIR/STTR infographic on the NIH website along with examples of funded applications. Monique understands that it is important to contact a program officer at the NIH. She wants to identify the right NIH institute or center to contact as she starts preparing an SBIR proposal.
Monique describes her progress to her mentor, Mandy Jones, PhD, a successful entrepreneur in biotechnology.
Mandy, I plan to send my grant proposal specific aims to a program officer at the [she names the relevant NIH institute]. I am following the instructions but could use some help identifying which NIH institute and which program officer within that institute to write.
I like to use the NIH’s Matchmaker database search tool. You can put in text from your proposal’s abstract or specific aims, and it will tell you which NIH institute has funded similar projects. Search further within that institute, and you will learn which program officer manages grants similar to yours.
Thanks! Let me try it. [Just ten minutes later, she has an answer.] It’s clearly Dr. Jane Stevens at the [she names the NIH institute]. She handles everything in my area. If her feedback is positive, I may go ahead and submit an SBIR Phase I proposal this year.
I discovered that only around 15% of proposals are funded. That’s a lot of work for such a low success rate and really not very much money. Now I’m wondering if it’s worth it. Maybe I should just continue to work on my product slowly on the side, seeking other sources of funding.
Even if you don’t get funded by the NIH, the process of preparing an SBIR proposal helps you crystalize your plan and find its holes. For example, it forces you to take steps you should be doing anyhow, such as getting consultants, defining your market, developing a budget, and setting a realistic timeline.
I can see that. It makes sense. Thanks.
As for it not being much money, you may qualify to get more than one Phase I award to develop different aspects of your product.
I didn’t know you could get more than one Phase I award. Good to know! Well, I’d better get started on the first one.
Good luck with talking to the NIH! Let me know how it goes.
Monique later received a text message from her mentor, Mandy Jones:
I forgot to mention—using the grant submission portal ASSIST to submit your proposal is likely to be easier and smoother than using Grants.gov.
Thanks for the tip!
Monique Aster <email@example.com>
I appreciate your willingness to take a look at the specific aims for my Phase I SBIR proposal. I attached my draft aims to this email and a brief description of our technology readiness level. Does my research product idea look like a good fit for your institute? Do you think it is a good time for me to be trying for an SBIR? Which study section do you think I should request in my cover letter?
I look forward to hearing from you on these questions and any other feedback or guidance you can provide.
Monique Aster, PhD
Jane Stevens <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thank you for sending your specific aims and technology readiness level. Your project looks like a good fit for the mission of this institute. It looks like a good time to apply for an SBIR because you are going beyond just the science and have a definite product in mind, which is important to achieve during Phase I. The NIH does tend to fund projects earlier than a venture capitalist would. I like that the proposed product itself is innovative rather than just the method used to develop it.
Your aims look good but are a little too technical for someone who is not familiar with your field. I suggest having a scientist friend who is not in your field review your proposal and let you know how well they understand it since some reviewers may not be familiar with aspects of the science involved.
Also, in your application, be sure to describe any other potential uses for the product that could increase the market size. Include any preliminary research you have that shows a potential market for this product. Also, describe the likely impact on the biomedical industry and any evidence you have for it. Finally, it would help to have documentation of there being no overlap between this research and any confidentiality and noncompete agreements you signed at your current place of employment. Have you consulted a lawyer about intellectual property and issues like this yet?
As a woman-owned business, you might consider applying to the Applicant Assistance Program, a ten-week program that would help you with many of these concerns and more.
You do not need to request a specific institute, center, or study section in your letter. We have a department, the Center for Scientific Review, that reviews your proposal and assigns it to the right place. They do a great job of finding the best review panel. You may suggest one, however, in your cover letter. Do you want to revise your aims and resend them? I’d be glad to take another look. Also, let me know if you have any questions as you prepare your proposal.
Jane Stevens, PhD
SBIR Office, NIH Institute
More from Monique:
Terminology for NIH Grant Proposals
Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA): A document announcing what type of research the NIH (or other government agency) will fund and the requirements for the application.
NIH Staff Roles:
- Program Officer – Can tell you if your topic is appropriate for an FOA.
- Scientific Review Officer – Runs the review of the grant proposals and can tell you whether you can include something in your proposal or not.
- Grants Management Official – Can tell you if you can include something in your grant proposal’s budget or not.
Read more: NIH – Understand Staff Roles