FAQ: When is it best to apply for SBIR/STTR money in the research/product development cycle?
Answer: SBIR/STTR Phase I proposals are often funded before investors would typically be interested because the SBIR program is interested in developing innovative ideas and is willing to accept the risk involved. Phase I may involve pulling together the technology as a product. If the concept is still just science and there isn’t a clearly identified product for Phase I, however, it is not ready for an SBIR. A mistake junior investigators may make is to drift away from the product in the application and focus too much on the science. The program officer can offer feedback on the specific aims page before submission of the full proposal and let you know if it is a good time to submit.
FAQ: How do I find what funding opportunities are available and what they entail?
Answer: The government issues funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) that describe each opportunity. The details vary by the government agency and even each announcement. They are published on each agency’s website. Examples of FOAs include the following:
- The Omnibus Solicitation describes the NIH SBIR/STTR grant funding opportunities for small businesses that have the technical ability to meet the research mission of their agency.
- The NSF is interested in innovative science with the potential for commercial success and does not have specific products they wish to support.
- Government agencies, including the NIH, also contract with businesses, both small and large, to have them produce a specific needed product. See NIH Grants & Funding: Contracts. The list of potential SBIR contracts is published annually. See SBIR Contracts.
Be sure to read the FOAs carefully to find the following information:
- Make sure the institute or center that seems like a good fit for your project participates in the FOA that interests you.
- Note any eligibility or budget restrictions.
- Understand the responsiveness criteria, application instructions, and review criteria.
- Note the name of the FOA’s program official and contact them regarding your program questions.
- Contact the FOA’s grants management specialist with your questions about the budget or grants policy.
FAQ: Who are the different officials that are involved in an SBIR proposal, and what do they do? Which one do I contact if I’m just getting started with an SBIR proposal?
Answer: There are three groups of officials involved in the NIH Extramural Team. Contact program officials first.
- Program Officials/Officers – They manage portfolios of grants and provide programmatic, scientific, and technical advice. Contact them prior to submitting your proposal.
- Scientific Review Officers – They are responsible for the review of proposals from programmatic, scientific, and technical perspectives.
- Grants Management Specialist – They are responsible for completing the business management requirements of a funded grant, evaluating applications for compliance with administrative content, negotiating and preparing grant awards, and helping you interpret administrative policy.
Understand NIH Staff Roles – Further details on the above NIH staff role descriptions.
Tips for a Successful SBIR Proposal
- Review funding opportunity announcements (FOAs).
- Review sample SBIR applications (look under “small business grants”).
- Do your homework on NIH-funded applications using their database and search tool, RePorter.
- Talk to an NIH program official over a month before submitting to discuss your aims and get feedback. Search program managers or RePorter/Matchmaker.
- Describe a significant problem your product will solve.
- Make a convincing case for the commercial potential and/or societal impact.
- Make sure your test of feasibility is adequate.
- Be sure to show innovation.