On the last day of 2011, President Obama rang in the new year by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) HR.1540 into law. This bill gave the SBIR/STTR program a much-needed (OK, huge) breath of fresh air, extending the program into the second half of 2017.
The April 5 deadline for the NIH Omnibus solicitation is approaching, so now is the time to start thinking about preparing your application. As a follow-up to a post last year on Five Tips for First-Time SBIR/STTR Grant Applicants, I have compiled four more tips that you should consider when assembling your application.
- Scour the RePORTER database. By law, abstracts and award amounts of funded proposals are public information. That is why the NIH set up the Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) website. Use this to your advantage. Search the RePORTER database for funded proposals that are similar to yours. What was the scope of work? What were their aims? And importantly, how much money were they awarded? This will give you an idea of what constitutes a fundable project. While you’re at it, check out these other resources for SBIR/STTR applicants.
- Assemble a high-quality team. Choose your PI wisely. The NIH now allows for multiple PIs so choose the PI(s) that have the specific expertise that is most relevant for the work outlined in the proposal, even if they don’t have a Ph.D. Then, add Senior/Key people and Other Significant Contributors (OSCs) to your application (biosketches must be included for all). Note: reviewers will see this list in the order they are entered on the application, so enter the best-known names first. Then, supplement your team with the collaborators and consultants you need in order to convince the reviewers that you have all the expertise that is necessary to complete the work you propose. You get bonus points if you select a partner or organization with a track record, particularly if they have already received SBIR funding. Life science and healthcare IT companies incubating in the Venture Development Center at the University of Massachusetts led by Bill Brah were brainstorming on how to write a winning SBIR grant proposal and came up with this bonus tip. I wholeheartedly agree.
- Get letters of support. And I don’t mean a letter that says “Joe’s a great guy” or one from your Ph.D. advisor saying what a top-notch scientist you are. An article published in Nature last year stated that letters of support must be included in your application from “all collaborators, consultants, potential customers, investors, commercial partners, key opinion leaders as well as other organizations involved in helping patients.” The letters need to be specific, defining exactly how that person or organization will be contributing and why, as well as what they will receive in return, if applicable.
- Be persistent. So your application didn’t even get scored last time? Don’t give up! Carefully analyze your Summary Statement and then get on the phone with the program manager and get some answers. What did the second reviewer mean by this comment? How can we further align our goals with the goals of the agency? What would make the proposal fundable? Should we reapply? If you decide to resubmit, remember you only get one chance. Put your best foot forward. Address each and every comment from the reviewers in your resubmission. Include any recent data to support the application. Add a key consultant and fill any gaps mentioned by the reviewers. The SBIR/STTR programs are highly competitive. I know one entrepreneur who applied 10 times before she got funding. Although venture capital-backed companies can now apply, the good news is that the amount of award and the overall amount allocated to the SBIR/STTR program both increased after passage of the NDAA, so keep at it.
Best of luck! Now for the last tip: if you need help writing or submitting your application, or just need an unbiased opinion, don’t hesitate to contact The Isis Group!