Getting Started with SBIRs

Unfamiliar with the SBIR program and don’t know where to start? Here are some tips on how to prepare your company for your first SBIR/STTR submission.

1. Get Your Company Registered. You must remember that this is the government. Do you realize you need no less than SEVEN logins to apply for a grant to NIH? It is an alphabet soup of sorts – EIN/TID, DUNS, SAM (E-Biz POC), MPIN, AOR (grants.gov), eRA Commons (PI, SO, AO), and SBC control ID. The entire process is free and only needs to be done once, but it can take 2-4 weeks to complete if everything goes smoothly. Start now for the December 5 deadline (here is a blog post with more details and how to get started).

2. Choose your Team and Environment. Choose your PI wisely. The NIH now allows 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). Tip: reviewers will see this list in the order they are entered on the application, so enter the best-known names first. 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 an academic partner or collaborator with a track record, particularly if they have already received SBIR funding. Next, figure out where the work will be done. At the time of award, the company must have a physical location that is not your living room. Incubator-style labs and shared space arrangements are acceptable. Be sure that the scientific environment in which the work will be done will contribute to the probability of success. Ensure that the equipment and other physical resources available to you are sufficient for the project proposed (note: multiple equipment purchases >$5000 and/or outfitting a lab are discouraged in a Phase I proposal). Define how the project will benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or collaborative arrangement.

3. Gather Letters of Support. Letters of support must be included in your application from all collaborators, consultants, potential customers, investors, commercial partners, key opinion leaders as well as any other organizations involved in helping patients. This doesn’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. 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. Letters from any current or potential customers, MDs, patients or whoever might use your product are a definite plus.

4. See What Gets Funded. By law, abstracts and award amounts of funded proposals are public information, and this information can be found at NIH’s Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) website (www.report.nih.gov). 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. You can also check out the competition.

5. Talk to the Program Managers. A good way to make the initial contact is to first send an email introducing yourself and your company, then follow up with a phone call. The important thing to remember here is to be persistent. PMs are busy, just like we all are. Most have other duties and are not devoted solely to the SBIR program. Once you have their attention, your goal is to SELL your science. Pretend they are a potential investor (because, indeed, they are). See what they’re interested in and ask about the goals of the agency. Bounce several ideas off of them and maybe one of them will be a winner. Getting a “green light” from a PM for your idea is a major step in the road to SBIR success. Here is a blog post with more tips on talking to program managers.

Good luck with getting started and don’t hesitate to contact The Isis Group with any questions you have!

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