SBIR grants are a source of research and development funding for small business concerns to develop products. Are you considering an SBIR application to fund development of your assistive or rehabilitation technology? Read on for information and advice from TREAT to get you started.
Written by Christine McDonough, PT, PhD
TREAT Project Leader, Product Evaluation
Boston University, Health & Disability Research Institute, Research Asst. Prof.
In 1982, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established to provide financial support for small business concerns to conduct research and development. The program is coordinated by the US Small Business Administration and eleven funding agencies participate, including, NIH, NSF, DoD (See the full list at https://www.sbir.gov/).
The program is organized by phases: Phase I activities focus on establishing technical merit, feasibility and commercial potential of the concept, and are funded for up to $150,000 for up to 6 months. Phase II SBIR grants are available to those who have successfully completed a Phase I SBIR. The Phase II awards are up to $1,000,000 over two years. These projects build on the work completed in Phase I, including development of a prototype, conducting necessary testing and evaluating commercialization potential. Pre-clinical or clinical testing should be included in each phase to evaluate feasibility, safety usability and/or preliminary effectiveness. Phase III involves pursuing commercialization activities with non SBIR funds. In this article, we’ll be focusing on Phase I and II applications.
Should you consider SBIR funding?
SBIR grants provide funding over a relatively long time frame. It takes about 3-5 years to move through Phase I and Phase II from initial submission to completion of a prototype, so carefully consider the SBIR time frame within your company’s commercialization strategy.
Who can apply?
To be eligible for an SBIR award, you must be a small business concern. For full eligibility requirements see: https://www.sbir.gov/faqs/eligibility-requirements
How hard is it to get an SBIR?
SBIRs are competitive, with around a 15% success rate, thus it is critical to write a strong application.
Here are some things to consider when preparing an SBIR application.
- Get to know the funding agency. What is their mission? What are their areas of interest? Consider contacting the program officer to assess their interest in your project.
- Review the application guide in full so that you know what will be required. https://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/sf424_rr_guide_sbir_sttr_adobe_verb.pdf.
- Understand the eligibility criteria, for example, the applicant must qualify as a business concern at the time of the award.
- Make sure your specific aims relate directly back to the topic of the proposal. Concisely describe the goals of the SBIR project so that the reviewer understands immediately what you are trying accomplish.
- If it is possible to identify the reviewers on the study section, understand their backgrounds. This will provide you with information about the expertise of the reviewers, and allow you to write in a way that engages and compels them.
- Don’t make the reader wait to understand your aim for this technology. Clarify the conceptual model. Create an illustration that shows how your technology works in the intended environment. Provide a representation of who will use it, how they will use it, where they will use it, how they will be impacted, and what the key outcomes are.
- Identify collaborators and/or supporters who will write Letters of Support.
- Send the Specific Aims to them, obtain and incorporate their feedback, obtain buy in.
- Letters of Support should be from those who bring strengths to address gaps in the development team (e.g. they have a strong track record in commercialization, successful funding record and publications in the relevant clinical/scientific area; a well-regarded expert). Some examples are provided below.
- Letter 1: The commercialization partner. The letter of support should express interest, confidence, support for the project from a credible and potentially helpful party to commercialization.
- Letter 2: Clinical champion with areas of strength not possessed by the developer (strong biosketch describing funding and publications)
- Letter 3: Other important support in areas needed to strengthen the project and/or team
- When submitting multiple grant applications to different agencies, be sure to consider the goals and topics for each agency.
We spoke with Scott Holson, TREAT’s project leader for business development, about the most important do’s and don’ts of SBIR preparation. Scott has extensive experience in consulting with companies submitting SBIR applications.
What are the 3 most important things to do to prepare to write a strong SBIR?
- Start early – more than three months if it is your first SBIR submission.
- Be sure the work-plan includes descriptions of hurdles, how they will be resolved and tested and alternatives if a hurdle cannot be overcome.
- Identify commercialization partners.
What are the 3 most important things to do/write into the grant application?
- Have a Principal Investigator or team member that has been successful with prior SBIR grants.
- Respond to every component in the grant solicitation.
- Use graphics to convey meaningful insight and make the document easier to read.
What are the 3 most important things to avoid doing?
- Assume that SBIR grants are like any other grant – understand that SBIR Phase I is about testing feasibility.
- Not bothering to acknowledge state of the art technology and how that informed your work.
- Not bothering to check if your innovation is aligned well with the agency’s priorities.