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Four tips for getting SBIR and STTR grants

Brandon Glenn

Federal grants can be a lifeline that allows life sciences startups to refine their technologies before they commercialize, but the nondilutive government funding can be hard to get.

The success rate for companies seeking grants through the government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs hovers between 11 percent and 15 percent, according to Bhramara Tirupati, of BBCetc, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based business consulting group.

Tirupati shared these tips in a presentation she dubbed “SBIR/STTR 101” that could help biomedical startups improve those odds.

Determine if you’re eligible. SBIR and STTR grants are open to for-profit companies with fewer than 500 employees that have a U.S. location. A recipient must have a company-controlled research facility and the funded research must be performed in the U.S. Recipients need to be at least 51 percent U.S. owned and independently operated, which means that companies more than 50 percent owned by corporations, venture capital firms or institutions aren’t eligible for SBIR and STTR awards.

Follow the money. Eleven different government agencies issue SBIR and STTR grants. Think of each one of those 11 as a separate program, as each has different interests, deadlines and requirements. But obviously your odds increase if you target the agencies with the most money to spend. In 2010, those were Department of Defense ($1.2 billion), Health and Human Services ($690 million), NASA ($138 million), National Science Foundation ($105 million) and Department of Education ($102 million).

Exert some influence. Agency scientists and engineers typically author “topics” that indicate the types of projects the agency is looking to fund. Find a topic that mentions technology similar to what you’re developing and contact the author. Talk about your technology and why it would be of interest to that agency, and ask the agency scientist to author a future topic that matches up with your technology during that agency’s next solicitation period. If nothing else, it’s a way to start developing a relationship with the government agency you’re targeting.

Get a letter of support. Some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, accept letters of support from third parties that help make the case for an applicant’s technology. Applicants can submit these letters to show that others believe in their products’ market opportunities. Sources of such letters can be potential customers, investors, distributors or potential technology licensees, for example.

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