Disability Topics for DOEd SBIR

The Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) currently has an open SBIR solicitation. Maximum funding for one of these 6-month Phase I research projects is $75,000. If scientific or technical merit and feasibility is demonstrated during Phase I, awardees have the potential to receive $500,000 for their Phase II research which will cover a research period of up to 24 months. Application proposals are due March 15th.

Priority topic areas for research are:

(1) Increased independence of individuals with disabilities in the workplace, recreational settings, or educational settings through the development of technology to support access and promote integration of individuals with disabilities

(2) Enhanced sensory or motor function of individuals with disabilities through the development of technology to support improved functional capacity.

(3) Enhanced workforce participation through the development of technology to support access to employment, promote sustained employment, and promote employment advancement for individuals with disabilities.

(4) Enhanced community participation and living for individuals with disabilities through the development of accessible information technology including Web access technology, software, and other systems and devices that promote access to information in educational, employment, and community settings, and voting technology that improves access for individuals with disabilities.

(5) Improved interventions and increased use of health-care resources through the development of technology to support independent access to health-care services in the community for individuals with disabilities.

Please see the solicitation for more details.

Talk to the Federal Agency!

An earlier posting touched on doing your homework in getting to know the federal agency you are applying to for SBIR funding and also understanding the competition for your technology. Next you need to talk to the people at the agency who should be interested in your technology about how it can solve their problems. Some agencies encourage this, others allow it, and a few make it difficult. However, it is important with all of them.

Why would you want to talk to the federal agency? After all, the problem they want solved is stated in their SBIR solicitation. There are several reasons:

  1. You want to introduce yourself, your company and your technology. People, even federal employees, would rather do business, including funding R&D, with people they know. So, let’s start that process by introducing yourself.
  2. You want to get feedback on whether your technological approach would be considered. If they tell you that they have already wasted much time and money on approaches similar to yours, you may have just saved yourself a considerable amount of unproductive effort. While you will never get a positive commitment to fund a project, you might get encouragement and even guidance on points to include in your proposal.
  3. You might need clarification on what the agency wants so that you can better focus your proposal. Intelligent, insightful questions can give you added information and build creditability.

But before you pick up the phone or shoot off an email, realize two things:

  1. This communication will either start to build your creditability or undercut it.
  2. The federal employee you are contacting is a busy person therefore you will not have an unlimited amount of their time.

So, you must be organized and get to the important points.

Not sure about who to contact, when to contact them, or what to say? The answers vary from one agency to another. The ATDC staff members who provide guidance on the SBIR program (John Mills, Connie Ruffner and Julie Collins) can answer these and other questions.

DOD 2010.A STTR Topics Announced

The Department of Defense announced topics in its 2010.A STTR pre-solicitation today. There are 30 Army Topics and 45 Navy Topics in this solicitation. Companies may review the topic lists found in the solicitation or utilize the DOD Topic Search engine to search specific details of a topic.

The STTR requires a partnership with a non-profit Research Institute (usually a university, but not always). The Research Institute must be subcontracted for at least 30% of the work, but not more than 60% of the work. Start early to build an appropriate relationship with the researcher and to develop a research agreement with the Research Institute.

Proposers are HIGHLY encouraged to make contact with the topic’s Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) prior to February 23rd to confidentially ask technical questions not found in the topic description (contact information for each TPOC is found in the topic description). After this date, questions may be asked publically in the DOD’s SITIS system. Final proposals are due no later than 6:00 AM on Wednesday, March 24th.

Recovery Act to Fund Competitive Revisions

Earlier this month the NIH released several announcements associated with the Recovery Act. Of note to the SBIR community is NOT-OD-10-034.

The announcement will fund Competitive Revisions to accelerate innovation of previously funded “parent” SBIR/STTR awards in the area of basic behavioral and social science research (b-BSSR). The proposed work must significantly expand the scope or research objectives proposed in the previously funded award. Basic behavioral and social science research includes research on behavioral and social processes, interactions between biology, behavior and social processes, and/or methodology and measurement.

To qualify, the small business must have an active award, at the time of application, and propose a revision to be accomplished in one year. The work proposed in the revision must not extend beyond that of the parent award. If a no-cost extension is needed to cover the work being proposed in the revision, it must be in place prior to submission.

Up to $150,000 in direct costs may be requested with a maximum of $75,000 of those costs allocated to equipment or technology acquisition.

Letters of Intent are due February 25, 2010

Application is due March 25, 2010

NIH, CDC, FDA, & ACF SBIR/STTR Solicitations Released

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released its 2010 SBIR/STTR grants omnibus solicitations (PA-10-050 and PA-10-051). Those interested in funding from the NIH, CDC, FDA, & CFA should investigate submitting applications. General information and resources for submitting proposal applications can be found on the DHHS SBIR/STTR page.

Submission dates for 2010:

  • Standard Receipt Dates: April 5, Aug 5, Dec 5
  • AIDs and AIDS-Related Receipt Dates: May 7, September 7, January 7, 2010

As always, do NOT wait until the last minute and attempt to submit. NIH recommends companies begin the registration process AT LEAST 6 weeks before the deadline.

***NOTE*** Changes have been made to the submission of grant applications; these changes will be in effect for the above submission dates. If you have previously submitted applications and think you know the process, please play close attention to the modifications. Refer to Julie Collins’ January 6th article for more details.

The “S” Behind SBIR

SBIR stands for Small Business Innovation Research, so the “S”= “Small”, but what really is “small”? The SBA (Small Business Administration) defines a company as “small” if they have less than 500 employees, so technically, a company is qualified for SBIR if they have at least one employee or as many as 499 employees. Does that mean that companies of both sizes would be equally qualified? No. As with many facets of SBIR, it depends on the sponsoring agency and their needs/requirements.

All agencies are looking for successful SBIR companies. If you can demonstrate that you are realistically capable of doing all the work necessary to complete your Phase I work, then you stand a good chance. “Realistically capable”, means you have the education, experience, facilities, equipment, and time to complete the work. If your company does not have all these appropriate elements, then you need to find partners, subcontractors, or hire additional full-time/part-time employees to complete the work. Remember though, with SBIR, you may only subcontract up to 33% of the work.

Looking at first-time SBIR award recipients across all agencies, 70% of the companies have less than 25 employees with 41% having between 2-9 employees. In other words, small companies DO receive government awards! Agencies individually, though, vary, so know your agency and what it expects. Agencies, which tend to have more broad or researcher-initiated topics, tend to be more willing to fund the smaller start-up companies (as long as you can demonstrate you can successfully do the proposed work), rather than the agencies that utilize SBIR in their procurement process; these agencies not only evaluate the initial research, but evaluate how well the company will then develop, produce, and deliver the end-product.

If you are a company with less than 25 employees, don’t dismiss SBIR because you think you are too small—small companies are driving innovation in the marketplace. If you are a company with say 400 employees, don’t dismiss SBIR because you think it is only for startups—in this tight economy, you might be able to create a new product line which can sustain your company.

Bottom line: when small, think BIG with SBIR!

NIH SBIR – Restructured Research Plan

In an effort to to provide more timely and transparent peer review, the NIH has been implementing many changes to both the review process as well the proposal structure. Previously, a new scoring system was put in place. The 5 point system was replaced by a 9 point system, and reviewers are now required to provide a numerical score for each of 5 categories. These scores are presented to the applicant on the review statement, along with comments, providing a more transparent view of the review process.

The latest change is a restructured research proposal with shorter page limits. The proposal structure will now be more aligned with the review criteria, and the shortened page limit will, ideally, allow the reviewers more time with each proposal. The changes are as follows:

  1. Specific Aims section is now limited to 1 page only.
  2. Three sections of the Research Plan (Background & Significance, Preliminary Studies, and Research Design & Methods) are now combined into 1 section, Research Strategy, with 3 sub-sections, Significance, Innovation and Approach. Preliminary Studies and Progress Reports must be discussed under Approach.
    This section is limited to 6 pages for Phase I and 12 pages for Phase II.
  3. The Commercialization Plan has been limited to 12 pages.

In addition, the Facilities section must now explain how the scientific environment will contribute to the probability of success for the proposed project. Lastly, a Personal Statement has been added to Biographical Sketch section.

Changes are effective for ALL proposals submitted after January 25, 2010

Practically, how does this effect your application and chances for success? If you are clear as to the commercial aspect of your technology, and can articulate that, as you would to any investor, it will actually make your work much simpler. If however, you are are still determining how to apply your science to the commercial market, you are in for a challenge. No longer can you use the Background section to talk about the scientific basis of your discovery. You must spend the majority of the proposal discussing it’s Significance and Innovation as it applies to the marketplace.

Changes to the Facilities section are in an attempt to ensure that applicants actually have appropriate commercial space in which to perform the work. These grants are not to fund academic endeavors.

For new applicants, such as post-docs or former graduate students, that want to experiment in the world of start-ups, the Personal Statement section provides as specific section is which to address their strengths such as inventor status.

As always, if you would like to discuss these changes, or your application, feel free to contact our office.

SBIR Lesson from Santa

This time of year, Santa is making his list and checking it twice. That’s my kind of guy! I admit it: I’m a list person. If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget it. I live by checklists. Grocery lists, Christmas lists, To do lists, etc. As I complete something, I mark it off; that way, I KNOW I did it.

If you’ve read through an SBIR or STTR solicitation at least once, you will notice there is a lot of detail: things you should include in your proposal and things you should not, allowable costs and unallowable costs, not to mention what one agency wants over another one (like font size and page-limits). Trying to remember it all can be overwhelming and you STILL might miss something.

Some agencies have realized this, and they have started including checklists with their solicitations. Use them. Some agencies have them in supporting documents on their SBIR/STTR websites. Use them. Some don’t give you checklists, but I suggest you create one yourself: go through the solicitation, line-by-line and create a list of things to include in your proposal: from abstracts to budgets, to letters of support, to research agreements, etc. You don’t want to miss a tiny detail and then have your proposal thrown out.

Remember, before preparing your SBIR/STTR proposal: make a checklist and then check it twice (or three or even four times!) before actually submitting your proposal; Santa just might bring you a nice big award with a bright red bow!

Department of Education Releases 2010 SBIR

The Department of Education (DOEd) released two solicitations for 2010 SBIR. One is a Phase I solicitation and the other is a FastTrack solicitation.

The Phase I solicitation, RFP Number: ED-IES-10-R-0009, and the Fast-Track, RFP Number: ED-IES-10-R-0008 (which is actually a combined Phase I and Phase II solicitation) have two main priority topics:

  1. Education Technology Products for Students
  2. Education Technology Products for Teachers

Phase I Award: not to exceed $100,000
Phase II Award: not to exceed $750,000

The purpose of the Fast-Track solicitation is to eliminate the gap in time and funding between a Phase I and a Phase II award. NOTE: In order to apply for Fast-Track funding, offerors must submit both 1) a full Phase I proposal and 2) a Fast-Track proposal. Fast-Track proposals that are submitted without a Phase I proposal will not be evaluated.

The Solicitation will close at 11:00 AM on January 11th. This is a paper submission, so be sure to allow time for mail/Fed-X delivery. While the delivery method is paper, companies must still be electronically registered in CCR and ORCA prior to submitting a proposal.

Credibility Wins! Homework Establishes the Foundation

We are often asked what it takes to win SBIR awards. In one word it is credibility. In a webinar earlier this year a company that has been successful in receiving SBIR funding stated that “You start with zero credibility with the federal agency and can go negative from there.” To avoid that you must have sound science, a well thought out plan to develop it, the people who are clearly qualified to accomplish all aspects of the plan, the needed facilities and equipment, and a reasonable approach to reach a viable market for the product developed. But you can greatly enhance your credibility by first doing your homework.

The first issue to address in doing your homework is to understand the mission of the agency and the particular sub-agency or center you are considering applying to. This will better aid you in orienting your proposal so that it aligns with the needs of that agency. You can start with information available on the web, but most agencies have conferences where they discuss current developments and future needs. Yes this takes time and money, but who said getting to know your customer would be easy.

Next you need to know what other products are available and what other research is being done in this field to address the problems that you want to solve. Stating “There is no competition for this technology” will not get you any credibility. If you do not know what others are doing, you cannot explain why your solution is better. And your claim that you are knowledgeable in this field is damaged.

Then you need to get to know the federal agency people and start establishing your credibility. More on that later.