By Randall Grimes
Your chance of winning grant funding is not good. According to the US Small Business Administration, success rates for companies applying for SBIR grants vary between 10 and 15 percent.
To beat these odds you can take one of two strategies. You could crank out as many proposals as you are able, generating each one in a week or less. Or you could take just the opposite approach: Carefully decide which grants you will pursue and then make a concerted effort to present the best possible case for your technology.
If you take the first approach, best of luck — you’ll need it. First-time applicants succeed less than five percent of the time and companies following the “quick and dirty” approach would do well to hit that mark.
If you go the other route, there are countless ways to improve your chance for success. The most powerful methods depend on your ability to focus on the right opportunity, application, technology, and audience. Here is where you should focus, focus, focus:
Focus on fit. By only pursuing opportunities where a good fit exists between your interests and those of the soliciting agency, you gain a significant advantage in preparing your response. You already have subject matter expertise and a passion for the topic — both of which will show in your final proposal and add to your chance of success. You will also gain from your efforts regardless of the funding decision: If you don’t win funding, you still gain from the technical, marketing, and business planning that went into the proposal. If you do get funding, you’re advancing the cause central to your company’s existence, and not wasting time, effort, and money on a tangential topic.
Focus on your target application. If you are developing a new protein with broad applications, pick just one to focus on. By picking one area you can build a stronger case that your solution is needed, adding to your credibility. This also mitigates the confusion that tends to creep into broad-reaching proposals. You’d be amazed by what reviewers can read into a proposal or overlook. By simplifying, you gain control over the content that the reader will absorb.
Focus on a few key aspects of your technical improvements. Which of the following claims do you find more believable? “The proposed methodology yields higher sensitivities, allowing for the early detection central to positive patient outcomes.” Or: “The proposed methodology results in testing that is more sensitive, more accurate, less expensive, faster, more manufacturable, and more stable, revolutionizing the disorders treatment.”
The more overstated and extensive the claims, the more applicants hurt their own credibility. You don’t have to improve over the state-of-the-art in every conceivable way to be successful. You just need significant innovations and improvements in one or two of the most important criteria for your application.
Focus on your audience, the reviewer. Reviewers go through tens, sometimes hundreds, of applications. Make their life as easy as possible. Use macro writing — good organization, titles, headings, bullets — to help them follow the flow of your thoughts. Also remember that reviewers respond to stimulus just like everyone else. Use graphics to illustrate points, draw attention, or elicit a response. Use more than just logic to argue for funding. Does your target application save children’s lives or provide better heartburn relief? While heartburn may be more important from a strictly utilitarian point of view, which would you rather fund?
While no technique, trick, or strategy can guarantee success, focusing your efforts goes a long way to landing your proposal in the winning 10 percent. Focusing lets you concentrate on your strengths, helps you build credibility, improves your clarity, and ultimately adds power to your arguments.
Randy Grimes is the founder and principal of The Randall Group, a consultancy that helps small-to-medium sized biotech companies find and win government grants. Contact him at www. the-randall-group.com or at 480- 206-6954.