Cast a broad net to improve your chances of winning grants
By F. Randall Grimes
So, you’ve decided to boost your company’s finances with grants. You’ll need to consider a number of funding mechanisms and agencies, casting the broadest possible net to capture the best opportunities for your company.
Funding mechanisms — including Small Business Innovative Research, Advanced Technology Program, Broad Agency Announcements, and Program Research and Development Announcements — offer varying levels of topic freedom, structure, and funding. The SBIR program provides more than $1.5 billion in funding annually to small companies that conduct research of interest to the soliciting agencies. Projects are broken into three phases: first, up to $100,000 to prove the feasibility of a technology or technical approach; then up to $750,000 to develop the technology; and in the third phase, companies commercialize their technology with partners without the financial support of the soliciting agency.
Despite the limited topic freedom and small size of phase 1 awards, SBIRs are a valuable source of funds due to their sheer number and variety.
BAAs and PRDAs also request proposals for technical feasibility and technical development research. Unlike SBIRs, these solicitations vary widely in terms of structure and funding level. One BAA may limit research to $200,000, while another may accommodate $5 million worth of work. Look for BAAs and PRDAs to obtain larger chunks of funding when good matches occur between your interests and those of the funding agency.
The ATP, unique to the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, provides the most flexibility. Unlike the other agencies, NIST awards ATP funding based not on agency interests but on the technical merit and potential economic benefits of the proposed effort. Projects can be up to three years in length and can be supported by as much as $2 million for a single applicant. Because of the extreme topic flexibility and amount of funding provided, ATPs are among the most sought awards.
The agencies funding these awards include those you would expect, and some you might not. You certainly want to start your search at NIH, which supports more than $15 billion in health-related research annually, including close to $500 million in SBIRs. But did you know that the Department of Defense is second only to NIH in its support of health-related research, providing more than $1 billion each year? Check also at NASA, Department of Agriculture, and the Veterans Administration, all of which support substantial research.
Look for opportunities wherever there’s the slightest chance for a connection between your work and an agency’s needs.
To search for opportunities, you can go to the agencies themselves; most have grant opportunity pages. You can also check at database sites, like the federal business opportunities page (www.fed bizopps.gov) or the catalog of domestic assistance (aspe.os.dhhs.gov/cfda). Finally, you can call or e-mail program managers to discuss current or future solicitation. Ultimately, you’re best served using all three of these methods.
The frequency of your searches depends on the types of opportunities you’re targeting. SBIR solicitations are published on regular intervals well in advance of deadlines. Likewise, the ATP program is usually announced early in the year and provides several windows for application. If you’re interested in finding BAAs or PRDAs, you should check early and often: These solicitations are published irregularly and may have short windows of opportunity, so search on a monthly basis.
This may sound like a lot of work. It is. But remember, these grants could be worth millions to your company and conducting frequent, broad-based searches is a keystone of successful grant funding. If you don’t have the time or inclination to conduct these searches, look for electronic notification systems or external experts to conduct searches on your behalf. Regardless of your choice, the goal remains the same: don’t let the big one get away.
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.