If you want to take a new discovery from the lab to the marketplace but don’t have the nerves for venture funds, there’s always the government. The National Institutes of Health has special grants to help small businesses fund tech transfer and innovation projects. The agency awards millions every year but scientists and entrepreneurs have to work pretty hard for the money. There is a strict format for the application that includes page limits, several online filing systems to master and a 200-page instruction document that tells applicants what information to put where.
Dr. Matthew Portnoy, NIH SBIR/STTR program coordinator, said that the success rate is 10 percent to 15 percent for phase 1 grants, and that the NIH gets 4,000 to 5,000 applications per year, a 40 percent increase from 2009. Portnoy spoke at a recent NIH SBIR/STTR conference in Louisville, Kentucky and gave these top 10 reasons to apply for an NIH grant:
- The agency awards more than $2.3 billion every year.
- It’s not a loan.
- The application process provides recognition, verification and visibility.
- The money can be used as leverage to attract other funding from venture capitalists or angels.
- The money can foster partnerships that enhance small businesses.
- Startups create jobs and spend money in local and state economics.
- The grants provide seed money to fund high-risk projects.
- Intellectual property rights are normally retained by the company, not the government.
- Small businesses are recognized as a unique national resource.
- It’s an opportunity to improve the health of Americans.
In addition to getting all the paperwork right, Portnoy advised entrepreneurs to understand the NIH’s mission, review funding opportunity announcements, propose innovative ideas with significance as well as scientific and tech merit, and allow several months to prepare the application.
These are the kinds of projects the NIH is looking for:
- Anything to do with public health
Each presenter from the NIH shared contact information and encouraged entrepreneurs and scientists to call or email with questions. Portnoy said that he does not have an administrative assistant, so calls go straight to him. His number is 301-435-2688 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NIH also has a weekly email that announces new funding opportunities.