The San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange (SDEE) held an intensive workshop last night, 11 July 2014, at the Hera Hub in Sorrento Mesa to help entrepreneurs get funded through National Institute of Health (NIH) or National Science Foundation (NSF) grants called SBIR grants, i.e. Small Business Innovation Research grants.
The event was attended by almost 30 entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, eager to learn from the masters how to write a grant, how the scoring system works, and how to increase their chances to get the money! The event started with a networking opportunity over snacks, followed by presentations by seasoned San Diego entrepreneurs: Scott Thacher, founder of Orphagen Pharmaceuticals, Curt Becker, founder of Molecular Assemblies, and Scott Struthers, founder of Crinetics Pharmaceuticals. The attendees had the opportunity to ask questions during the presentations and afterwards, when they broke into three small discussion groups led by each of the presenters.
So, how do you write a grant that has some chances to get funded? I cannot give here all the precious advice of successful grant writers: I encourage you to join SDEE and/or their LinkedIn group and to attend the workshops that SDEE organizes every couple of months.
There are a few pointers, though, that I want to share.
Highlight the commercial potential (including job creation, patents, etc.) and what is innovative in your proposal. The Specific Aims is the most important section. Write the grant in a clean and easy to understand manner, keeping in mind that the reviewers, differently from reviewers of RO1 grants, may not be knowledgeable of what you are writing about. Make it interesting to open minded scientists: they need to like your idea first and foremost. Use good English grammar, not too much jargon and, in the words of Scott Struthers, “no BS”… if you write a lot of BS, the reviewer is going to toss your stuff away without even bothering to give you feed back. And remember: feedback can be actually very valuable to get funded next time, especially if your proposal gets rejected. Address the reviewers’ comments carefully and respectfully. Add a list of abbreviations, maybe in the references section; schematics or other visual tools help, too. Preliminary data can be literature data for a Phase I grant; for a Phase II, you better have your own data relevant to the project that you want to get funded. Get letters of support from colleagues. They can be extremely important especially when you are just starting out and don’t even have a lab: letters of support can specify that you can use the facility, labs, and instruments of a colleague. Fortunately, San Diego is a good and collaborative environment, where entrepreneurs are willing to help one another: a rising tide lifts all boats, and the SDEE is certainly playing a big part in rising the tide.