Query for my readers on SBIR/STTR grant review

April 30, 2013

Anyone out there ever reviewed SBIR or STTR grants for the NIH? Any thoughts on what seems to be most important, common pitfalls and the like? Any thoughts on how the review discussion tends to differ from standard R01 review?

I have essentially zero experience with these mechanisms and some reader was asking…..

10 Responses to “Query for my readers on SBIR/STTR grant review”

  1. JD Says:

    I’ve been an ad hoc member on 3 phase I SBIR panels, and recently participated as ad hoc on my first ‘normal’ R01/R21/R15 panel. Definitely there was more of an industry flavor on the SBIR. More industry reps and more emphasis on translation/commercialization (obviously). Biggest pitfall was the notion that some projects would not be at the commercialization stage in 5 years. Anything that was more of a chemical probe development project, or even had a whiff of ‘target validation’ was deemed too academic. The most successful grants were those that seemed like incremental projects along a the path of drug or technology development. Other common pitfalls included a failure to discuss IP protections that were in place or planned, as well as the feeling that some ‘companies’ existed totally on paper or with research being proposed as various disparate sites (no real infrastructure). For SBIRs, innovation was only important in that it is a means to and end (IP, competition, potential market share).

    Apart from the above, the criteria and analysis of the proposals was surprisingly similar. Reviewers still essentially look for the same things in a proposal, even when they are instructed to evaluate them differently.

    Oh – and contract proposals apparently can’t be triaged. Which means a lot of time is spent discussing (at least briefly) proposals that are truly terrible. Occasionally this was amusing , but mostly annoying. The triage process for R01/R21/R15 is a relief from the reviewer’s perspective.


  2. At the risk of stepping into one of the pitfalls I’m about to identify—
    I haven’t reviewed SBIR/STTR grants for NIH, but I have reviewed SBIR/STTR proposals for DOD. I can’t say that these are the most common pitfalls, but I’ve seen multiple instances of these, and they’re a very fast way to get a very poor review:
    – Propose research unrelated to the solicitation
    – Propose research that appears to be identical to work that the researcher already accomplished with another agency’s funding without explaining what’s new/different
    – Propose work that has no apparent research
    – Elaborately describe the implications of solving one of the field’s great unsolved questions if the answer happens to be the one you’re hoping for, assert that you’ll solve the unsolved question, but fail to show that you’ve given any thought to how you’ll solve it or that, based on your prior work, it’s even a subfield that you’ve dabbled in.


  3. gri Says:

    I have been ad hoc on two panels. They keep on asking me but no time so far. I noticed mroe industry people in the panel and as pitfalls:

    Unrealistic expectations of what can be done with the money and time frame.

    Not enough expertise in a particular field pertinent to the application and it showing in the approach section.


  4. miles Says:

    I’ve bee on a SBIR/STTR study section for the last 2 years. We triage 50%.
    Most common pitfalls:

    – no business entity. proposed work is clearly performed in a an academic lab
    – bad science
    – no IP secured
    – no product in the near future


  5. iGrrrl Says:

    The main thing I see as different? No viable commercialization plan.

    I think this is the overarching issue with respect to what’s been mentioned here about no discussion of IP or of securing the future IP, no clear product, work clearly going to be done in an academic lab, etc. Good SBIR/STTR proposals have input from someone on the business side of things who is familiar with business RFPs. IMO, IME, etc.


  6. The reader who was asking Says:

    Thanks for the input, everyone. I’m an academic scientist with no experience with any aspect of SBIR/STTR proposals, but I have expertise on a particular area of technology that this study section will be considering. I guess that’s why I was recommended.

    When I got asked, my first thought was “Wait, I know several people who have more relevant experience…” Then I looked at the list of proposals and saw their names. Well, I guess I’ll have to do what I can.


  7. NIH Budget Cutter Says:

    And in other news, Sally confirms that there are indeed more starving rats clamoring for food:


    Gosh–judged by such deep and insightful analysis, no wonder this entomologist turned government bureaucrat deserves a salary of 240k per year.



  8. Sometimes SBIR Reviewer Says:

    The SRO of my study section tells us that we should read the applications like investors, not scientists; i.e. is it a good idea that’s worth a shot? For the phase 1 grants, the budget is small and the duration is short. Also, they don’t require preliminary data. The tricky part is that the applicants don’t have to have lab space or equipment or anything when they submit the grant. Also, what toehrs said about commercialization plans (especially for phase 2).


  9. Eli Rabett Says:

    Long time ago. First of all back then the competition was pretty weak. Lots of internet genius type science and people from left field (aka physics) trying to score some $$ which had to be quickly triaged. Otherwise what everyone else said


  10. Ilya Says:

    Is it necessary to have a functional lab and equipment in order to apply for a SBIR grant?
    I would very much appreciate if the relevant links will be provided.

    Thank you.


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