Obsessive editing the key to a successful SBIR application
Doug Crawford warns the class that changing the stated aim of your SBIR at the last minute is not a good idea. He knows. He tried.
In the past few months, QB3 has offered life science entrepreneurs a spread of new services. Among them, QB3 Startup in a Box, which provides everything you need—except for inspiration, hard work, and luck!—to turn an idea into a company.
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A key component of the Box is the QB3 SBIR workshop, which teaches entrepreneurs how to apply for federal SBIR grants. Shauna Farr-Jones, a grant writer and QB3 Innolab consultant, led the first session of the latest SBIR workshop at UCSF Mission Bay on Wednesday, June 20. Over 60 people registered.
If your application is successful, a Phase I SBIR from the NIH can net your startup around $250,000. (A Phase II SBIR can bring in as much as $1 million.) SBIRs are offered by several federal agencies—the DOE, the NIH, the NSF—each of which has its own requirements.
“There are a lot of complicated rules. It’s like the tax code, so we’re hoping to make sure [course-takers] get, at the very least, an application which doesn’t have mistakes in it that will cause it to be rejected due to errors in forms,” Farr-Jones says. She gives them templates and lists; points them to instructions that they might not have found on their own; and directs them to people at the agencies who can help. “I highlight common mistakes because the instructions are often difficult to understand and some of the SBIR rules don’t make a lot of sense from the perspective of the company’s goals,” she says.
Nancy Mize, CEO and co-founder of GenoGen, a regenerative medicine startup, tried to write an SBIR application a few years ago. “It was such a frustrating experience I decided I would take the class,” she says, noting that last time she spent 30 days on the application, but didn’t find that was enough time to do it properly.
Ken Harrison, QB3’s entrepreneurship program manager, helped organize the workshop. “Everyone is really engaged,” he says. “We’re getting great value out of the Q&A. While it’s useful to have slides queued up and have an agenda, the shared knowledge from Q&A is probably of most value to everyone in the audience.”
This would be because each entrepreneur is encountering his or her own challenges. Steve Yannone, a biochemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and founder of Cinder Biological, a biofuels startup, found information about personnel the most useful. “There’s a lot of confusion on the different websites about who can be what at a company,” he says. “I’m fully employed at the Lab; I can’t be PI on an SBIR grant unless I quit my job. There are a lot of subtleties about how to position people who can do the work and either maintain employment or give it up. That’s a tricky business. Not everyone can quit their job.”
Farr-Jones advises that you can improve your chances of success by near-obsessive refinement. “Typos, inconsistencies, unclear methods or rationale, poor significance are not going to cut it,” she says. “It has to be really good. Write a draft early. Then have friends, colleagues, experts read it, poke holes in it, criticize it and just keep polishing it.”