Last updated on January 19, 2023 by
Venture capital is a huge part of the biotech funding ecosystem. Between 2019 and 2021, venture capital invested $35 billion into biotech companies with “advanced platform technologies that could transform the industry,” according to Mckinsey & Company, with the number of VC firms that invested over the past several years growing from 2,200 in 2016 to 3,100 in 2021.
But, things have been rough for VC-backed biotechs in 2022, both publicly and privately. Public biotechs have had an especially difficult time, losing significant value over a short period. Now, many privately-held companies are delaying going public or reconsidering their options because of the current state of the market.
Despite the current situation, VC-backed biotech has been a huge focus for several years now, with headlines involving massive valuation rounds and numerous funds being raised. With everything that’s going on across the biotech funding landscape, it can be easy to forget there are other fundraising options that have long been available to biotechs and small businesses alike—ones in particular that, depending on who you ask, are a well-kept secret in the world of capital: federal research grants.
Many grants are designated to government agencies and nonprofits, and are not meant to help start or expand a business. However, there are a number of grants available to for-profit small businesses and startups engaged in or looking to engage in scientific research that helps meet federal research and development objectives. While they are not meant to help start or expand a business, they can help businesses complete specific goals and projects.
There are numerous programs administered by dozens of federal agencies that consist of billions of dollars the federal government is looking to give away via various grants and small business grants. This includes the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the NIH, FDA, and others, as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
While the application process can be quite challenging and time-consuming, it can result in a significant amount of funding that you do not have to pay back. Grants can range from hundreds of thousands to over a million dollars, and have supported scientific innovation in the US for decades.
From developing antibody-based products that address unmet needs in infectious diseases and reproductive health to building tools that transform complex cells into cures, scientist-entrepreneurs rely on the SBIR/STTR grants to fund innovative research with strong commercial potential.
While small business grants may not provide as much funding as venture capital, private equity, and angel investors, they are an excellent, non-dilutive funding option that can help you complete important and valuable R&D.
In this article, we’ll review small business grants, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, the STTR grant application process, and much more.
What Is a Small Business Grant?
Before we review STTR grants, let’s cover non-profit grants and small business grants.
Grants, generally speaking, are just one way various foundations, organizations, and government agencies provide financial assistance to support ideas and projects that create public services and stimulate the US economy. In most cases, grants are designed specifically for and only eligible to non-profit organizations and other government agencies.
However, small business grants, on the other hand, are designed for US-based, for-profit small businesses interested in securing financial assistance for a specific goal that aligns with an administering agency’s own goals and mission.
In the case of biotechs and life science companies, this includes a wide range of scientific research with the high potential for commercialization. SBIR/STTR grants are perfect examples of small business grants dedicated to supporting small businesses working on something the Federal Government is interested in and sees a potential to commercialize. In addition to federal small business grants, state and regional, corporate, COVID-19, and many other types of small business grants are available.
Searching for a grant, figuring out if you meet eligibility requirements, and going through the application process is time-consuming. However, despite these challenges, it can be a great boon to your organization when you qualify and secure funding. Not only can you fund important research and development, you receive capital that is non-dilutive. Unlike a loan, a grant does not have to be repaid.
If you want to do some serious digging, you can search websites like grants.gov to find specific grants for which you may be eligible. While most grants are designated for nonprofits and government agencies, it’s important to know that there are grants available for businesses in the for-profit sector.
What Is the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program?
The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program was created by the Small Business Research and Development Enhancement Act of 1992. It consists of multiple programs spread across multiple federal agencies, who all support the STTR by providing 0.45% of their extramural R&D budget when that budget exceeds $1B. Together, the funds add up to quite a large amount, close to $450M annually.
This allows the STTR program to provide funds for research proposals that are being developed collaboratively by a small, US-based for-profit business and an eligible research institution, which can include whole labs or simply an individual. The two caveats are that the small business’s goals need to be aligned with the mission requirements of the federal funding agency, and that there must be a partnership between a small business and a research institution in order for the small business to be eligible for the STTR award. It is one of the main differences between the STTR and SBIR.
The STTR program makes up one part of the Small Business Programs, also known as America’s Seed Fund, which also includes the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
While the STTR program is closely modeled after the SBIR, there are key differences. The goal of STTR is to “facilitate the transfer of technology developed by a research institution through the entrepreneurship of a ‘small business concern,’” a term the SBA uses to define a business that is independently owned and operated and which “is not dominant in its field of operation and in conformity with specific industry criteria.” This means small businesses applying for an STTR grant must be partnered with a research institution, unlike SBIR program applicants.
In addition to technology transfer and partnership, the program’s goals, much like the SBIR program, include the following:
- Meet federal research and development needs
- Foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and socially or economically disadvantaged persons
- Stimulate technological innovation
- Foster technology transfer through cooperative R&D between small businesses and research institutions
- Increase private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from federal R&D funding
Small businesses that are currently working with a nonprofit research partner can apply for and receive an STTR grant, which, when awarded, provides the awardee with non-dilutive funding to conduct research and development that has a high potential for commercialization.
Both programs are conducted in three phases—Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III. Phase I funds feasibility-related R&D based on the administering agency’s requirements. This means technical merit must be established, as should commercial potential of the small business’s R&D efforts. Phase I awards generally include $50,000 – $250,000 for six months (SBIR) or one year (STTR).
Phase II funds the continuation of the R&D initiated in Phase I, and is based on the results achieved in Phase I. This means the technical and scientific merit, as well as commercial potential must have been established and meet the needs of the particular program the grantee received their grant from—the goals of the NIH, NSF, or DoD can all differ. Phase II funding is only available to awardees who received Phase I funding, and typically includes $750,000 for two years.
Phase III focuses on commercialization of the results of Phase I and Phase II. However, the SBIR and STTR programs do not provide funding in Phase III. This is where the opportunity for follow-on funding from non-SBIR/STTR organizations occurs.
A second, lesser-known benefit of the program is that if you get selected, your company is eligible to skip the line for some government procurement processes that would otherwise require competitive offers. If you picture the U.S. government as a potential client down the road, this benefit alone may be worth the toil.
The program has been extended several times, with the latest extension occurring on September 30, 2022, when President Joe Biden signed the SBIR and STTR Extension Act of 2022. This reauthorized the SBIR/STTR programs to continue through 2025—three more years. With that in mind, it could be the perfect time for small businesses conducting R&D to apply for an STTR grant. Through non-dilutive funding, intellectual property rights, access to government resources, and even follow-on funding, the grant can be used as a launch pad to developing a new technology with potential for commercialization.
What Is an STTR Grant?
An STTR grant is just one of the many names for a federal research grant provided through the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. You might also see it referred to as an award or contract depending on where you’re applying. But, no matter what it’s called, it is simply referring to cash that the agency is providing someone to bring something from an idea to commercialization.
If your company needs help funding R&D in order to bridge the gap between experiment and working prototype or prototype to commercialization. As long as you’re a self-owned, U.S.-based small business who is partnered with a research institution and needs capital to build a new technology, you’re likely a good fit for an STTR grant.
You will want to apply for an STTR award with the agency that is best suited to your small business’s goals. Otherwise, the agency probably won’t award you the money. It only makes sense for them, and for you, to work with a small business and research institution looking to commercialize something of use to them.
For example, if you’re applying for an STTR grant through the NIH, you’ll be applying for an NIH STTR grant. This means the R&D requirements will be specific to the NIH and what they’re currently looking to develop for scientific commercialization.
With the money in hand, you will be able to fund your initial phase of research and, depending on your results, one more phase of STTR-funded R&D before you begin commercializing and potentially transition to purchases and paid contracts. The money you receive through the STTR program cannot be used for other expenses, such as repaying earlier loans, covering overhead, or funding various operating costs.
What Government Agencies Participate in the STTR Program?
You may see the STTR program referred to in the singular. We do that plenty ourselves in this article. However, it actually consists of several programs spread across 12 federal agencies, most notably the HHS, DOD, DOE, NSF, NASA, and the SBA. Each agency administers STTR grants for its own initiatives and goals, except for the SBA, which manages how each participating agency administers its cash awards through the STTR program and does not provide grants of its own.
While this can make applying for a grant more confusing, knowing about each federal agency can actually help you narrow down which organization to reach out to, as each organization will work with companies whose work aligns with and is in support of its own mission.
Furthermore, this can help small business owners envision who their customer is or will be. For example, antibody delivery platform technology isn’t going to be of much use to the Department of Energy, but it could be highly useful to the NSF or NIH. Figuring out which agency to work with will ultimately involve establishing what your science will support or enable.
That said, it’s okay to apply some creativity here—it may surprise you what each agency is involved with.
Once you’ve decided which agency your research will be most applicable to, you will want to look through their “solicitations,” which range from detailed requests to more general areas of interest. These solicitations are listed publicly, sorted by topic, and updated regularly, giving you the ability to search each agency’s database for grants that might apply to your work. You can use this method of search to not only see what’s available right now, but what has been available in the past, further helping you hone in on the agency that is the best fit to you and your R&D.
The Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, works toward enhancing the livelihood and health of all Americans through the support of scientific research and advancement. This includes providing more than 100 different health and human services and programs.
It oversees 12 agencies spread, with the most relevant to this article being the NIH, or National Institutes of Health. Additionally, some of its other agencies include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The NIH is the United States’ medical research agency, and is one of several agencies that administers the SBIR and STTR programs, collectively known as the Small Business Program, or America’s Seed Fund. Its mission is to conduct and support a wide variety of biomedical and public health research, providing funding for R&D projects through 24 of its institutes. In total, the NIH sets aside over $1.2B in non-dilutive funds every year for R&D work, which consists of funding from 24 different institutes and centers.
The funding is used to support an “array of research focus areas affecting health and healthcare for Americans,” according to its website, as is demonstrated by the broad range of research topics it supports, whether its novel approaches to enhancing health, reducing the difficulties of disability and illness, or lengthen life for Americans.
If you work in the life sciences, applying for an STTR grant from the NIH could make the most sense. Visit the NIH or HHS websites, learn about their involvement in the SBIR/STTR programs, and search through their listed solicitations.
Established by Congress in 1950, The National Science Foundation, or NSF, is an independent federal agency dedicated to promoting the advancement of science, national health, welfare, and prosperity.
It receives $8.8B annually to fund federally supported basic research conducted by US universities and colleges across a wide range of research areas that include biological sciences, engineering, geosciences, environmental research and education, computer and information science and engineering, and more.
Each year, the agency awards close to $190M annually to small businesses and startups through the SBIR/STTR programs and America’s Seed Fund.
If you work in the life sciences, applying for an STTR grant from the NSF could make the most sense. Visit the NIH or HHS websites, learn about their involvement in the SBIR/STTR programs, and search through their listed solicitations.
While the Department of Defense (DOD) oversees all agencies and functions of the government that are directly related to national security of the US Armed Forces, providing the military forces needed to protect the nation and deter war abroad, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) manages the DOD’s SBIR/STTR programs.
And although it may be surprising that the DOD is involved in the SBIR/STTR programs, they’ve invested $2.2B in small businesses in 2021, offering funding opportunities to labs working on advancements in biotechnology and other heavily research-based fields like quantum science, space technology, and renewable energy generation and storage.
If you work in any of these areas, or are currently researching any of OUSD’s other critical technology areas, applying to the OUSD’s SBIR/STTR program could be a good fit. Visit the DOD website to learn more about their involvement and search through their listed solicitations.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is in charge of US energy policy and manages its nuclear infrastructure, and addresses the country’s energy, nuclear, and environmental challenges by supporting and funding research and development in a number of scientific areas.
Furthermore, it maintains and operates a nationwide system of 28 Office of Science user facilities, located at DOE national laboratories, providing scientific, engineering, and technological infrastructure and tools for thousands of researchers from government, industry, and academia. (Learn more about DOE’s User Facilities.)
The DOE supports a number of loans, financing, and grant programs. This includes the DOE SBIR/STTR programs, of which 13 program offices in total participate. Each office provides a list of topics for their particular needs, which you can view on the DOE’s website. In total, the DOE has a $300M annual budget set aside for the SBIR and STTR programs.
The department issues two releases for Phase I funding every year, with 300-350 Phase I and roughly 160 Phase II awards given out in a typical year.
Some of its focus areas include clean tech, renewables, efficiency, scientific instrumentation, advanced computing, atmospheric and environmental monitoring, AI, power grids, fossil fuels, and nuclear fusion. If you’re a startup or small business working in energy and you have a pilot project or proven technology but you need help with research or commercialization, applying to the DOE’s STTR program may be worthwhile.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “America’s civil space program and a global leader in space exploration,” is responsible for science and technology related to air and space. When the program first started, it was dedicated to human spaceflight. However, it has evolved over the decades, and is involved in a wide array of scientific research and studies. This includes studying the Earth and its climate, our Sun, and the solar system.
In addition to all this, NASA researches, tests, and develops a wide array of advanced aeronautics, develops and funds space technologies designed to advance future exploration and life on Earth, and supports education in STEM. But, most importantly for you, it also participates in the SBIR/STTR programs.
NASA provides early-stage funding for R&D, with funds reaching up to $1M during a companies first three years in the form of Phase I and II awards, as well as opportunities for an additional $3M funding or more for post-Phase II initiatives (non-SBIR/STTR).
If you’re working on R&D for a space-related technology, applying to NASA’s STTR program could be a good fit. Visit NASA’s website to learn more about their SBIR/STTR programs and search through their listed solicitations.
The US Small Business Administration, or SBA, was created in 1953 to “help small business owners and entrepreneurs pursue the American dream.” It is currently the only cabinet-level federal agency dedicated to small businesses and entrepreneurs, and provides a wide range of resources for US-based small businesses, from counseling and contracting expertise to capital and more.
The SBA is probably most well-known for participating in various loan programs, which it is able to do through the annual budget it receives from the Federal Government. However, it does not actually provide those loans. Instead, it guarantees that the loans financial institutions and lenders issue to small businesses are protected in case the small business defaults.
This applies to the STTR program and its various grants and awards as well. While the SBA does not directly administer any award, it is responsible for managing participating agencies in the administration of the programs. This includes:
- Providing oversight on SBIR/STTR programs
- Surveying and monitoring agencies and reporting to Congress annually
- Developing policy and program guidance
- Managing all data, analysis, and reporting, in addition to managing the sbir.gov data platform
- Increasing participation in SBIR/STTR through outreach and training
- Managing the Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnerships Program and Growth Accelerator Fund Competition
What Are the Eligibility Requirements?
Eligibility can vary depending on what grant you are applying for and which department or program office is awarding the grant. However, there are some eligibility requirements that apply across the board, which NIH’s Seed Fund goes over in great detail. Some of the most important requirements they list for an STTR grant include:
- The business must be organized for profit
- The business must have a location in the US
- The business cannot have more than 500 employees, including affiliates
- It must be more than 50% owned and controlled by one or more citizens or permanent resident aliens of the US, or by other “small business concerns” that are more than 50% owned and controlled by one or more citizens or permanent resident aliens of the US
Additionally, because the STTR program requires that your small business partner with a non-profit research institution, there are some eligibility requirements that apply to the research partner as well. The most important are:
- The institution must be located in the US
- The institution must meet one of three definitions:
- Non-profit college or university
- Domestic nonprofit research organization
- Or federally funded R7D center, or FFRDC
You might meet these requirements, but there is always going to be a chance you are ineligible for some other reason. Thankfully, there are multiple ways in which you can accurately check whether you’re eligible for an STTR grant before going through the application process. One way is to review the SBA Eligibility Guide in its entirety. This will take some time, and reading through a lengthy guide might not be your top choice.
Another way to check is to reach out to a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), who can help you find out if you’re eligible in addition to a host of other needs, helping you navigate the ins-and-outs of government grant programs. The Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC) provides a database you can search to find your local center.
Your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) might also be a good option for help. SBDCs are SBA-funded organizations that provide counseling and training to small businesses, and can help you with everything from eligibility questions to accessing capital, developing new technologies, and improving business strategy and operations.
Finally, you can use the SBA’s size standards tool online to figure out whether you qualify.
How Can I Apply for an STTR Grant?
Grant applications are notoriously difficult and time-consuming, and can change from agency to agency. The process is seldom easy, and it is highly competitive. Before you apply, there are a number of steps you should take according to NIH’s Seed Fund—the website also reviews the entire application process. Let’s review the pre-application steps before we get into the steps of applying.
Before You Apply
The first few steps we’ve covered: take the time to explore what the agency actually funds and identify a grant opportunity. This will involve reviewing the agency’s portfolio to see what’s been recently funded as well as its success stories to see what businesses it has helped in the past. You can also review their current solicitations to see what funding opportunities are currently available.
Next, determine your eligibility. Applicants need to certify at the time of the award that they meet the program’s various eligibility requirements, such as size, ownership, and control of the business.
Additionally, you’ll want to partner with a research institution if you haven’t already, and name a principal investigator (PI) to your team. As mentioned, the STTR program is specifically for small businesses with research partners in the US, and requires each funded project to have a PI who provides direction for the project. The PI must be located in the US, employed by you or your research partner, have the skills to perform the research, and be available for the duration of the project.
These next steps we haven’t covered.
You’ll need to register your business with the SBA at sbir.gov if you have not applied to an SBIR/STTR program before. In order to even be eligible for participation and submit an application for review, your business needs to be in the system.
You will also be required to register with the System for Award Management (SAM) if you’re going to do business with the US government, eRA Commons if you’re going to do business with the NIH, and grants.gov if you’re going to submit a grant application through the federal-wide grant portal. The awarding agency may even have additional registration requirements to complete as well.
After registering, you’ll want to explore funding paths. The STTR programs provide funding based on milestones achieved during given phases, so you’ll have different phases to choose to start from depending on the agency you’re working with. The path you choose will depend on things like how much preliminary data you have or the amount of technology development you’ve done in advance.
When you have an idea of the funding path you’ll take, it’s recommended that you schedule a phone consultation to speak with an awarding agency staff member about your idea/technology. Going over the idea with a staff member can help you answer important questions and organize your thoughts. You may even consider writing a short concept paper.
When You Apply
Once you’ve taken some preemptive steps, you will be much more prepared, and literally eligible to, apply for an STTR grant. While it often helps to identify a grant opportunity before you begin the application process, you may not be completely settled on the exact grant. Here is where you make certain there’s a funding opportunity available to you from the awarding agency you want to work with.
As briefly mentioned above, this involves reviewing posted grant solicitations or funding opportunity announcements (FOAs). You can choose to submit to an omnibus or specific solicitation, which differ in focus. Omnibus grant solicitations are not topic-specific, covering a wide range of research areas. They do, however, link to identified topics of interest for each participating institute or center within the awarding agency. These awards have three standard application cycles per year.
In contrast, if there’s a specific research area you’re interested in, you’ll apply for a specific FOA, which are sometimes identified as Requests for Applications (RFAs) or Program Announcements with Set-aside funds (PASs). These solicitations have a portion of the institute’s budget set aside specifically for them.
Once you’re positive you have a grant opportunity in mind, it’s time to prepare your application. You can start the process by accessing the application forms of the funding opportunity or FOA directly on the awarding agency’s website. However, some agencies might require prerequisite submissions before the full application proposal can be sent. Most departments will list whether they have prerequisites or not.
When you’ve satisfied any prerequisite requirements, you’ll be able to prepare your application and draft a proposal. For example, if you’re applying for an STTR grant with the NIH, you’ll be able to use ASSIST, the agency’s application preparation and submission system. Other ways to submit include your own system-to-system solution or grants.gov Workspace.
The NIH provides a comprehensive application guide you can use to prepare your application. Even if you’re not applying with the NIH—you most likely will be if you’re a biotech or life sciences company—the agency’s application guide can be a great help. It shows you where you can find writing instructions for each funding opportunity, the types of applications you can choose from, your submission options, and even the software you need to obtain to prepare, submit, and view a grant application.
However, this might not be applicable to a grant solicitation with another awarding agency. The NSF requires that all proposals be submitted to NSF through the NSF FastLane System, research.gov or grants.gov.
No matter what, writing your application will be much easier if you know what instructions to follow and what the peer reviewers are looking for, as grant applications will differ from agency to agency and topic to topic. Instructions will usually be available alongside guidance in the FOA to help you write your application.
For example, when you apply through the NIH, there will be a table of application instructions to pick from. One of these will apply to your grant program. In the case of the SBIR/STTR, there is a filtered PDF for instructions. You can often just follow the standard instruction if there isn’t anything specified.
However, instructions can sometimes conflict. If the instructions in the application guide and FOA are mismatched, the funding opportunity wins out. If the instructions in either of them conflict, then the agency’s guide notice wins out.
That said, there are some common elements in an STTR grant application. These include:
- Your business plan
- An executive summary
- The technical proposal; a detailed yet concise explanation of the technology
- Your budget and operating expenses; develop your budget and show how it will work
To strengthen your application, you will have to include comprehensive evidence demonstrating how you meet all of the grant program’s requirements. Peer reviewers will be looking for this information. It includes:
- Your team’s technical expertise; this includes your PI and research team
- Research completed to date
- Cost considerations
- Financial accountability
- Potential R&D impact and commercial applications
- How you plan to achieve commercialization
Peer reviewers will provide an overall impact score and consider a number of review criteria to determine the scientific and technical merit of the application, giving a separate score for each. While some of this is mentioned above, it’s worth providing a list. The review criteria includes:
- Significance: does the project address an important problem or barrier to progress in a field?
- Investigator (as mentioned above): does the PI or PIs, collaborators, and research team have the skills required to execute the project? Do they have the appropriate experience and training?
- Innovation: does the application challenge and seek to shift current research or clinical practice paradigms? Are there novel approaches, methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions to the field of research?
- Approach: is the overall strategy or methodology appropriate to accomplishing the specific aim of the project?
- Environment: will the environment the work is completed in contribute to the potential success of the project?
- Additional review criteria: concerns like protection for human subjects, inclusion of women, minorities, and children, vertebrate animals, biohazards, and more.
While applications can be 10 pages or less, it can take quite a long time to complete. Some suggest it may take you and your team upwards of six to eight weeks to prepare an application. At the least, it may take 80 full-time hours to finish. If you have zero experience writing a grant application, it may be a good idea to hire a professional grant writer to help. PTACs and SBDCs can help as well. If you have questions—you likely will—about the application process, you can always contact the correct SBIR representative at the agency you’re working with.
Ultimately, the goal to keep in mind when writing your application is that you are not only explaining your technology, you’re also demonstrating that there is a viable path to commercialization that the agency’s funding will support.
How to Submit
Depending on the awarding agency you’re submitting your application with, there will be different instructions for submitting. For example, if you’re applying through the NIH, there will be a checklist of items to review before you submit your application. Make sure that you have:
- Verified that all required registrations are in place and your SAM registration is active
- Identified your funding opportunity announcement and due date
- Chosen your submission method (ASSIST, your own system-to-system solution, grants.gov Workspace)
- Prepared your application forms per the announcement and application guide instructions
- Checked the related notices section of your announcement for any late breaking changes
- Completed any internal reviews and sign-offs required by your office of sponsored research
- Routed your application to the person authorized by your organization to submit; this is typically the person chosen for your Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) role
As the AOR, you will need to:
- Submit your application through grants.gov by 5 p.m. local time on your due date using your chosen submission method.
- Track your submission in grants.gov and eRA Commons to monitor if any there are any errors and address them
- View your application in eRA Commons to verify the NIH received it and that your submitted application information is correct.
If you’re applying for a grant through the NSF, the submission process will look slightly different. You will need to also make sure to provide a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) DUNS number when applying. The NSF requires you to have a valid and active SAM registration and DUNS number to use the department’s electronic systems.
Subrecipients named in the proposal must also obtain an DUNS number and register in FastLane. They do not need to be registered in SAM. You will also receive an NSF ID that is unique to you. It is used throughout the department’s electronic systems as a login ID and identification verification.
While figuring out what the submission process looks like from the agency can sound a little daunting, each group will provide clear instructions somewhere on their website. It will be important that, once you submit the application, you make sure to track it to address any errors that are flagged and view the assembled application to ensure it is 100% accurate.
After You Apply
After you apply for an STTR grant, you’ll wait for the agency to complete its review process, which can include multiple steps. In the case of the NIH, the agency will first complete a peer review, where study sections are used to evaluate the scientific and technical merit. From there, a second review will occur, in which the agency considers the study section’s findings and determines whether or not the application is relevant to the specific institute or center’s needs.
If this goes well, you may be asked to provide additional information. The way this request is handled can vary from department to department. For the NIH, they use the Just-in-Time (JIT) process, located in eRA Commons.
If things don’t go well, you will be able to reach out to the program official to discuss next steps. You can review feedback, address the issues, and resubmit your application.
If you’re selected to receive funding, you’ll be sent a notice that the award has been granted. In the case of the NIH, you’ll receive a Notice of Award (NoA), which is the official grant award document the department uses to notify an awardee the grant has been made. You’ll be able to access more information on how to manage the award, and what the post-award process and requirements entail.
Finally, you will be able to tap into a wide number of resources and programs many of the agencies offer, helping you maximize the benefits of your grant funding.
How Much Funding Can I Receive & What Can I Use it For?
As mentioned, funding is broken into two phases. Each phase provides an awardee with a different amount during a certain period. That said, the amount of funding you will receive through the STRR program is established by the SBIR/STTR Statute (15 U.S.C. §638), which has capped the max dollar amount for all agencies. If the agency wants to provide funding above that amount, they need to request an SBA-approved waiver to do so. However, the SBA adjusts the max dollar amount every year to account for inflation. This adjusted cap is applicable to all solicitations and corresponding topics issued on or after the date of the adjustment.
Currently, an agency can issue up to $295,924 for a Phase I award and up to $1,972,828 for a Phase II award without seeking out SBA approval, according to sbir.gov.
Another break down shows the range you can expect from a Phase I or Phase II STTR award:
- Phase I can range between $50,000 and $250,000 over a one year period
- Phase II is generally $750,000 over a two year period
When it comes to what you can spend the grant funding on, there are limitations. In almost every case, a small business grant must be used to support or incentivize a specific business goal or project that aligns with the administering agency’s mission or current initiative.
In other words, if you’re receiving grant funding, you will have to satisfy the grant providers objectives. This means you need to use the funding to pay salary and wages for company employees performing R&D, associated fringe benefits, inventory, and several other direct costs that are required to conduct your research and development.
What’s the Difference Between the STTR & SBIR Programs?
There are a few differences between the SBIR and STTR programs which the SBA emphasizes.
One major difference is that, under the STTR, the small business must be partnered with a research institution. The two must also establish an intellectual property agreement that explains how the IP rights will be controlled, as well as plans for follow-on R&D and commercialization. The small business must also perform 40% of the R&D at minimum, while the research partner must perform at least 30%.
Finally, the principal investigator does not need to be primarily employed by the small business. This is something the SBIR requires.
Additionally, to provide consistency with room for flexibility, each agency is allowed to operate its own STTR program in accordance with the law and the SBA. While agencies need to make sure they’re administering the program according to SBA policies, they still maintain some level of control and flexibility executing the program, helping the department to better align the program with its mission.
Secured Grant Funding & Need Lab Equipment?
The STTR program provides non-dilutive funding to small businesses partnered with research institutions in a wide variety of scientific areas of focus.
STTR grants are an amazing opportunity for businesses that qualify because they do not require the founder to give up equity, they include intellectual property rights, they come with resources and programs administered by federal agencies, they offer opportunities to network and gain exposure for your business, and they even create chances of follow-on rounds to help you commercialize your science.
Interested in learning more about SBIR/STTR? Here are some additional resources:
- Deep dive – Congressional Research Service’s updated document on the Small Business Research Programs: SBIR and STTR
- SBA’s SBIR/STTR program overview (older edition, but still relevant)
STTR grant funding can be used for all things R&D, as long as it is relevant to the agency and the grant’s mission. Being able to cover R&D costs frees up money for startups and small businesses for other areas of operation, and having an extended cash runway can significantly help with financing and leasing.
If you have secured grant funding, which has been used to support your R&D, salaries, and inventory, and you have available capital to purchase much needed lab equipment, consider leasing instead. Our leasing program is another way you can use your money wisely and extend your cash runway.
Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our program. We can explain how our program works, what the next steps would be, and even draw up a lease estimate if you have the proper documentation available.