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5 Ways to Write A Better SBIR Grant Application

The SBIR/STTR grant is all about getting the government to bet on you and your technology. Here are expert tips and tricks to writing a better application

You’ve heard us talk about Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grants and brag about past winners in Tennessee who have taken advantage of our matching program.

SBIR/STTR grants are part of a highly competitive initiative that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and development that has the potential for commercialization. Coordinated by the Small Business Administration, the program is meant to support scientific excellence and technological innovation.  

We spoke to Jim Stefansic, Ph.D., president and CEO of Nashville-based Raiven Healthcare, about the SBIR application process. In addition to his role at Raiven, Jim travels across the state leading grant-writing workshops and provides expert grant-writing support through LaunchTN’s Microgrants. He also navigated the SBIR process himself with Pathfinder Therapeutics Inc. and served as LaunchTN’s Commercialization Director. Suffice to say, he knows what he’s talking about! Read on for his best advice on how to write a stronger grant application:

  1. Think of the grant as your business strategy. When you’re applying for an SBIR grant, you should approach developing the application as you would your core business plan. You already have an idea of where your business is headed, regardless of whether you get SBIR funding. Once completed, this application should serve as something you can take to an investor or a strategic partner to find funding another way or raise additional money.
  2. If you don’t have the time to do it right, wait until you do. The SBIR grant is a complicated and lengthy application process and it deserves your attention and best effort. Once you submit, you’ll get feedback from reviewers and have the opportunity to resubmit at a later date. However, you may have a mark against you if it seems like you just threw the application together. If you don’t think you’ll be able to give the application the attention it deserves, just wait for the next cycle.
  3. Know the difference between Phase I and Phase II grants. With SBIR/STTR grants, the government is looking to fund innovative, high-risk ideas that push the envelope of science and technology. Phase I grants are more about funding to overcome science or technology hurdles. Phase II grants are geared more toward funding commercialization and bringing your technology to market. Phase II grants will require a commercialization plan. It’s important to keep this basic structure in mind as you determine the appropriate grant for which to apply.
  4. Understand what you can and can’t do with the grant money. There are rules and regulations attached to these grants. Make sure you have a good accountant or personal understanding of the rules of how you can and can’t spend the money and ensure what you’re proposing is reasonable within these budget constraints. There is an overhead component included in SBIR grants, but there are other indirect costs that are not allowed. The good news is that we have a great SBIR/STTR matching fund in Tennessee that can provide additional resources and cover expenses where you can’t use SBIR grant money, such as patent costs.
  5. Find out what resources exist to help you. Check the SBIR website for additional information on the opportunity and grant application process. And learn more about the resources we offer to help researchers accelerate their commercialization efforts, including financial support for grant writingfocused mentorship for life science and advanced energy companies, an SBIR/STTR matching program and more.



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