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Healthcare entrepreneurs can get NSBRI funding for ideas used in space

on January 06, 2012 Source: Kauffman Foundation

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute is looking for new life sciences products from healthcare entrepreneurs, and it’s offering a funding incentive to the selected companies.

The Houston-based nonprofit is a consortium of academic institutions that is designed to reduce the various stresses and risks that challenge U.S. astronauts operating in a confined environment 220 miles above the Earth’s surface and beyond.

The Institute has had good success working with academia and private bioscience companies to find treatments, cures and preventive remedies for astronauts – but now it wants to broaden its reach.

Specifically, it wants to do better at attracting the interest, ideas and products of smaller bioscience startups.

Clearly, the consortium is on to something – as a message from Jeffrey P. Sutton, M.D., Ph.D., President, CEO and Institute Director of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, indicates on the group’s web site:

Space is a challenging environment for the human body. With long-duration missions, the physical and psychological stresses and risks to astronauts are significant. Finding answers to these health concerns is at the heart of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute's program. In turn, the Institute's research is generating benefits for medical care on Earth.

With more than 60 science, technology and education projects, the NSBRI engages investigators at leading institutions across the nation to conduct goal-directed, peer-reviewed research in a team approach. Key working relationships have been established with end users, including astronauts and flight surgeons at Johnson Space Center, NASA scientists and engineers, other federal agencies, industry and international partners. The value of these collaborations, and the revolutionary research advances that result, is enormous and unprecedented, with substantial benefits for both the space program and the American people.

So how can life sciences entrepreneurs help while finding some much-needed funding for their startups in the process? That’s where the NSBRI’s SMARTCAP program comes into play.

The funding program, launched last November, is looking for a few good life sciences companies to award up to $100,000 for the development of promising products that can “address unmet health and performance needs in space and on Earth.”  The NSBRI is “hands-off” with regards to intellectual property, but NASA would have the right to freely implement the products developed in this program.

That’s pretty much the terminology used by Dorit Donoviel, Ph.D., Deputy Chief Scientist and Industry Forum Lead for the NSBRI.

In an exclusive interview with, Donoviel describes SMARTCAP as an award program geared toward technology development companies that specialize in solutions to the medical challenges faced by humans in space travel, and that can also help the earthbound.

“With SMARTCAP, we are trying to ensure that efforts and funding spent on ensuring safe human space flight also can make an impact on the Earth’s population,” she explains.

The program provides funding to life sciences companies, as Donoviel says, that

“move the product along a commercialization path.” According to the SMARTCAP web site, good examples of “desirable project goals” are proof of concept studies, refinement of an existing prototype, or usability testing.

Here is more from the web site on what the NSBRI wants to see from applicants:

Both previously NSBRI-supported and new technologies will be considered. This award program is not intended for early-stage technology development. Up to two companies per award cycle (year) will be selected to receive awards of up to $100,000 from SMARTCAP. To be considered for a SMARTCAP award, companies must have 500 or fewer employees.

Donoviel cites a specific example of what her group is eager to see.

“We found that the same sort of technologies that work in a space environment – something that is lightweight, non-invasive, doesn’t use a lot of power, is small and can handle targeted healthcare capabilities – would work well on Earth,” she explains. “It might be the type of device that would help reduce the cost of healthcare, especially in the military, in rural environments, and in underserved third-world countries.”

She cites an ultrasound technology that the NSBRI uses for diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities, developed at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab. The device “pops” painful kidney stones (a potential problem for astronauts in space).

“That is the type of SMARTCAP solution we are looking for,” she notes.

Right now, SMARTCAP can fund two life sciences companies through the award program. The deadline for filing an application is January 17, 2012, so if you’re interested, it’s time to get going.

You can fill out an application and get more information on the program here.

As with all its award programs, the NSBRI uses outside experts to perform rigorous peer-review. The selection committee, comprised of members of the NSBRI Industry Forum, will narrow the applicants down to five, consult with those groups, and then send them back for a more detailed proposal. After that, the NSBRI and its Industry Forum Steering Council (composed of venture capitalists, business accelerator and incubator chiefs, hospital and biotech executives and space flight veterans) will pick two winners.

The good news is that time is on your side, if you act fast. “It’s a great time to apply, as the program is brand new,” says Donoviel. “We just made the announcement and the January application deadline is rapidly approaching.”

With Donoviel hunting for applicants, now is the time to strike – and get 2012 off to a great, and financially advantageous, start.

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