DARPA's director of small business programs shares funding tips
The Department of Health and Human Services isn't the only federal agency interested in funding medical research.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense's primary innovation engine that's responsible for developing new technologies for use by the military, also frequently undertakes project in biology, medicine and neuroscience.
Recently funded project have included a blood purification system and a portable blood sample storage kit, for example.
But federal budget cuts have put the squeeze on the department's budget and, as a result, on the grants available. DARPA's director of small business programs, Susan Nichols, was in Cleveland recently to share some insight with local businesses.
She said that DARPA issues project solicitations based on the needs of its project managers and does so on the same schedule as other DOD agencies, with the next round coming up this winter.
Here were some of her tips on putting together a stellar project application, along with some extra advice from local companies who have been funded by DARPA.
Take advantage of the pre-solicitation period. Once pre-solicitation opens, companies and researchers can ask DARPA any technical questions they might have about a project. They can continue to do so once the normal solicitation period opens one month later, but after that point any questions and answers get posted to a public message board that other companies and researchers can also read.
Nichols and local business leaders who have received funding urged potential applicants to make good use of that time by getting in touch with a project manager, if they think their project is a good fit. "Every opportunity we had for coaching, we took it," said Don Brown, CEO of Arteriocyte. The medical device and cell therapy development company won a $1.95 million DARPA grant in 2008, which catalyzed relationship with several other federal agencies including the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and NASA.
Treat it like a job application. Like you would before a job interview, applicants should take the time to learn about the project manager who's put out the solicitation, along with the current state-of-the-art technology that's out there. "He's trying to solve a problem, so don't waste his time," said Fred Lisy, president of Orbital Research, a company that develops sensors and electronics for harsh environments. "Tell him how your technology enables him to reach his goal."
Leave no field empty. Be sure to prepare your application so that it directly addresses each of the areas outlined in the solicitation, Nichols said, focusing on the topic and information provided. Also make sure that the cost proposal is comprehensive and that you submit all of the documentation required, so that reviewers don't need to slow down the review process by asking you for more information.
Highlight past technology and commercial successes, but also emphasize your innovative approach to solving a problem. Nichols said that a project's soundness of technological merit and innovation gets the most weight during the evaluation process. "They want revolutionary ideas, not evolutionary ideas," Lisy echoed.
But, don't get too carried away. Nichols suggested that companies avoid proposing human or animal research in Phase 1 grants, because they only span a six-month period, which isn't usually enough time to get IRB approval and complete the studies.
The next pre-solicitation period for DARPA SBIR funding opens November 20. See more information and resources here.
[Photo by - BuzzFarmers]