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Biotech Entrepreneurs Offer Tips For Winning an SBIR—Including a Top 10 List of Dos and Don’ts

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needed lab equipment, office furniture, and other key assets from biotechs that were shutting down or downsizing their operations. He also says it helps to recruit academic researchers to help on R&D, because the government encourages such industry-academic collaborations, and it looks good on the SBIR grant application.

“What I have to say about SBIRs is that you really have to think hard about how you want to write these applications,” says Finn, who confided that he submitted six SBIR proposals before winning approval. The scientists who reviewed his grant applications just didn’t understand the significance of his approach, which used structure-based drug design to identify and develop new antibiotics. “I don’t want to say you have to write it for someone with a fourth grade education,” Finn says, “but you really have to keep it simple, so they can understand.”

On writing grant applications, Mandala Biosciences’ Larocca adds, “My advice is to be passionate. You have to be able to write your grant in a way to make it sound exciting.”

Scott Struthers, the founder and chief scientific officer of Crinetics Pharmaceuticals, offered a Top 10 list of things you need to know to win a SBIR grant.

First, Struthers says, are the “Top 5 things that can hurt you:”

—Submitting a grant application that is single-spaced and has no margins, making the text so dense that no reviewer wants to read it.

—Proposing a chemistry grant without including structural diagrams of the compounds because you’re worried someone might appropriate the idea.

—Characterizing your proposal as “fantastic,” “outstanding,” etc.

—Telling your primary reviewer that he or she is ignorant, uneducated, etc.

—Including a lot of B.S., because it’s easy to smell. “If you waste their time,” Struthers says, “they’re going to waste your grant.”

And the five things that can help you:

—Thinking very carefully about your outline. Be sure it flows logically from one topic to another.

—Including a small table that includes definitions of scientific terms near the beginning of the grant. Reviewers are rarely experts in the same field.

—Extracting key messages from the application in an inset box. It’s worth the space.

—Including a clear schematic to explain a scientific concept, or organizational chart to explain a collaboration.

—Checking spelling and grammatical errors, and making sure the citations are correct.

[Editor’s note: A workshop on the ABCs of Small Business Loans is set for Tuesday May 25. Details are here]

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