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Consider small business funding opportunities

Michael-David Kerns
Michael-David KERNS,
Health Scientist Administrator,
Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP)

Most government funding agencies, including the NIH, have special pots of money reserved for small businesses. “But M-D,” you say, “I’m in academia, I’m a scientist—what does business funding have to do with me?”

But before you dismiss this funding opportunity, I invite you to look a little more closely. If you’ve ever thought about spinning off some of your research into a product or service for sale, this support could be for you. Or, if you would like to explore whether some of your ideas could be commercialized, there’s early phase exploratory funding for that kind of investigation.

What is this small business funding?

These NIA programs support small business concerns and nonprofit research organizations that conduct research leading to the development of products and services that improve the health and well-being of older people. In fact, the law mandates that we spend a certain portion of NIA funding on small businesses. (You’ll see this funding at other Institutes too; the rules apply across NIH and are not unique to the NIA.)

To see the wide variety of small business activities that have received funding from NIA, go to NIH RePORTER. Select “NIA” in the “Agency/Institute/Center” field and select “SBIR/STTR” in the “Activity Code” field, then hit “Submit Query.”

These efforts are often collaborations between universities and organizations, and of course, NIA funding comes with specific rules for the structure of these relationships. Some scientists are the founders of or participate in small business concerns while retaining their faculty positions.

There are several different kinds of this funding:

  • Phase I research and development focuses primarily on the development and feasibility-testing of prototypes.
  • Phase II research and development funds research and development that often feature between-group comparisons. For health and aging products or services, the goal is to demonstrate the hypothesized features or benefits.

As with every other kind of NIH funding, there’s a lingo for small business funding. Here are a few key items to know:

  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) – R43 and R44 grants
  • Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) – R41 and R42 grants

How do I apply for NIA small business funding?

  1. Read the 2014 NIH SBIR Omnibus Solicitation, especially the topics we want to fund (PDF 1.12MB). The NIA section starts on page 16.
  2. Review the policies for small business applications and the other funding opportunity announcements:
  1. Get in touch with me to discuss your ideas. We can talk about whether your research and development would be appropriate for NIA funding.
  2. Register with the necessary applicant systems.
  3. Submit an application.

What’s new in NIH small business funding?

The small business program was reauthorized by Congress in 2011, with changes to the SBIR and STTR programs. We’ve finally been able to implement all of these changes, some only recently. If you want to participate in NIA’s programs, here are key changes to watch for.

  1. Registration

Applicants need to register with the Small Business Administration, another part of the U.S. government, prior to submitting applications via

  • Registration should take less than 10-15 minutes.
  • During the registration, small businesses have the opportunity to review the new rules on eligibility, summarized here (PDF 250KB). The biggest change in eligibility allows firms that are majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms to receive SBIR and STTR awards.
  1. Cross-Program Awards

NIH and NIA now allow STTR Phase I awardees to receive SBIR Phase II awards and SBIR Phase I awardees to receive STTR Phase II awards.

  1. Direct-to-Phase-II Pilot Program

Starting with the publication of the 2014 SBIR Direct Phase II Grants Funding Opportunity Announcement (and running through fiscal year 2017), small businesses may submit applications for SBIR Phase II awards without having received prior SBIR Phase I awards. This program is not open to STTR applications.

If you have more questions about NIA’s small business funding, please comment below. For specific questions about your idea or grant application, read NIA’s small business funding website and contact me.


Read Next:

Current NIA Funding Opportunities

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