NIH Reviews


There are numerous sources for SBIR/STTR funding. The NIH is the largest source of such funding. However, the NIH has its idiosyncrasies in terms of grant review.

DoD, DoE, and the other funding sources that I have worked with are very logical and goal oriented in their grant review process. They are clearly focused on whether the product is significant, whether the team can make the product, and whether a market exists for the product. This is clearly seen from the bare bones and focused approach to writing the application and reviewing the application for these funding sources.

On the other hand, the NIH is more focused on academic reviewer credentials as opposed to real life credentials and methods versus “can this group do it?”

PI credentials are very important; however the NIH focuses mainly on publications versus real life product development. For example, if a person does not have a PhD but has started a successful company, and developed numerous products, has tested those products, and has millions of dollars in sales, this is still not enough for the NIH reviewer. Most NIH reviewers will still insist on a PhD level member of the team with a current publishing record in the area of interest, regardless of how solid the proposed set of experiments may be. Therefore be sure to have a member of your team with such credentials in order to avoid an unnecessary resubmission.

Here is an example: a BS level person has started a software company for process control software. The main algorithm has been patented and won numerous awards from the process control industry. The software is universally accepted in the process control industry and the company is making millions of dollars a year. The person applies for an NIH SBIR grant multiple times and the reviewers consistently nit pick the algorithm without actually ever understanding it from a real life perspective. This person then applies for an SBIR from DoD and the application is accepted the first time based on the innovative and cutting edge aspect of the algorithm being used.

By adding a PhD level software engineer with recent publications in the control algorithm area, the above mentioned person can now also receive funding from the NIH for improving health care.

This is a practical matter. You will not be at the NIH review meeting to personally convince the reviewers that you can do the job. Therefore, the simplest solution is to have someone on board whom the reviewers will find acceptable from their vantage point.

Be assured that this weakness is being addressed by the current head of CSR, however it is difficult to change the course of a large ship overnight. In the meantime, be sure to put your team together knowing what is required to get funding as opposed to what is required to get the real job done.

More on this subject next week.

For more specific and additional information on this topic, click on this link: High Level SBIR/STTR Grant Writing Techniques.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or go to

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