The role of the SRO


The SRO, formerly SRA, serves an important role in the review process.

The SRO first verifies that your application was assigned to the appropriate review committee. If you believe that your application has been assigned to the wrong review committee, first call the SRO and discuss the situation. If you still think it is the wrong committee and the SRO will not reassign it, then call the SRO's Chief. If you have a solid case, then you should get results. If the Chief does not agree to reassign the application and you are 100% certain that your application is wrongly assigned, then call the Director of the Scientific Division in which your application is assigned. If you still do not get results, then you might rethink whether or not you are right. It is my experience that once you get to the Director level, you will always be dealing with a person who is quite rational and interested in solving problems.

Now the SRO will determine what expertise is needed to review your application. This is crucial. You must control this step. Here is how to control this step. Write your Project Summary in a very clear and concise manner. Include all of the key areas of expertise that will be needed in the first two or three sentences. I can show you how to do this. I read many Project Summaries from which I could not garner the expertise that was needed to review the application. I then dug into the Specific Aims (and farther) to figure it out, but not all SROs will do that. Many SROs will simply make their best guess. If your application is not assigned to the right reviewers, you are in trouble and it is too late to do anything about it!

Next, the SRO must recruit reviewers based on the areas of expertise needed. Again, SROs differ in their diligence here, but in my experience the majority does a good job.

Now the SRO will set up the meeting and orient reviewers to the specific review criteria for SBIR/STTRs. This is a bit of a crap shoot. SROs vary in their ability and diligence in this area and reviewers vary in their ability and diligence in following the instructions. These are the main reasons to write your application in a very solid manner. If an application is solid, then these X factors will play a smaller role.

Finally, the SRO writes up the Summary and Resume of Discussion for all of the applications were scored and posts the summary statement on the eRA Commons.

The job of the SRO is to do ones best to see that the applications are reviewed for scientific and technical merit according to the rules of the NIH. This means providing a conflict free and fair evaluation of each application. In my experience there is serious dedication on the part of the NIH and the vast majority of SROs in this regard.

However, the NIH does work under serious time and budget constraints, which necessarily limits the quality of the review process. Thus there are numerous weaknesses in the process. The informed applicant can learn how to turn these weaknesses into advantages.

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

Click on this link to read about my E-Book: High Level SBIR/STTR Grant Writing Techniques.

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Program Officers


The Program Officer (PO) is the most important person at the NIH for helping you to get your grant application funded. Even if the PO does not support your grant application, it can still get funded if your priority score is meritorious enough, however there is a range of scores (about 170-290, depending on the Institute and how close one is to the end of the budget year) over which the PO can either advocate for your application or not advocate for your application.

Therefore, it is helpful to be sure that you find a PO at an Institute who is supportive of your application. It is my experience that the POs are very helpful. If a specific PO is not supportive of your application, the PO will usually help you find an Institute and a PO who is in favor of your application, as long as the application has intrinsic merit etc.

So you have a grant application or an idea and now you want to start a relationship with a PO who is supportive of your application. How do you do this? It is very simple. There are many ways, but here is one way.

Search for announcements specific to your idea. To do this go to this site and search for PAs or RFAs. When you go to the PA or RFA search site, use the Advanced Funding Ops not use the simple search, it will not work well....The advanced search button is located at the upper right on the page. This button will take you to a complex page, but you only need to focus on two items: (1) The Search Term right at the top, put in Cancer for example, and (2) Activity Code (the seventh choice down), put in R41 or another appropriate Code. Now you will find PAs written by specific Institutes for your area of interest. Find the PA (RFA) that is closest to your area of interest.

Click on the PA of interest to you. Near the top of the PA will be listed the NIH Institutes that are participating in that PA (RFAs will usually have a point person listed whom you can call directly). Click on the provided links and go to the Institute that you think is closest to the work in your application. Now it gets tricky.

Each Institute has its own web page format. Find Funding Opportunities (or a similar description) on that Institute's web page. Click there and explore until you find SBIR or SBIT/STTR opportunities and click there. Keep exploring in this manner until you find the SBIR/STTR contact person for that Institute. Call or email that contact, which will help you to eventually find the best PO for your application.

Now you are ready to go! If you do not find an announcement that is specific to your idea, that is fine as well. Find an announcement that is closest and call the PO. Start from there or go directly to the Institute that is closest to the area covered in your application and find the SBIR/STTR pages as described above.

Remember, just because your application is closest in relevance to a specific Institute; that does not mean it is the best Institute for funding your application, for many reasons. Usually however, the PO at an Institute will help you find the best funding opportunity at the NIH, so do not be surprised if the Cancer Institute sends you to the Heart and Lung Institute for a cancer screening method. The PO may know that Heart and Lung has extra funds for that type of application while the Cancer Institute does not, for example. Remember that Heart and Lung is interested in lung cancer as well.

Anyways, I am sure you got the idea by now, so good hunting!

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

Click on this link to read about my E-Book: High Level SBIR/STTR Grant Writing Techniques.

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Review Committees 

About half of all SBIR/STTR applications are reviewed in regular standing study sections. You will want to avoid this.

To receive a fundable priority score, your best bet is to place your application in an SBIR/STTR Special Emphasis Panel. In a regular study section, your SBIR/STTR is reviewed at the end of the meeting when people are hurried. To make matters worse, your application is unavoidably put into the context of an RO1 application, which has more preliminary data in it than your whole Phase I application is going to generate. Eventhough reviewers are specifically oriented to the SBIR/STTR review criteria and spirit, it is very difficult to actually get into that spirit under such circumstances. What a nightmare for obtaining SBIR/STTR funding.

In addition, RO1 study sections mainly contain academic researchers who do not always understand the demands of getting a small business underway. So do your best to avoid being reviewed in a standing study section.

Here is how to increase your chances of being reviewed in an SBIR/STTR SEP: go to this site: Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs). Do not use the search function. This function does not work well on this site. Scroll down and choose the IRG that is closest to your grant application area. Each IRG is composed of many study sections. Scroll down and find a study section that is specifically for SBIR/STTRs. They are usually last or second to last in the list of study sections. Now, click on the SBIR/STTR SEP. You will see an intro and then listings of different SBIR SEPs. You will see the specific areas covered by each SEP and areas of overlap with other SBIR SEPs.

Make sure that your Project Description (Abstract) and your cover letter are specifically tailored to the areas covered by your desired SBIR/STTR SEP. In your cover letter specifically name the SEP and specifially request that the application be reviewed by an SBIR/STTR specific SEP.

Under these conditions, you have the highest chance of being reivewed in an SBIR/STTR specific SEP.

Occasionally it is impossible to find an appropriate SBIR/STTR SEP. In this case your application will be reviewed by a regular study section. Well, just be sure that the application is extremely well written in terms of grantsmanship and you may still be OK.

Please feel free to contact me for further information or go to

Click on this link to read about my E-Book: High Level SBIR/STTR Grant Writing Techniques.

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