What NIH’s SBIR Phase I Win Rate Drop to 1 in 10 Really Means

It’s not nearly as bad as you think.

In July, 2012 Matthew Portnoy, NIH’s SBIR grants coordinator, reported that the win rate for SBIR Phase I grants has dropped to 1 in 10 or maybe 1 in 15 applications.

The reason is more companies fighting for a share of NIH’s $2.3 billion SBIR research budget. No doubt this is due to hard times. Phase I applications have increased 40% since 2009; this year 4000 to 5000 are expected.

NIH’s official SBIR Phase I win rate is distorted by junk

Nevertheless, your chances of winning can be 1 in 2, or possibly higher, in my opinion. That’s because the 1 in 10 win rate includes a huge number of NIH SBIR Phase I applications that never had a prayer to win.

They’re what I call junk applications.

They include proposals for research NIH isn’t interested in; proposals with unqualified investigators; proposals with poorly conceived specific aims and experiments; proposals from companies that lack necessary research equipment; and, of course, proposals thrown together in a little over a week.

All are guaranteed losers.

The real meaning of 1 in 10

Separate the junk from the rest and what remains are the serious Phase I applications, where I estimate 1 in 3 will win.

The real meaning of the 1 in 10 win rate is not that your odds to win are terrible — it’s that you have to work harder to beat an increased number of really serious competitors.

In other words, don’t even think about submitting a SBIR grant application that’s less than the very best you have to offer.

Winning means going the extra mile to display quality in every part of your application. High quality research, after all, is what NIH wants to buy. Making each part of your application stand out can raise your odds to win Phase I funding from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2, or maybe higher.

You’ll still lose sometimes, of course. Because even when you ignore the junk there are more companies seeking money than there is money to go around. And also, some reviewers don’t do their jobs properly, so even great grant ideas occasionally lose.

But you’ll lose less often and your grant winnings will eventually add up to millions. That’s the benefit of consistently preparing superior grant applications. So don’t worry so much about the 1 in 10 win rate. It doesn’t apply to you if you’ve got great research ideas and the persistence to present them effectively.



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