Winning 2, 3, or 4 NIH SBIR Grants at a Time

Want to win more NIH SBIR grant money faster? Submit more than one grant application at a time and — if you do it right — it’s possible to double your grant awards in half the time.

Two grants, like two heads, are better than one. The Double Up strategy can double your SBIR grant awards in half the time. Even winning three or four grants at a time is possible.

This is what I call the Double Up strategy, where instead of submitting one SBIR grant application per deadline, you double your applications and submit two. Or three. Or four.

Evidence it’s possible to win 2 or more NIH SBIR grants at a time

Obviously, preparing two or more SBIR grant applications is a lot more work than preparing only one. Before even considering doubling up on grant applications, you need to know that winning two or more SBIR grants at a time has indeed been done.

The table below shows the success of Sanaria, a malaria vaccine maker, in winning two Phase I SBIR grants at once. On Feb. 15, 2004 Sanaria was sent word it had won two Phase I grants from NIAID. The project titles show the grants were for different research projects. The Study Section column shows the two grants were reviewed by different review committees.

Then in June, 2010 Sanaria gave an encore performance, once more winning two more Phase I SBIR grants at once. Once more the grants were from NIAID. The grants were for different projects and reviewed by different committees.

Winning 4 NIH SBIR Phase I grants in the same month

Winning two Phase I grants at a time isn’t the limit, as next table shows. On the 5th, 9th, 11th, and 16th of Sept., 2008 Radiation Monitoring Devices was notified of winning four SBIR Phase I grants. NCI funded two; NHLBI and NCRR funded the others. It’s of interest that the NHLBI and NCRR grants were reviewed by the same Study Section.

You might be wondering, were some of the grant applications in these tables resubmitted applications that were revised after being rejected once or twice before? The records show all the grants in these tables were funded the first time they were submitted. None was a second- or third-time application.

Using the Double Up strategy routinely

Using the Double Up strategy, RMD won 50 SBIR Phase I grants two, three, and four at a time between Sept., 1995 and Sept., 2009. The NIH Reporter shows RMD won two SBIR Phase I grants in the same month no less than 12 times; RMD won three in the same month six times; RMD won four in the same month twice. Of these grants, 42 were won on first try. The other eight were won upon resubmission.

That’s some mighty fine SBIR grantwriting.

Guidelines for winning two NIH SBIR Phase I grants at once

By winning two or more Phase I grants at a time, you set yourself up to win two or more Phase II SBIRs at a time, assuming your Phase I research projects pan out.

But should you try the Double Up strategy, because plainly there’s a big risk: if you spread yourself too thin between multiple SBIR grant applications, you probably won’t win anything.

To help you weigh the pros and cons of Double Up, here are some things to consider:
1. Are the research projects you’re considering clearly distinct?

If there’s an obvious overlap in the two research projects, NIH will probably feel it’s being asked to fund the same research twice. NIH won’t do that.

2. Is each project strong enough to win?

A danger in the Double Up strategy is that you’ll be tempted to apply for a grant for a weak project on the hope that just maybe you’ll get lucky and win. This sort of thing is a waste of time. Projects that are more wishful thinking than real get eaten alive at NIH.

Put your time instead into grants for projects that are strong by the usual standards. Get a copy of NIH’s review criteria for SBIR grants and give each project a run-through. Is it really significant? Really innovative? Do you have preliminary data to give you an edge in winning? Do you have the experience and equipment the project requires? Clear ways to know the project succeeds? Coldly assess each project and kill each one with a weakness you can’t fix. Only strong projects get funded.

3. Have you asked NIH SBIR Program Officers for advice?

Once you decide you have strong projects, contact the SBIR program officers for the institutes where you’ll apply for grants and seek their counsel. After you explain the projects you’re thinking of getting funded, does their advice make a Double Up approach sound doable?

4. Do you have enough time for multiple grant applications?

Obviously multiple grant applications take far more time to prepare than one. Is that feasible for you? If you know beyond doubt that your team will be in a mad, frantic dash to finish your applications as the seconds tick down to deadline, you probably don’t have the time to make this work.

You may also want to think twice before allowing one Principle Investigator in your company to apply for more than one grant at a time, because here again there’s the risk of being spread too thin to win. You may be more likely to win more SBIRs faster if there’s only one grant per PI.

I have to admit, though, that Sanaria and RMD have both allowed one PI to attempt two Phase I grants at a time and won. Sanaria has twice won two NIH SBIR Phase I grants at a time with one PI. RMD has done the same thing five times. Nevertheless, I think it’s riskier to ask one person to be the PI for two grant applications to be submitted on the same day. Consider this before you do it.

Summing up

Carefully weigh your situation. If you have strong projects and enought time to do things right, winning two, three or four NIH SBIR grants at a time really is possible.

Otherwise, stick to trying for one SBIR grant at a time. Because one grant in hand is worth two in the bupkis.

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