Welcome to the final stretch before the September 5th deadline! While your friends and family are still enjoying summer, you’re stuck inside writing this darn SBIR grant.
We hear you. And we wanted to help. So, we gathered feedback from highly accomplished study section grant reviewers to get the inside scoop on the things that can get you dinged and the things that can make you shine in the eyes of your review committee.
1. Don’t overlook the small details in research approach
Very often, I’d be reading a proposal, and things just don’t flow well. It is obvious that the person who wrote it is so close to the program that they omitted key assumptions that are important to me to understand the novelty here.
I know that other reviewers also get frustrated when things aren’t explained well, like a rationale for a certain novel technique, certain results, certain outcomes, or endpoints. The applicants assume that we know all the tiny details by heart, or they kindly refer us to read another paper or a reference they footnoted. You can just assume we won’t have time to read it and it may leave us confused about your story assumptions.
When that happens, you get a lot of different opinions, because each reviewer may have a different interpretation. They can get into an unnecessary discussion over a very minor confusing thing during their limited time to discuss each grant. Unfortunately, this causes the research approach to get penalized, even though it may actually be a really good grant. Sometimes good proposals don’t get funded over something so small, I see that happen all the time!
Just be really clear on what you’re measuring, why you’re measuring it, how you’re measuring it; it’s really important to take the time and spell it out for your reviewers.
2. Don’t overstate the preliminary results
We know you have limited preliminary data. It’s OK. Actually, some SBIR applications don’t even require you to have any data yet. But we often see applications overstating the importance of their preliminary results or making assumptions that are just not supported by their data. It makes you lose credibility.
It’s OK if you only tested two samples; just feel free to point out the limitations of the findings and explain how the funds will be used to demonstrate significance or improve the new technique. Don’t find conclusions that are not there, even if you’re super optimistic about it.
The way you explain it really makes an impact.
3. align timeline and budget
We see this all the time: applicants want to accomplish so much with the grant proposals. But often, they don’t take the time to investigate the true effort it would take.
They don’t allocate folks to the tasks that would clearly take six months at 80% effort; they estimate three months on 10% effort. We then know the research aims will be challenging to achieve.
It’s absolutely necessary that you realistically allocate enough time for the project to achieve all the specific aims.
4. Take the time to format, organize and remove out-of-scope content, be concise
Grant writers very often include information that isn’t relevant, instead of using the limited space to explain their preliminary data more clearly or better introduce the team’s expertise. They often tend to give too much company information, history, and context that’s tangential. It’s best to always ask, “Is this relevant for this grant? Is it helping me achieve my research aims?” If the answer is No, just remove it!
Best scored grants are well formatted, easy to understand, easy to find figures and tables, and are clear and concise. In essence, a joy to read!
Good luck from all of us on the Radyus Team!