Small Business Innovation Research Grants

We have been down a rabbit hole the past several weeks, working on our small business innovation grant (SBIR) application. This is a program which requires all U.S. agencies to send 2.5% of their budget for outside funding to U.S. small businesses. The program is in two phases: Phase I is nominally for $100,000 for six months, and Phase II is nominally for $750,000 and two years. However, it varies by agency. In our case, we are partnering with the local university, and indeed, the Uni received almost 80% of the funds from the Phase I grant. However, they also brought us the idea so we can’t complain too loudly. If your non-profit organization has a research project, and you need to subcontract the work to an outside company, the SBIR program might indeed be something to look at.

We were awarded a Phase I grant from the National Institutes of Health, Institute on Aging for our feasibility study on home-based telemedicine. The project involved installing a videoconferencing unit in our study subject’s homes, and conducting a home-based exercise class. Our target population were senior patients who had fallen or who had a fear of falling. We conducted a 15 week exercise class with two sets of study subjects, using multi-point video. We could see them and they could see us, and they could at times see each other, so it was very much like a “real” class.

We did pre and post testing of our subjects, and found, in general, that they improved their balance, strength, and well-being in ways that were similar to, or even better than similar subjects who participated in a live class. We’re now applying for a second phase grant, where we’ll do a formal controlled study to compare participants of a home class with those who participate in a live class.

This has been a real eye-opener to me, as the business partner, the boxes-and-wires guy, into the whole realm of scientific research, academic journals, the NIH, and US government funded research. What is interesting to me is that I had no idea of how this is really done, even though the public reads every week about some new drug study, or finding about drinking coffee, or the efficacy of osteoporosis drugs. Pick up a copy of Prevention magazine, or any of the Rodale publications like Bicycling or Men’s Health, and you’ll read about a clinical study which shows that ….blah blah blah.

SBIR grants cover all government agencies, not just NIH. EPA, Department of Defence, Department of Education, NOAA, NASA, all are required to participate in the SBIR program. Particularly in health care, education, and environmental studies, there might be a connection for your agency.

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