Improving tech for a problem that “affects everybody”

While pursuing her engineering studies, Paige Peters creates a business that treats wastewater 16x faster

 

For Paige Peters, studying environmental engineering was always part of the plan. Starting her own business was not.

In addition to being the founder and CEO of Milwaukee-based firm Rapid Radicals Technology, Peters, 30, is currently pursuing a PhD from Marquette University in civil engineering with an emphasis on water and wastewater treatment. Her lifelong passion for water, when combined with the “engineering mind” she displayed even as a child, meant environmental engineering was a perfect fit.

“For me, what I love about water is that it affects everybody,” Peters said, “so for someone who loves people so much and loves making those relationships and building those connections, it made the most sense to do water: It affects everybody’s life every single day.”

After graduating with a bachelor of science degree from Marquette in civil engineering, Peters returned in 2015 to get her master’s under Dr. Dan Zitomer, focusing on combined sewer overflows and wastewater treatment. At that time, she realized she and Dr. Zitomer had found a potential solution to a problem that plagued not just Milwaukee but cities across the country.

Combined sewer systems, a model commonly used in the Great Lakes region, carry sanitary water and storm water in the same pipe, which means the water must get treated before being discharged. However, treatment centers can only handle so much water, so in the event of heavy rainfall, combined sewers may overflow -- discharging waste into lakes and rivers or even into people’s basements.

“You trust [the system] is going to lead that waste away from you.” Peters said. “It’s a public health and environmental health issue.”

Peters aimed to solve the problem by shortening wastewater treatment time for combined sewers from eight hours to under 30 minutes – 16 times faster. This technology became the foundation for Rapid Radicals Technology, which Peters founded halfway through the second year of her master’s. If she successfully commercializes, Peters’ system would be the first of its kind in Milwaukee. Peters is currently working on building the first pilot.

“I was willing to take it on, because it sounded like a really fun adventure. I think this has been the best way to go about it,” Peters said.

Much of what motivated Peters to dive into entrepreneurship was the variety of resources available to those looking to start a business in Wisconsin – including young PhD students with no experience in business.

One of those resources was the SBIR Ready program, which Peters discovered through her participation in and her relationship with Marquette University. The provided Peters with the essential education and tools to help her apply for and win federal Small Business Innovation Research funding for her technology to advance her company.

to tap into assistance programs and to build relationships with people who can advocate for them.

 “When it came to starting a company, I didn’t know anything. My initial approach was to reach out to everybody with anything that I knew existed in terms of resources,” Peters said. “What I found in return was that there are so many resources available to you, and that everybody wants to help.”

“At the end of the day, it’s on you to move things forward. But you’re doing it wrong if you feel like you’re alone the whole time,” Peters said.

Balancing her PhD work and her business would seem like two hefty and competing challenges. Peters sees it as her motivation instead.

“The problem my work is seeking to solve needs a solution faster than if the academic and entrepreneurial worlds continue operating independent of one other,” she said. “I see the inherent value of them working together for more effective and efficient tech transfer. They operate under different priorities and different timelines, but they do truly complement each other. Every time we do something new or innovative, we make it easier for the next person to go down a similar path.”

 

Addressing reviewer comments in resubmissions

So you have submitted your SBIR proposal some months ago and are nervously waiting for word on what the reviewers thought of it.   Eventually, you receive notice that, like so many others, your proposal will not be funded this round.  However, the reviewers have kindly given their comments for you to consider should you wish to resubmit.  How then, is the best way to address the reviewer comments for your resubmission?

Most SBIR funding agencies have some resubmission guidelines for dealing with reviewer comments, but they are often general and may not be overly helpful.  You may be at a bit of a loss on how to effectively respond to the reviews.  The best way to address these comments is to realize they are valuable insights and will provide excellent help on improving your subsequent success.  Often the agency requires that you address the reviewer comments on one page at the front of your resubmission.  This limited space means you need to be succinct and short in your replies.  Always start the page with a statement of appreciation for the efforts of the reviewers in providing this valuable insight; resist the urge to be resentful of the negative feedback and don’t take it personally.  Thank them for their time and efforts. Enumerate the salient points brought up by the reviewers and address them individually.  A list of comments with your responses will make it much easier for subsequent reviewers to track how well you have addressed the deficiencies.   

Generally, specific reviewer comments have good scientific basis and when properly addressed will make for a stronger proposal.  In your reply, summarize briefly how you have incorporated the reviewer suggestion and indicate where in the text the substantial changes can be found.  Appropriately mark the areas in the text related to these changes (use “*”, italics, double underline, etc.) to make them more easily found.  If the reviewer comment is incorrect or reveals confusion on their part, respectfully explain why you disagree with them and are not making material changes to the proposal; or make clarification changes in the text to sharpen your point; again indicate where you have made those changes.  Finally, check your final work, make sure there are no conflicting sections that you have neglected to change or fix.  Making your resubmission easy to understand and follow will go a long way towards having it successfully scored.

- Todd Strother, 2018

Perfecting Your Pitch to Program Managers

One of the most common themes we try to impress on our clients is for them to reach out to the various program managers well before they submit a proposal.  The program managers are often your best resource in getting answers to your questions whether they are general, or specific for your specific topic or proposal.  We always insist that you try to cultivate a healthy relationship with an appropriate program manager not only because they are a wealth of information, but also because in many cases they are very much like potential investors in your company.  Different agencies have their program managers perform different roles; some are more involved in the review process than other, but they all ultimately have considerable influence in whether or not your project gets funded.  There have been cases where proposals have been “on the bubble” or scored worse than others, that the program manager was a champion for and managed to get funded.

We recommend initial contact with a program manager three months or more before your project is due.  Often the best way is to simply send an introductory email.  You may wish to include a short exectutive summary of your project along with your email and request their advice and thoughts.  If you are lucky, you might be able to organize a phone call with them to discuss your questions and their thoughts.  Note that some agencies are more conducive to program manager contact time than others.  NSF, for example has recently changed their methodology where they limit initial program manager contact and won’t respond to a direct email.  They now allow you to submit an ‘optional’ Pre-Submission form for feedback directly on their website, and contact you on their own initiative after that. Other agencies require their program managers not have any contact with potential proposers after certain dates.  These mandated ‘black-out’ periods reduce the appearance of favoritism to particular companies.  Be mindful and respectful of these times. Initiating contact three months before the deadline will generally be early enough to avoid these issues.

While you are preparing you documents for submission and if the program manager is available, you can consider them a resource to provide information about topic fit, collaborators, budget limitations, and scope of work.  Often they can provide or suggest other funding opportunities that might relevant that you may not be aware of.  During your interactions, you might want to guage their interest in your proposal as well.  This can be a subtle way for you to determine if it is really worth your time and effort to submit a proposal that really doesn’t fit the topic or interest the program manager.  While they will likely never tell you to not submit a proposal, if they tell you the idea is a ‘better fit for another agency’, you should consider that a strong indication that your project will not be successful, and should seek funding elsewhere.  While we do recommend healthy discourse with program managers, recognize that they are quite busy and will not appreciate being contacted often or for minor details during this period.

After your submission the proposal will wind its way through the review process and can usually be tracked for progress.  There is generally not much needed to be done with the program manager at this time. The most common concern our clients have is “When will I find out the results?”  Unfortunately, there is not a lot of specific assistance the program manager can provide, but sometimes they can give you general thoughts on timelines for review and decision making.

Finally, if you are at the point where a funding decision has been made, you can work with the program manager for next steps.  If you are fortunate and funding is forthcoming, you will continue to cultivate the relationship and work with them more closely as your project proceeds.  If you are amongst those who are not funded in this round, you can often request and get an opportunity to talk about the results and what your options are for future funding, either through a resubmission or for a different topic. Note that the program manager cannot provide details of who the reviewers were, nor can they ‘go back’ and reconsider your proposal based on your arguments or rebuttals.  It is imperative that you are respectful and non-confrontational with the disappointing results. 

 

Why consider USDA in your SBIR pursuits?

Often our clients think primarily about NSF or NIH as a source for SBIR funding.  This neglects some of the other agencies like , which can be a good fit for appropriate projects. While, most certainly, ‘typical’ farm related topics that affect plant and animal production and protection are excellent fits for an SBIR project, the USDA has several other categories of interest that are fundable.  Novel engineering methods for utilizing natural products have been funded as have methods for removing phosphates from waste water.  Serious biotech and start-up pharmaceutical companies often find that USDA grants are a good resource, where they find their technologies can be used more rapidly and easily in veterinary applications rather than initially in human applications.  USDA is also unique in that they have an interest in areas of focus that are less typical ‘innovative research’.  Notably, USDA has topics specifically for rural development as well as promotion of small and midsized farms. These are projects that may commercialize new or even existing technologies that improves the economic vitality of rural communities; or increases profitability of small farms in any number of ways.  With this in mind, we are actively seeking out teams who may fit the USDA program, and have not previously considered it.

Contact your CTC Consultant or to speak more about the upcoming October USDA SBIR deadline and how your project may be a fit for the program.

High-tech small businesses: Apply for SBIR Advance matching grant to earn up to $75,000

MADISON – UW-Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) is offering a matching grant of up to $75,000 to provide additional assistance to companies in the process of completing a project in the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

This is the 12th round of SBIR Advance funding dedicated by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) since SBIR Advance began in 2014.

“SBIR Advance allows business owners to take their companies and ideas to the next level, ultimately benefiting the Wisconsin economy,” said Dr. Todd Strother, CTC Senior Technology Consultant and SBIR Advance Program Manager.

Deadlines are quickly approaching:

  • Noon Aug. 2, 2018: Brief Intent to Apply due, link found at http://wisconsinsbir.org/sbir-advance
  • Noon Aug. 16, 2018: Full application due, link found at http://wisconsinsbir.org/sbir-advance

To becompanies must have an SBIR/STTR project in either Phase I or Phase II of funding. All companies must be located in Wisconsin to be considered for the grant. Funds can be used for business and market development, customer validation, intellectual property work or other areas needed to speed product commercialization.

Applicants should also note these important dates:

  • Aug. 31, 2018: Companies chosen for funding will be notified by this time.
  • Sept. 3, 2018: Phase I Match awardees must be prepared to start the Lean Startup Program. The course runs through Dec. 13 and is administered by the CTC. It teaches companies how to incorporate their technologies into a validated business model and defines the best possible target markets.

For more details on the SBIR Advance program, contact Strother at .

SBIR Advance is part of a Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative WEDC is pursuing with the help of the UW System and other business leaders throughout the state to remove barriers to high-tech commercialization. Under the S3 umbrella, WEDC and its economic development partners are implementing financial and operational assistance programs designed specifically to address Wisconsin’s business startup and seed-funding challenges. One such initiative — also a collaborative effort between WEDC and the UW System — is the , also managed by UW-Extension’s CTC. Selected SBIR Advance participants undergo Ideadvance Lean Startup training that is modified to assist with their SBIR Phase II applications.

About The Center for Technology Commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization is a unit in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Division for Business and Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

About The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

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Strategies from Research to Commercialization; Commercialization Support Programs

We often hear from entrepreneurs about the challenges in acquiring additional funds to further de-risk technologies and navigate through the dreaded Valley of Death.  Accessing funds via the traditional SBIR/STTR programs can initially help you through risky feasibility questions.  But building your business can mean navigating through more research and regulatory hurdles to be more attractive for follow-on funding or industry partnerships.  As the SBIR program has grown, so too has commercialization support programs and funding that can assist you through key milestones encountered in the dreaded “Valley of Death.”  Here are just a few programs via NIH, NSF, and USDA that CTC can help you consider.

  • Business Model Support:  Strong SBIRs tell the story of the innovation’s impact on the market. Participation in a Lean Startup program can help you towards a competitive, successful SBIR.  Both and have National I-Corps programs in which CTC has assisted clients as mentors.
  • Phase 2B Bridge Support:  Some agencies offer bridge funding between Phase 2 and next step, Phase 3 activities. The amount, eligibility and expectations vary.  Learn about the  and programs and let CTC help you navigate a successful request.
  • Commercialization Programs: and offer additional support in both programming and non-dilutive funding to assist companies through other critical milestones.  These supplemental support programs range from support with manufacturing and regulatory costs to seed funding that lead to industrial partners. 
  • Because innovation may require more investigation, the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) encourages applications from both academic and small business.  Search page for other Small Business grants.

As always, the you for these additional SBIR-adjacent sources of funding. CTC’s SBIR Advance has been used to meet the match requirements of bridge support funding. for help in navigating discussions with program managers, the application process, and other key deliverables to be competitive for these additional sources of non-dilutive funding.

Ideadvance Seed Fund brings 10 innovative UW System ideas to life in 2018

 

MADISON – Over $300,000 in grants will be awarded to 10 small businesses in the latest round of awards in the program fostering the entrepreneurship ecosystem across Wisconsin. 

Ideadvance is a rigorous two-stage process of seed funding and mentoring to move innovative ideas forward into feasible businesses. It is open to UW System staff, faculty, students and alumni at all campuses except UW-Madison. Ideadvance awardees must demonstrate significant progress toward a scalable, profitable business model in order to receive increments of Ideadvance seed funds. 

Stage 1 teams become eligible by meeting goals over a six-month period of mentorship and work focused on customer validation.

The 2018 awardees are:

  • Local Food Experiment of Green Bay, which maximizes the convenience and affordability of nutritious food made from locally grown, organic ingredients;
  • of Madison, which uses next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to detect microbes in all types of samples;
  • Reinvent Ferment of Appleton, which connects people with the unique flavors and health potential of living, fermented foods;
  • of Pewaukee, which distributes construction products for builders and their clients;
  • Marble Pillar of Kenosha, which aims to make pesticide-free, non-GMO and locally grown vegetables more accessible;
  • Erbin of Wausau, which specializes in digital, place-based consumer recycling education; and
  • Revolutionary Studios of Eau Claire, which innovates online retail displays for e-commerce businesses to increase customer engagement.

Stage 2 companies are eligible for up to $50,000 in matching funds within a 12-month period by capturing follow-on funding and developing and executing a customer acquisition strategy.

This year’s awardees are:

  • of Oak Creek, which manufactures innovative electronic Shockray self-defense technologies that combine a number of tactical features in a single device;
  • of Brookfield, which offers software and services to automate and modernize document workflows; and
  • Arbuda of Madison, which connects oncologists in India to highly trained specialists from the U.S. via a web-based collaborative platform. 

“We selected well-formed teams with diverse ideas that have successfully attracted local customers. This reflects the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem developing all around the state,” said Dr. Idella Yamben, Program Manager. “Ideadvance’s performance-based funding aims to help these teams identify growth opportunities so they may continue to develop and enrich their local communities.” 

Since 2014, Ideadvance, a partnership between the UW-Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), has awarded $1.9 million in grants. As of February 2018, the impact of these grants has resulted in $4.1 million in additional funding allocated to the awardees. Ideadvance is part of the WEDC’s S3 program which is working to further incorporate start-ups by providing operational and financial assistance to aid in navigating commercialization barriers. 

“In order for Wisconsin to succeed, we need to foster a climate of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Chris Schiffner, WEDC Senior Technology Investment Manager. “Ideadvance creates a foundation of support for university entrepreneurs by providing seed capital and business support so they can take their ideas and technology to commercialization and a successful company launch – right here in Wisconsin.”

Oshkosh native and High 5 Academics co-founder Kathy Schmitt is a past recipient of Ideadvance funding. Schmitt, who has experience training teachers in literacy, founded High 5 Academics with husband Dale Trudell after seeing a need for improved literacy instruction in public schools. A software tool called Teaching Teachers Literacy, the chief product of High 5 Academics, already has a waiting list of customers.

“Ideadvance was a pleasant surprise; it helped us walk through the launch process,” Schmitt said. “Idella and the teaching team were integral in the Ideadvance program. Their objective guidance helped to fill in the gaps and without them we would not be where we are.”

 

About The Center for Technology Commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization is a unit in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Division for Business & Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

About The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter. 

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$375,000 in state matching grants to boost 5 innovative small businesses

MADISON – Five small high-tech businesses in Wisconsin will receive up to $75,000 each to commercialize their innovations, thanks to the SBIR Advance program’s latest round of funding. 

The state matching grant program provides assistance to companies in the process of completing a project in the . This is the 11th round of SBIR Advance funding since this collaboration by the and the began in 2014.

Since then, 70 awards have been given, adding up to a little more than $5 million throughout the state. Those businesses reported hiring more than 173 employees and obtaining $22 million in additional capital since receiving the grants.

The recipients:

  • AquaMetals of Wauwatosa, which is developing the first practical, on-line, heavy-metal analyzer for industrial process control;
  • of Madison, which develops new innovations within a wide array of application areas, including infectious disease diagnostics, drug discovery and cancer biomarker development;
  • of Madison, which develops technologies to help wastewater treatment plants create valuable fertilizers from the nutrients in their wastewater;
  • of Platteville, which manufactures a one-part product specifically formulated to safely clean precision optical and aerospace surfaces with minimal surface adhesion and zero residue; and
  • of Pewaukee, which is developing affordable vacuum-insulated window glass.

“SBIR Advance plays a vital role in bridging the gap between laboratory research and a market-ready product,” said Chris Schiffner, WEDC Senior Technology Investment Manager. “This program is crucial to creating an environment in our state that welcomes new business development and attracts global investors. We want to encourage entrepreneurs to not only start their businesses in Wisconsin but to stay in Wisconsin because high-tech startup companies create family-supporting jobs.”

The U.S. government created SBIR/STTR programs to stimulate domestic high-tech innovation, providing $2.5 billion in federal research funding each year. Because those funds cannot be used for commercialization activities, the SBIR Advance program fills the gap. Funds can be used to pursue market research, customer validation, intellectual property work or other areas that speed commercialization.

SBIR Advance grant recipients receive CTC staff support available throughout the commercialization process, including Lean Startup training, business plan review and other consulting.

 “SBIR Advance continues to provide winners with needed customer validation and opportunities to solve business needs. It’s unique in the nation and has garnered recognition throughout the country,” said Dr. Todd Strother, Program Manager.

For more details on the SBIR Advance program, visit or e-mail . Solicitation is now open, with applications due in August.

SBIR Advance is part of a Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative WEDC is pursuing with the help of the UW System and other business leaders throughout the state to remove barriers to high-tech commercialization. Under the S3 umbrella, WEDC and its economic development partners are implementing financial and operational assistance programs designed specifically to address Wisconsin’s business startup and seed-funding challenges. Another S3 collaborative effort between WEDC and the UW System is the Ideadvance Seed Fund, also managed by UW-Extension’s CTC. Selected SBIR Advance participants undergo Ideadvance Lean Startup training that is modified to assist with their SBIR Phase II applications.

About The Center for Technology Commercialization

The Center for Technology Commercialization is a unit in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Division for Business and Entrepreneurship. CTC provides one-on-one expert consulting to early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin. CTC has collaborated in acquiring more than $100 million in federal and other funding for clients. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

About The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Learn more at ; follow on Twitter.

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Clients honored in 2018 Governor's Business Plan Contest; NovoMoto wins top prize

novomoto dave linz and mehrdad arjmand governor's business contest

MADISON -- Madison social enterprise that provides clean electricity for off-grid rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa with solar-powered systems took home the grand prize June 6, 2018, in the 15th annual

Mehrdad Arjmand, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from the UW-Madison, presented for  during the “Diligent Dozen” track of the 2018 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison. NovoMoto was founded by Arjmand and Aaron Olson, an engineering mechanics doctoral candidate at UW-Madison.

“NovoMoto’s model is being implemented now in the western provinces of the Congo, where the opportunity for cheaper, reliable power will improve lives and provide a profitable business platform over time for the company as it expands,” said Tom Still, president of the .

NovoMoto, which also won the contest’s Business Services category, is a Center for Technology Commercialization client but not the only among the Diligent Dozen to do well. Five other clients earned awards: Shockray Self-Defense, Pyran, AquaMetals, AmebaGone and Fast Forward Forensics.

About 30 independent judges recruited by the Tech Council heard presentations from finalists in four categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences. 

Category winners were:

  • Business Services: NovoMoto.
  • Advanced Manufacturing: Shockray Self-Defense, Oak Creek, is a combination of a pepper-spray pistol and electrical stun-gun weapon. Presenter: Lorne Forsythe, Oak Creek.
  • Information Technology: DataChat, Madison, builds chatbots that allow business users to extract insight from their data simply by talking to the chatbot. Presenter: Jignesh Patel, Madison.
  • Life Sciences: AmebaGone, Madison, is a developer of natural alternatives to antibiotics, securing crop yields for growers without chemicals and metals. Presenter: Amy Jancewicz, Madison. 

Twelve contestants emerged from three rounds of judging in the contest organized through the Wisconsin Technology Council, which produces the contest in conjunction with its partners and sponsors.

The contest began in late January with nearly 200 entries; more than 3,700 entries have been received since the contest began in 2004. This year’s finalists delivered seven-minute pitches on their business ideas during the 16th annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, which was held at Madison’s Union South. 

Second- and third-place category winners were: 

Advanced Manufacturing: Pyran, Kevin Barnett, Madison; AquaMetals, Bruce Bathurst, Wauwatosa.

Business Services: Impact Sports, Joshua Cleveland, River Falls; Replace-A-Lace, Nancy Brekke-Jones, Rhinelander.

Information Technology: Swirl Insurance Services, Terry Wakefield, Mequon; Pyxsee, Dayne Rusch, Oshkosh.

Life Sciences: ReNeuroGen, Stephen Naylor, Elm Grove; Randy Nagy, Fast Forward Forensics, Madison.

New to the contest this year: Pyran also won the “Bright New Idea” award as a first-time contestant.

Finalists submitted full business plans for review by a panel of more than 110 judges established by the Tech Council, which is the non-profit and non-partisan science and technology adviser to the governor and the Legislature. Each plan described the core product or service, defined the customer base, estimated the size of the market, identified competition, described the management team and provided key financial data.

SBIR Proposals That Stand Out in the Crowd: 7 Golden Rules

This is not a rigorous treatise on proposal writing or Grantsmanship 101.  I assume you know how to read a solicitation and follow the proposal guidelines.  In fact that would be Rule Zero – Read and Follow the agency Proposal Guidelines to the letter.

Instead, here are just a few things I suggest you remember, check, and double-check.  A reviewer’s first impressions are hard to overcome.  Following these Rules will help make a good impression.

Rule : Clarity – Be Crystal Clear about Everything – The first rule of proposal writing or any writing for that matter is Clarity.  That should go without saying and should be obvious to everyone.  But apparently it isn’t.  I have reviewed hundreds of proposals that I can’t figure out what is the idea and why anyone cares about it until several pages in, or perhaps never at all.  Or how the research will be conducted by whom.  Or confusing jargon and acronyms.  You can’t convince anyone of anything if they don’t understand.  Confusion in the first few paragraphs will color the reviewer’s impression of the entire proposal.  Don’t assume reviewers know anything about the field and idea you have worked on for years.  Start out simple, then get more complex.  Give no reviewer the opportunity to be confused.  This should go without saying, but it must be said repeatedly: The first rule of proposal writing is Clarity.

Rule : Support every claim – Every claim or assertion, every statement you make needs to be backed up with something, a piece of data, a graph, an argument, a reference, a quote from a credible source.  During a review I find myself saying often: “how do they know that?”  Don’t let reviewers think that, but anticipate this question and provide the backup in your narrative.

Rule : Focus on Outcomes not Activities – I read Aims or Objectives that read like open-ended activities or studies.  The more you can focus on the outcomes to be achieved and not just the activity to be conducted, the stronger your proposal will be.  Don’t say you are studying this or optimizing that without being clear “to what end?”  Focus, focus, focus on outcomes and not activities

Rule : Solve a Problem – Again just studying or optimizing something is not very interesting unless it is solving a serious problem that someone, and preferably a lot of somebodies care about.  What problem does this solve, and who cares, and why?  SBIR projects may advance science but that is not the primary objective.  The objective is to solve a problem in a way that is commercially and societally significant.

Rule : Show Measurable, quantified milestones – Don’t just state what you propose to do but be very specific about the measurements you will make to prove that it works, and the success criteria you will use to judge whether feasibility has been definitively established.  Think about the evidence you would produce in a court of law to prove your case.  And your technology can’t just work on a technical basis, it has to work in a way that sustains a profitable business model, i.e. commercially viable.

Rule : Spell Out5 Factors of Significance – There always needs to be a compelling argument for the Significance of your proposed solution, whether the particular agency calls it Significance, or Intellectual Merit, Societal Benefit, or some other terminology.  You can make a compelling case if you can argue Significance in 5 ways.  First there is the Size of the Problem.  Then the Size of the Opportunity, i.e. how much of the Problem can your technology impact?  Next there are the advantages of your approach compared to the alternatives, how your technology overcomes the shortfalls of the alternatives, and the benefits to the users of your technology.  Not just the features that you think make it special, but the benefits and value proposition that customers derive from your proposed solution.  Fourth is the aggregate impact to the economy, public health, society, or whatever aggregate impact you can show that makes your solution especially significant.  Lastly, address the Commercial Merit of your proposed technology solution, showing that there is a reasonable path to commercialization.  These 5 factors together make up the Significance.

Rule : Organize/Highlight to clearly address the review criteria – Make it easy for the reviewer to assign good scores for each of the specific review criterion.  Even if they like your proposal, they still need to write down scores for all the various selection criteria, so don’t make them dig for it.  A low score on any criterion can drop you below the pay line.  Make it easy for the reviewer to write down a good score by organizing your document to highlight this information.  This can be done by organizing the sections or creating subheadings, or making lists, underlining, bolding, etc.  In one proposal I actually made a Table of all of the listed factors that the solicitation highlighted as significant and next to it wrote a summary of how the proposal addressed this factor completely.

I could go on and in our SBIR Training Workshops we do provide much more how-to guidance and tips.  So contact us and let us help you with your next SBIR application.

-Dave Linz, CTC

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