Every year the NIH issues an Omnibus Solicitation requesting investigator-initiated topics. So, rather than them telling you exactly which projects they want to fund, the ask you to come up with ideas. You simply need to make sure your idea fits their research interests. That means you need to do your homework to find the right home within NIH for your project.
As long as these ideas are related to Human Health, have the requisite level of Technological Innovation and Commercial Potential, they may be appropriate for SBIR/STTR. However, you still need to do some homework to make sure your idea fits within the research interests of the NIH’s Institutes and Centers. Each NIH Institute has its own independent budget and areas of interest, and it is the institutes that will ultimately fund your project. So before you put a lot of work into developing your proposal, it’s important to do some background research to ‘find a home’ for your project. There are a few ways you can do this:
1. Search NIH’s RePORTER Database
RePORTER is an online searchable database tool that allows users to search all previously and currently NIH-funded research projects. You can use keywords to search for projects, view their abstracts, and determine whether NIH has previously-funded projects in your research area, and which NIH Institutes might be most likely to fund particular projects. You can use the drop-down menus to restrict your search by funding mechanism (e.g. SBIR/STTR or other NIH funding mechanism such as R01, R21 etc.), by State, by year, by Principal Investigator etc. Identify the Institutes and Centers that funded projects (both Phase I and Phase II) in your area. Within REPORTER you will also find MATCHMAKER. Matchmaker is a tool that will help you find similar projects and the program officials and institutes associated with those projects.
2. Check the SBIR/STTR Program Descriptions/Research Topics Document
Another good place to start is to look at the 2021 SBIR/STTR ‘Program Descriptions and Research Topics’. The document lists all of the Institutes and Centers at NIH and outlines their areas of interest. It also gives the contact details for all of the program staff in each institute.
3. Speak with Program Staff at NIH
Once you think you have identified an Institute within the NIH that might be appropriate for your research idea, you should contact the relevant Program Staff to discuss your ideas with them. NIH strongly encourages you to do this. Some Institutes have several program staff, responsible for different areas, so make sure you find the one most appropriate for your project.
We recommend that you first send an email to the program staff listed and ask to follow up with a phone call. Ideally, you should send them a draft of your one-page Specific Aims document and have some specific questions to ask them. Also resist the urge to send PowerPoint decks and other larger documents (unless they request more information)!
If your proposal might be a possible fit in more than one NIH institute, (e.g. an intervention for children with asthma might equally fit within the National Institute for Heart, Lung and Blood, and the National Institute for Child Health and Development), you can contact program staff from both Institutes.
Suggested topics to discuss with Program Staff
- If your project idea fits with the goals of the Institute
- Whether the scope of your Phase I and Phase II aims are appropriate for SBIR/STTR
- Whether your project falls under a category that allows you to EXCEED the Phase I and Phase II caps ($275,766 for Phase I and $1,838,436 for a Phase II). Budget waivers for some project areas are listed in this document.
We encourage you to contact a Program Director as soon as possible in the application planning process. They are there to help you. We recommend that you always speak to the relevant Program staff before submitting a proposal. More here: Understand NIH: Finding the Right Fit for Your Research