How to Mine Federal Databases for Funding Opportunities

03/06/21 | 5 MIN READ Revised 09/01/21

How to use federal databases to craft an amazing SBIR/STTR grant proposal.

There are a large number of federal databases that can help you improve your chances of getting Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding. These can be both databases run by the agencies to see what type of products they fund and also databases that can help you write a more competitive proposal.

🔬Read: What are SBIR/STTR Grants?

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Types of Databases

Online databases can vary in form and origination in many ways. These are a few of the types of databases available to small businesses:

  • Science/Technology updates
  • Market information
  • Competitors and/or partners
  • Requirements before market

Each of these types of databases have multiple databases under its wing. This article will highlight some of the most useful federal databases to improve your funding opportunities.

SBIR/STTR Background

The SBIR/STTR grant programs are run by 11 different federal agencies, including the National Institute of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), National Science Foundation (NSF), etc. The purpose of these grants is to provide non-dilutive funding to small businesses to create innovative new products and technology.

Here is a breakdown of the basic funding cycle for an SBIR/STTR grant:

  • Phase I - $100k-$400k, 6-12 month project with proof of concept
  • Phase II - $750k-$2M, 2 year project aimed at eventual commercialization

One of the main plus sides to receiving an SBIR/STTR grant (besides the funding) is the non-dilutive aspect. This means that the government does not take partial ownership of your company after you receive the grant. This is different from Venture Capital (VC) funding, which often requires relinquishing a percentage of your company’s ownership to the fund. 

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What is Needed for a Strong SBIR/STTR Proposal?

A great database to check out while researching how to write your first SBIR/STTR grant application is the NIH SBIR Sample Applications website. Sample applications for other agencies are not available for free online, so take advantage of this resource!

NIH SBIR/STTR applications are scored from a scale of 10-90, 10 being the best. Companies try to aim for a 10, but scores above 10 are often funded as well. 

🔬Related: 10 Tips for a Competitive SBIR or STTR Proposal

Specific Aims Page

The first page read by reviewers is often the Specific Aims page, which lays out the general objectives of the company. The Specific Aims page should have these components:

  • What you want to do?
  • Why you want to do it?
  • Statement of objectives
  • 2-4 specific aims
  • What a successful project would look like after conclusion.

🔬Read more about: Lean Model Canvas Approach to Developing Research Grants

Research Strategy: Significance 

The significance section aims to explain why the project is important or needed. It could also touch upon whether or not there is commercial potential/market need.

This is where you will also define the specific market segment that you need to target. Oftentimes, companies take a broad approach in their market segment to seem as though their product is desired by many. However, this approach can hurt the company in the long run because it does not provide the reviewers with concrete and specific market information.

It also helps to include references from industry experts in this section. Third party references strengthen your argument and add credibility to your claims. References after a claim in your grant can change your company’s opinions into facts. References are also not included in the 6 page limit. 

Research Strategy: Innovation and Approach

The Innovation and Approach sections are the 2nd and 3rd part of the Research Strategy section. The innovation section is focused on what your company does that exceeds current innovations in the same field. What makes you different?

The Approach section is generally the majority of the 6 page limit. The approach page outlines your proposed research strategy. This should also include specific criteria for your project's success, and how the team will go about doing that.

Market Research Report

Now that you understand some of the basic fundamentals of an SBIR/STTR grant application, you might now realize that tremendous thought and research needs to go into each proposal. One of the most demanding parts of the proposal is the market segmentations and research report, which can cost around $5500 to complete (if you hire an outside source).

But hiring an outside source to do this is not necessary. The information used to create a market research report can often be found online easily. In addition, you might be able to find some information from the Table of Contents of one of the research reports, which is provided for free. Doing your own research can be a great way to minimize costs for your startup. 

The next few sections will be all about how to find the information to fuel that resource, mainly in online databases.

Databases for Market/Clinical Info

These databases accumulate information on different types of diseases. Here are a few and their accompanying links:

Databases for Funding Info

Here are some of the main databases that can provide up to date information on current funding projects:

  • - Use search and filter to narrow search
  • - Current contract data reports

Databases for Competitor Info

Another type of database that might be useful is one for competitor information. Information on your competitors (whether currently known or not) can provide insights on how you are doing in comparison. These databases offer search tools to help you find companies with similar products or technology:

  • - Reports for who has gotten rewards
  • Competitors’ websites - for updates and news

Databases for Project Planning

The FDA also provides information about products that are regulated by the FDA. In order for a product to be successful (and legal), it needs to be approved and be continually monitored by the FDA. Getting a head start early in the process will allow you to focus on those requirements sooner. You can find this information on the FDA website here.

🔬Read about: Understanding the SBIR Review Process

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I find more detailed searches for my specific needs?

A: Many times, databases will have an advanced search feature to let you browse detailed information. This can be helpful if you have a very specific idea of what you are looking for.

Q: How important is it to have preliminary data in a grant proposal?

A: The short answer is that it will depend on the grant proposal. Having preliminary data generally gives you an advantage, because it de-risks the proposal.

Q: Are there any resources to get access to PubMed?
A: The search engine on PubMed is free, but sometimes the articles are not. Lots of the articles are publicly available, specifically the abstracts. Some content might be protected because it is content of the publishers. If there is a specific article you are interested in but do not have access to, you can try emailing the primary contact officer listed on the article. 

Q: Do you need to have a business location in order to be considered for funding?

A: It will depend on the type of project you propose. If you need access to a wet lab space and do not have access to it, the reviewers will assume that you can not complete the project. Be clear on how you will obtain your equipment if you do not have a physical address.

This content comes from a webinar, How to Mine Federal R&D Databases for Funding Opportunities, featuring Dr. Molly Schmid in partnership with the SBDC @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation and University Lab Partners.

📽️ Watch the full webinar here.

Dr. Schmid brings more than 20 years of experience in the life science and small business technology industries and has held a variety of impressive leadership roles in bioinformatics, pharmaceuticals and health technologies, as well as the entrepreneurial space. She has also published several patents and publications. She was Vice President of Life and Health Technologies at ieCrowd, a global community of innovators where she coached Olfactor Laboratories, Inc. staff to transform novel vector control products into commercially viable technologies.

Be sure to subscribe to the ULP YouTube Channel to never miss another webinar, and connect with us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop!


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