Patrick J. Rousche, Ph.D.
Founding Director of Ensis Scientific Consulting
Adjunct Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Neurosurgery
University of Illinois, Chicago

“Commercializing Academic Research: What students and faculty in life science/engineering need to know about the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR).”

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program was started in 1982 as a way for the US government to foster technological innovations in the marketplace. Aimed at small businesses, more than $2.5B is allocated each year in support of this mission (>$600M to NIH alone). Uniquely, unlike traditional venture capital used to bolster start‐ups, SBIR monies come with no payback requirement and no need to relinquish any part of company ownership. Businesses compete for this money in a competitive grant application process with success rates that range from 15% – 40%. Grants are reviewed by expert panels dominated by academics.

In this presentation, I will present an overview of the SBIR program and the SBIR grant review process. I will review the two-stage structure of the program (Phase I = $150,000, Phase II =$1M) and detail the advantages academics have in competing for SBIRs. The talk will include tips for positioning university technologies into start- up companies that are attractive to SBIR review panels. The program is particularly attractive and relevant to students and post-docs with research ideas and relevant expertise. Indeed, SBIR regulations require the PI to be employed 51% with the technology company and hence, faculty members are typically ineligible. A sister program, STTR, demands a university partner and faculty are eligible as PIs. Working together with advanced students/post-docs and great ideas/pilot data, many faculty are in a prime position to write attractive and strong SBIR/STTR proposals.