Public-Private Partnerships Help Entrepreneurs Develop Innovative Ideas


It is well known that the NIH funds biomedical research at research institutions, big and small, across the country. We also have an active small business community, and since the early 1980s, NIH has invested more than $5 billion in research and development performed by small businesses. Recently, we awarded $36M in grants for two Recovery Act opportunities targeted at small businesses and for-profit organizations.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program provides small businesses the opportunity to pursue innovative projects with commercial potential. Small business grantees help further the NIH mission of pursuing fundamental knowledge to extend healthy life and reducing the burdens of illness. They do this by developing commercial products and services that address the needs of the public’s health, including early-stage drug development, development of medical devices and diagnostics, and dissemination of health-related instructional material. Importantly, just like many of our other research projects, most ideas are investigator-initiated and undergo the same rigorous peer review process. The Sonicare® toothbrush and the Intralase™ procedure (used during some vision correction surgeries) are two success stories of many that resulted in part from an NIH small business grant.

Several independent and internal evaluations have found that approximately 50% of SBIR projects reach the marketplace. Interested in seeing our companies succeed even further, we have created a commercialization assistance program to help companies traverse what is often called the “valley of death” as they move their technology from the laboratory to the marketplace. The commercialization assistance program, now in its 6th year, provides expertise to help companies with business planning and commercialization strategies, as well as providing an opportunity for small businesses to present their technology to potential investors and strategic partners.

For investigators interested in transitioning a technology to the development phase and shifting their career at the same time, we have recently released the Small Businesses Helping Investigators Fuel the Translation of Scientific Discoveries (SHIFT) opportunity. The investigator, primarily employed by an institution at the time of application, shifts their responsibilities, resulting in primary employment at the small business by the start of the award.

The SBIR/STTR program is currently ungoing Congressional reauthorization. I look forward to reauthorization of the program and seeing what contributions these innovative American businesses make in the future.