Submitting an SBIR: Your affiliation with a University

CTC hears from frustrated clients about barriers and challenges in submitting an SBIR while still being faculty or student at a Wisconsin research institution or university.  Comparing allowable federal SBIR approaches vs campus policy can sometimes be frustrating.  Topics like joint PI status at the company/university, use of animal protocols, and utilizing campus resources can be confusing and frustrating as you race to prepare your competitive proposal. 

Over the last year, CTC interviewed a number of campus contacts at research institutions across the state.  Below we highlight some key learnings that may help you better leverage conversations with your campus contacts.

Mixed Jargon: The use of principal investigator (PI) can be a sticky point.  A common SBIR scenario is to have the company collaborate with the university lab where the idea was first conceived. In this case, the University PI may be leading significant, collaborative research alongside the company, AKA sponsored research.  When considering a collaborative relationship with your university partner, try to avoid the use of PI and focus on how a sponsored research agreement and subaward is established. 

Policies: In other instances, the University PI could also be the Company PI (i.e. STTR applicants). In such a scenario, the research institution may be concerned about financial interests and impacts on graduate training and research credibility. STTR (and SBIR) applicants need to be aware of their institutions Financial Conflict of Interest (COI) policy. This includes establishing a Management Plan that can delineate how to objectively manage your University research and support trainees.  Reach out early to your COI office to understand concerns and tasks to overcome objections.

Timing: A missed opportunity in every aspect of your competitive application is not starting early enough. This includes conversations with key University collaborators. Many departments interviewed highlighted processes to overcome for sponsored research including IRB and IACUC. In some cases, frustrations are due, in part, to ill-timed conversations in navigating policies. While your startup is moving fast, the institution may not. Clients working early with the University found workarounds for finding a qualified company PI, negotiating  use of campus resources via SBIR subawards and fees, and, in some cases, sparked new policies to favor the next University spinout.

Submitting an SBIR requires a lot of moving parts. While situtaions and institution policies differ, we hope the above can help as you navigate conversations. to discuss your plans and let us help you to strategize key conversations with your research institution in submitting an SBIR/STTR. 

- Dr. Idella Yamben