September 1, 2010          
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To My SBIR Clients and Friends,

Our special Newsletter topic for September is:

Letters of Support

When you submit an SBIR proposal to any of the Agencies for funding, letters of support can significantly enhance your position and make your application more attractive to the reviewers.  Basically they serve to validate your significance and reduce the risk.

There are four variations of letters of support:

  1. Letters from consultants committing to provide advisory services (hours of effort at an agreed upon rate) for your project

  2. Letters from collaborators committing to provide needed resources (e.g., equipment, laboratory facilities, testing, computer time, etc.) for your project, either for a specified cost or pro-bono.

  3. Letters from endorsers of the technology development.

  4. Letters from a future customer, expressing eagerness for you to develop a product or capability that they will be pleased to acquire.

Letters from consultants or collaborators support your budget, and may actually be required by the funding agency.  Letters from endorsers provide outside validation of the importance of your work. Letters from future customers support your commercialization plan (if that's a component of the proposal).

It is recommended that you offer to draft a letter of support for each of your consultants and collaborators to ensure that all deadlines are met.  Letters from endorsers or future customers tend to be quite unique, and it might not be possible to draft a letter for them (don't appear to be "putting words in their mouth").  Do convey the need to have them support your contention that there will be a market for your developing product.

By providing a draft letter of support, you ensure two things:

  1. That the letter of support will contain all of the information you need
  2. That you will get the letter back from your supporter in a timely fashion (assuming you give them enough lead time! We suggest 2-3 weeks)

Drafting your own letters of support also serves another important purpose. It can give both parties an early warning of unrealistic expectations. It is a vehicle for negotiating exactly what services, equipment, or expertise will be provided to support your work.

The goals of a letter of support from a future customer are to:

  • Support your business model that there will be a market for what's being developed

  • Provide evidence of the "market pull" for the evolving product

  • Convey enthusiasm for the work

  • Lend credibility to your proposal

The goals of a letter of support for a consultant or collaborator are to:

  • Specify what the consultant/collaborator will contribute to the research
  • Convince the reviewer that the consultant/collaborator will fulfill the request
  • Convey enthusiasm for the work
  • Lend credibility to your proposal

As long as your letter demonstrates specifically what your collaborator or consultant will be contributing to the project, there is no right or wrong way to draft a strong letter of support.

NOTE:  I do work with my clients with helping draft these letters.  They are very important and can make the difference in a reviewer's conclusions on the viability of a proposed project.

NSF OPENS FALL SBIR SOLICITATION

On Monday, the NSF announced their Fall SBIR Solicitation via their List-Serv email mechanism.  The document number is NSF10607.

Among all of the agencies, the NSF is quite unique in that the scope and breadth of their SBIR project interests is the widest.  They also have a very strong focus on the commercialization potential of your technology.  In fact, the NSF SBIR Program likes to think of itself as the Federal Government's "venture capital" arm!  So be prepared to express your commercialization strategy in more detail than for any other agency! 

They also are unique in that they strongly suggest you prepare a 2-3 page Executive Summary of your project and submit it to the appropriate Program Officer for pre-proposal screening.  The response you get (I like to characterize it as a green/yellow/red flag) will determine whether you should proceed with a full proposal submission.  (And, yes, I do help my clients prepare these.)

Here is the link to the NSF's SBIR Solicitation with full proposal preparation requirements:
http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2010/nsf10607/nsf10607.htm

There are four Priority Areas:

  1. Biotechnology and Chemical Technologies (BC)
  2. Education Applications (EA)
  3. Information and Communication Technologies (IC)
  4. Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials, and Manufacturing (NM)

Links to their descriptions are on Page 4 of the solicitation. Proposal deadline is December 3rd.

There are several other Agencies with currently open SBIR and STTR solicitations.  Your best source for information and schedules is Rick Shindell's SBIR Gateway.  A shortcut URL is SBIRgateway.com.

And, don't forget about the DOD sponsored Beyond Phase II Conference in San Antonio in September, and the Fall 2010 SBIR National Conference in Oklahoma City in November.  Hopefully I'll see you there!

Best regards,

Fred Patterson

The SBIR Coach

Read my latest Opinion Column ("Sometimes it Takes a Rocket Scientist") at www.SBIRplaybook.com.

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