Wouldn't it be great to be a successful scientist entrepreneur like George Eastman, founder of Kodak, or Thomas Edison?
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After all, you're incredibly smart. Shouldn't you therefore be rich too?
Engineers and scientists who intend to launch a technology startup should first and foremost become familiar with the various grant programs that can provide startup funding.
In many cases, these grants have few or no strings attached. Whereas equity investors come with expectations of a return on investment and debt financing expects to be paid back in full with interest, many grants have no payback requirements.
This makes them especially attractive to scientist entrepreneurs who are eager to get out of the labs and set off on their path to greatness in the business world.
Fortunately, many scientists and academics are already very familiar with grantwriting.
But there are some nuances to grantwriting sources for entrepreneurial ventures.
SBIR grants and STTR grants, for example, are quite different from traditional university research grants.
You can be a great success at writing university research grants and be a horrible failure writing SBIR/STTR grants.
As you probably know, the purpose of the SBIR and STTR grant programs is to support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of federal research funds.
The work funded by these grants is intended to address critical American priorities and help build a strong American economy. Furthermore, the grants are intended to increase the private sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal R&D programs.
So, how can you increase your odds of getting a precious grant? Here are some grantwriting tips that should be very helpful.
Apply for Grants Early and Often
It can take a long time to get good at the grant process so you should start writing grants just after forming your company. This funding is much more attractive than debt or equity financing. If you do get an SBIR grant, it can fund you through important milestones that will improve your chances of raising money from other investors.
It's Not Just About Science
Grants are evaluated based on technical merit, the firm's qualifications and the commercial potential / societal benefit. If you exclusively focus on science, you may get high marks for technical merit but fall short on the other two evaluation criteria. So, remember, that your grantwriting cannot just be about the science.
Read Grant Requirements Closely
Failure to read the instructions closely is what causes many first-time grant applicants to fail. The agencies are very serious about the grant rules. Not following the rules and instructions to the letter may lead to your not getting a grant, even if you are truly deserving.
Start Well in Advance of Deadline Dates
Give yourself plenty of time to write the grant proposal. Write it, wait, review it, rewrite, give to someone else to review, rewrite based on their feedback and slowly bring it to closure. If you rush to write a grant proposal, the agencies may in turn rush to tell you didn't get the grant.
Get Help from Successful Grant Writers
Grant writing is formulaic. Certain people already know the formula. I was successful in my first attempt to write an SBIR grant but only because I was working at a company that had already successfully written several SBIR grants. If this is your first time, find somebody who has "been there, done that."
Review Winning Grants from Previous Years
Educate yourself on what a successful grant application looks like. Review grant applications from other companies if you can get them and see exactly how it's done.
Understand How the Grant Money Can and Cannot Be Used
Grants are very specific about what the money can be used for. Make sure you fully understand the limitations of the grant. For example, a grant typically cannot be used to fund marketing expenses.
Plan to Fail
You have to have a Plan B. If you don't get the grant, don't let it squash your entrepreneurial dreams. Pursue alternative funding sources while you are pursuing grant money.