The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is home to NIH, FDA and CDC. The NIH is the largest of those agencies and it offers three distinct kinds of solicitations for the SBIR/STTR program.
- Omnibus Solicitation
- Special Solicitations
- Contract Solicitation
Each solicitation offers a unique set of benefits and drawbacks. The approach you choose will depend largely on the design of your project, the budget size, the area of focus and the time of year you are considering a submission.
This is the general solicitation that includes topics from 23 NIH Institutes and Centers. The areas of interest listed (organized by each specific Institute or Center) in the Omnibus are very broad in nature. These topics are designed to provide guidance to investigators related to areas of interest, but investigators design the approach and specific focus of their project. The Omnibus is issued once a year and topics change very little from year to year. Proposals submitted in response to the Omnibus use the standard due dates of April 5, September 5, and January 5; follow general budgetary limitations and standard project periods (i.e. 6 months, 1 year, etc.).
Special solicitations are offered either by a single Institute or Center or as a collaboration among several Institutes and Centers. They may follow standard due dates (April 5, September 5 and January 5) or they may have their own unique due dates. Most expire, although expiration dates may be as far out at five+ years. They often have their own unique budget limitations and sometimes non-traditional project periods (i.e., 1 year, 18 months, etc.). In addition, they are usually targeted to a specific issue or targeted area of research. Special solicitations will indicate in their title if they allow clinical trial applications (some do not).
There are several benefits to applying to a special solicitation, but also some potential limitations. Some things to consider when deciding between Omnibus and Special Solicitation are:
- Budget Limitations: Give consideration to how much money is needed to complete the project and the limitations of the Special Solicitation budget.
- Project Period: The standard project period for an SBIR Phase I is 6 months; STTR is 12 months. Many special solicitations allow longer project periods.
- Expiration Date of the Special Solicitation: Many proposals to NIH must be submitted more than once to achieve award and if the Special Solicitation has expired prior to the resubmission, the application cannot be resubmitted.
In addition, some Special Solicitations will include review by special review panels instead of the traditional standing SBIR/STTR review panels. This may provide an advantage for some applications as it may provide access to reviewers who have a more in-depth and specialized understanding of the proposed technology and market.
The NIH contract solicitation is offered once a year and includes very specific topics. Contracting opportunities with the Federal government follow a very specific and formal process, which is very different from the grant process. Generally speaking, NIH program officers are very helpful and friendly people. But, during the contracting process, contact is strictly prohibited. Therefore, it is critical you reach out early and get clarification on questions and approach prior to the open contract period. A great way to identify appropriate program manager contacts is by searching expired contract solicitations to view topics and contact information. Contract topics have varied budget limitations (read each topic carefully). All contact proposals are due on the same date (provided in the solicitation), which is not associated with the standard due dates.
One of the best ways to determine the most strategy pathway for submission is to discuss your options with the appropriate program manager at NIH. Find an Institute or Center that focuses on your area of research and development and send them an email to learn more about the special opportunities.