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From Struggling Writer to Thriving Grant Writing Business: Why I Built My Own Grant Writing FIRM!

If you have been following the KeepYourEquity.co Youtube Channel, social media feeds, or even reading this blog for a while, you will know that I’m a professional grant writer and that I’ve been doing this for a bit over 10 years. One of the questions I always get asked is, “How did you get into grant writing?” I figure it is about time to answer that!


So today, I’m going to share my story on how I got started in grant writing for start-ups and why I started my grant writing firm. And if you stick around, in next week’s post I’m going to walk you through how you can get started on this career path, too, along with the pros and cons of being a professional SBIR grant writer!


First, if you are new here, let me introduce myself. I'm Stacy Chin from KeepYourEquity.co, and our mission is to help start-ups and businesses secure grant funding. We specialize in helping science and tech start-ups secure non-dilutive funding from federal programs such as the SBIR and STTR which you can learn about here. We also consult with lots of other private and public businesses in healthcare, tech, energy, and military as well as NGOs to help them secure grant funding to support projects that would make a huge impact to solve some of today’s biggest global challenges.


Now that’s out of the way, let the story begin!


The Beginning Days


I have to admit, it wasn’t my dream to become a grant writer. In fact, I used to hate writing during my school days which was why I always leaned more toward the sciences. As it turns out, the joke was on me because as I went and progressed through college and grad school, I ended up writing A LOT.


I completed my PhD in Boston and I was fortunate to work under a professor who wrote grants like crazy and emphasized the importance of teaching his grad students how to put together a strong research grant application, like those required for National Science Foundation opportunities or the National Institute of Health’s R01 grants.


At first, I HATED it! Writing grants was stressful, it took so much time and mental energy, and there were what seemed like a ton of things to include when preparing an application. Once you submit a grant, you are just simply EXAHUSTED. But you know what the worst part was? All of my grants kept getting rejected! This made me even more frustrated and spent because all the time and energy I spent preparing these grant applications seemed to be for nothing!


A Startup Opportunity


During my third year of grad school, I had the opportunity to spin out a start-up from one of my research projects. Now to fund that start-up as a technical founder, what did I do? I wrote grants. But keep in mind at this point, I had never submitted a grant application that ended in award so you can imagine how daunting it was. This project was also my first time being exposed to the SBIR and STTR programs and pursuing these types of funding opportunities.


Luckily, my PI was experienced in securing SBIR funding for start-ups and gratefully mentored me through the entire process.


As I was preparing my first application for my new startup, I remembered, “Oh my gosh, these applications are so long. This is HORRIBLE.” But, as I continued writing more and more grants during my grad school days for my big idea and more, I was able to slowly improve my craft and started to see the fruits of my labor.


First Success


Throughout the next couple of years, as I learned more about business, commercialization, and start-up, my team and I were able to secure about $1.5M of non-dilutive grant funding through the Phase I and Phase II SBIR program along with other local, state, and matching grant opportunities and foundations.


This grant funding was so critical for us, especially as an early-stage start-up. Not only did the funds enable us to pursue more research and development efforts to overcome our technical and go-to-market hurdles, but getting these competitive grants gave us the validation and credibility that others supported our idea on how to solve a significant market and clinical need. That validation was also especially helpful when attracting talent, other investors, and partnerships.


For a medical device start-up, $1.5M may not seem like a lot of money, but this funding helped us to pursue prototyping, preliminary animal safety testing, early manufacturing pilots, and eventually human feasibility trials. And as an early-stage company, securing non-dilutive funding through grants enabled us to keep all of our equity in the company instead of giving a large chuck away to investors in exchange for funding.


Fundraising with grants for high-tech start-ups is a very common strategy anyway because investors are usually not interested in investing unless you are further along to de-risk some of your early-stage hurdles.


Reflecting


Looking back, I was so fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn how to write grants because this is one of the most important skills that any research scientist should learn how in my opinion.


Through grant writing, not only do you learn how to write grants, but you also learn how to communicate complex scientific ideas to different audiences, master compelling storytelling, become a strong writer, build up resilience to handle rejection, and how to fundraise and convince reviewers why they should invest in your idea.


So this is a PSA to all of you scientists and engineers out there– Learn how to write grant proposals because the skillsets you learn open up so many different career options!


The Turning Point


After writing dozens of SBIR grants for my start-up and actually seeing the returns of my efforts, I actually started to like the process quite a lot! I started thinking, “Hey, writing that wasn’t too bad.”


I’ve always been curious about the start-up world and I went into research wanting to learn how to translate ideas into the commercial market. From my experience, an SBIR grant writer brings all those intersections together. It is a delicate combination of writing, innovation, research, and commercialization. And for me as an SBIR awardee and serving as the PI for these projects, I had and still have a great appreciation of the impact the SBIR funding program had on my start-up and even on myself for my professional and personal growth!


The Start of KeepYourEquity.Co


Throughout the years I’ve also attended dozens of networking events and I’ve met lots of aspiring founders who were developing technologies and solutions in healthcare, the environment, the military and so much more.


Many of these founders were looking for funding opportunities to support their own start-ups as well. They’ve shared the same frustrations with me that investors are hesitant to invest because they were either too early, or they were looking to de-risk some of their early technical hurdles. But to do so, they needed money! And in these situations, pursuing federal grants is an excellent way to get funding to address these early gaps.


However, I’ve learned that several of these founders were just simply not aware of the funding opportunities available or the SBIR/STTR program. Others have shared they were eager to pursue these opportunities but have no idea how to get started. And then there were other Founders who told me they tried reviewing the 100-page solicitations, which are the directions on how to go about the grant, and got completely overwhelmed.


It was through these conversations, that I decided to start KeepYourEquity.co. I set out with the goal to provide the necessary support for small businesses and start-ups to secure non-dilutive grant funding. And today, we continue to do just that!


Where We Are Today


Along the way, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many aspiring founders.


For example, I have clients developing innovations in digital health technologies and medical devices to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to vulnerable patient populations.


Others are developing new strategies to address mental health crises by improving methods for diagnosis.


Another is developing new cancer therapeutics or ways to address the opioid crisis.


I also have clients developing clean tech innovations by improving battery and energy storage technologies.


And then I have other clients developing military-based innovations to improve sensor devices, drone technologies, asset monitoring, and strategies to reduce casualties in warfare.


The list goes on and all of them inspire me every day!


I’m sure you can imagine, all of these clients have such different technical challenges to overcome and different ways to bring these innovations to market. So when working with them, it is a lot of fun to collaborate and strategize how to prepare a strong grant application with a convincing narrative that would help them to secure grant funding.


At the time of this video, we’ve helped clients across the US secure over $10M of non-dilutive funding to develop innovations for some of the world’s biggest problems. It is always a pleasure to celebrate our clients’ successes and in the future, I look forward to seeing more of the innovative ideas we get the honor of helping with!


Final Thoughts


Thank you for letting me share my story! I hope you found it interesting and if you would like to dive into the pros and cons of grant writing and how you can get started in this profession yourself, come back for next week’s post! I would also love to know if you would like more of these types of articles. Let me know in the comments below!


And as always, make sure to check out our website at KeepYourEquity.co for resources and advice to help you and your start-up secure SBIR funding. Thank you again for joining me today!

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