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Phase I vs. Phase II: How Does The Structure of My Team Differ?

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Today let’s talk about how you should structure your team if you are applying for a Phase I or a Phase II SBIR grant.

When preparing an SBIR application, one of the top thing’s reviewers are evaluating will be the background and experience of you and your team. This is something that you do not want to take lightly since it’s a big component that will impact your review score that determines whether you get awarded.

From my experience in consulting over a hundred start-ups on their SBIR strategy, one of the top questions I get from Principal Investigators is, “Who do I include as the senior key personnel for my team?”

And my answer to them – it really depends on a couple of different factors.

1 – Which federal agency are you applying for?

2 – What are you proposing in your SBIR application?

3 – Are you applying for Phase I or Phase II?

So in this article, I’m going to break down 4 different ways I’ve advised my clients to structure their teams for SBIR applications. Although what I am going to share can be applied across multiple federal agencies with SBIR programs, I’ll specifically focus on the NIH and NSF.

Link Short

Tip #1 - Figure out the specific goals or technical objectives of your SBIR application

As an SBIR reviewer myself, I am asking the following question when evaluating an SBIR application, “Does the Principal Investigator and the senior personnel on their team have all of the necessary skills and expertise to carry out their proposal?”

So, the best way to go about that is to first lay out what are you going to propose in your SBIR application by breaking them up into specific goals or technical objectives. Next, you want to ask yourself, “What skillsets or expertise do I need to ensure we can be successful in meeting these SBIR goals and objectives?”

To give you an example, if you are a small molecule cancer therapeutics company, reviewers are going to be looking to see whether you have skilled advisors in the drug delivery space or the appropriate chemists to make your small molecule. If you are doing a clinical trial, do you have key personnel on your team that can carry out the study or helps to conduct biostatistical analyses on the data you collected?

These are the kinds of details you should consider before you start preparing bio-sketches for everyone on your team. Make sure you outline what you want to approach first and then strategically choose the right key personnel on the team to support those objectives.

Identifying the appropriate key personnel with past experiences and successes that are aligned with what you want to propose, helps gives reviewers the confidence and credibility that you have all the necessary resources, skillsets, and expertise to give you the best chances of success.

Tip #2 - Your team for Phase I and Phase II should be unique

Building off of the previous tip, you’ll need to structure your team depending on whether you are pursuing a Phase I or a Phase II SBIR application. If you want to learn more about the differences between Phase I and Phase II, you can check out this previous video here.

Typically a Phase I SBIR application is focused on establishing the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R&D efforts. So that means, start-ups are typically trying to develop a proof-of-concept, a beta prototype of innovation, or demonstrate their research idea is better than what’s already out there. Therefore, the Principal Investigator and their team is usually heavily composed of key personnel with technical and clinical expertise.

Now in Phase II, your goal is to continue the R&D efforts initiated in the Phase I award and to start positioning your innovation toward commercial readiness. This means start-ups are usually proposing studies such as large multi-site clinical trials, manufacturing, scalability, regulatory aspects, or conducting pilot studies.

Since these objectives are more commercial-heavy than those in Phase I, a start-up might include senior personnel with expertise in business development, launching commercial products, regulatory, manufacturing, and others rather than those with clinical expertise.

When I work with my clients that already have Phase I SBIR awards, it is really important that we transition their clinical or technical-heavy Phase I team toward one that can position them for commercial success in the Phase II journey.

Tip #3 - Your team should have different, yet complementary, skillsets and expertise

As the Principal Investigator, in your personal bio-sketch, you should highlight only your own expertise, experience, and past accomplishments. Then when preparing your team member’s bio-sketches, you want to highlight their skill sets that are different and unique, but also complementary to yours.

So for example, since I am a polymer chemist by training, my bio-sketch should emphasize my research experience, publications, and patents for an SBIR Phase I application. In this situation, there might be no value added if I included bio-sketches of 4 other polymer chemists that can do the same thing! Instead, I may consider highlighting someone else’s skillsets in biomedical engineering, medical devices, or manufacturing depending on what I want to propose in my application.

Ensuring that the other senior key personnel on your team have different but complementary skillsets to the PI offers a competitive advantage to your SBIR application.

Tip #4 - Make you and your team members shine through the individual bio-sketches

Once you have identified what you want to propose in your SBIR application along with the appropriate team members based on their skill sets, the next thing you want to do is to draft everyone’s bio-sketches.

These bio-sketches are mandatory documents that you should include in both your Phase I and Phase II applications that highlight the PI’s background and expertise along with that of each of the key personnel on your team.

When preparing the bio-sketch, you will include information such as your name, company role, education, previous work history, honors and awards, publication history, as well as any other achievements. If you prepare an NIH bio-sketch, you will also include a hearty half-page bio written in the first person.

You’ll want to spend time carefully crafting this since reviewers will be reading it to evaluate whether each of the key personnel would be the right fit to carry out the proposal.

Depending on the agency you are applying for, there might be different bio-sketch templates and structures to consider so make sure you read the solicitation carefully to know how to go about them. To get you started, here’s a link to the standard NIH template and example, as well as one for NSF.

Also, make a note of the format, font size, and structure of the bio-sketch template. If you don’t follow those rules, the agency might ding your application and you may even be disqualified for review— we definitely don’t want that!

Well, that wraps up the best ways to structure your team for an SBIR application that I’ve found as an SBIR/STTR consultant and reviewer. I hope you find the tips and tricks in this article to be helpful so that you can avoid simple mistakes that decrease your chances of being awarded.

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