This video was written, produced, and narrated by our own VP, Ayal Ronen. Ayal worked closely with Wander productions to make this excellent introductory video come to light.
The purpose of this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is to encourage applications to the newly authorized Direct-to-Phase II SBIR grant mechanism. Applications are invited from eligible United States small business concerns (SBCs) that have demonstrated the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the prototype stage of developing a biomedical technology that has commercial potential, R&D that is characteristic of Phase-I (R43) SBIR projects. The Direct-to-Phase II grant mechanism is intended to facilitate SBIR-type R&D, to expand R&D opportunities for applicant small business concerns (SBCs), and to enhance the pace of technology development and commercialization.
read more: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-14-088.html
Meet FreeMind at the Partnership in Clinical trials event in Las Vegas on March 30th to discuss sources of funding able to fund your clinical trial!
For more than 22 years, Partnerships has been a cornerstone for thousands of clinical executives to partner, learn, and innovate. This coming year, we’re taking PCT to a whole new level. Watch and let Partnerships be your main destination for productivity, meetings, and ideation in 2014.
In 2013 NIH alone awarded some $10B to clinical studies and roughly $3.5B to clinical trials, from Phase I through Phase III.
The Fiscal Year 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations Act will fund some$580,000,000 through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).
Programs range from Oncology, ALS, Autism, through MS, Orthopedic research and more.
Program Announcements will be issued during 2014, Stay Tuned!
The FreeMind Group has extensive experience in assisting clients in completing and winning such complex and competitive proposals. Through our methodical and proven professional process we will guide your efforts through to submission and subsequent award.
Peer reviewed programs managed by the Department of Defense office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP):
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Research Program – $7.5 million
- Autism Research Program – $6.0 million
- Bone Marrow Failure Research Program – $3.2 million
- Breast Cancer Research Program – $120.0 million
- Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Research Program – $3.2 million
- Gulf War Illness Research Program – $20.0 million
- Lung Cancer Research Program – $10.5 million
- Multiple Sclerosis Research Program – $5.0 million
- Neurofibromatosis Research Program – $15.0 million
- Ovarian Cancer Research Program – $20.0 million
- Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program – $25.0 million
- Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program – $200.0 million
- Peer Reviewed Orthopaedic Research Program – $30.0 million
- Prostate Cancer Research Program – $80.0 million
- Spinal Cord Injury Research Program – $30.0 million
- Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Program – $6.0 million
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – October 14, 2013
CEOCFO: Mr. May-Ron, what is the vision and concept at FreeMind Group?
Mr. May-Ron: What we are trying to do is just one thing. Within the life science industry there are three main sources of funding globally as well as the US. One is private investments, the VC (Venture Capital) community and Angel Investors. Then there is the public market with the IPOs. However, the largest source of funding available to support research in the life sciences are really the non-dilutive sources. That would be the government to a great extent, with about $50 billion awarded every year in the United States from non-dilutive sources to support Research and Development. The truth is that this world is a bit misunderstood. Companies, Universities, Researchers and CEOs do not really know what is available. They do not even know how to approach and effectively get funding that they could win. It is completely non-dilutive, they pay nothing for it, no shares and that is exactly what we are trying to do. We want to help our clients get as much money as possible to support the research and development in the life sciences from such non-dilutive sources.
CEOCFO: What are some of the more simple concepts in how you go about getting funding and what might be a couple of things that FreeMind Group understands that others might not?
Mr. May-Ron: There are no magic tricks or great knowledge that we posses or special relationships. It has to do with a great deal of work. The one major factor is to understand that this must be taken seriously. Many turn automatically to the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Program, which is a good program, but not necessarily the best one available. It is only 2.5% of the funding available. However, if they would know about the possibility of getting an awards from the SBIR program as well as other mechanisms to support some of their research they could increase relevant sources of funding. Most CEOs take a onetime approach, try to submit a single application and give it a chance. Usually they would not win on the first go because it does take time and an effort, but they must not give up. After fourteen years in business there are things that we have come to know. For example, taking a systematic, multi-submission, strategic approach, where you identify on a regular basis all of the different funding sources. Then make sure to match the strategic scientific needs of the company to those funding opportunities that are relevant for you in every direction that are relevant to you, from every source possible, and you can submit on a regular systematic basis. With that approach, you can increase significantly your chances of success and create a real stream of funding for your organization. A long-term systematic approach will force you to look at the Phase 2 while you write the Phase 1, because you understand that it is a longer-term process. You could also take into account other mechanisms such as an RO1 or an Army Award; it really does not matter. You need to understand every possible funding sources available and then allocate resources to get those on a systematic basis.
CEOCFO: When you are matching up people who need money and sources of money, how much is technology or how much is experience? What is the process?
Mr. May-Ron: There are two processes and that reflects the way that we are structured here at FreeMind Group. We have 40 full time employees and we are broken into two groups. A smaller group of Analysts all with PHDs, with great experience writing their own applications. Then a larger group of writers and managers who do not have PHDs, but rather Masters degrees in Life Science and MBAs, so they posses understanding of science and the tools to express and present science in a specific way. When we start working with any client, whether it is a big pharma or small start-up, large Ivy League University or independent small research institution, we start with a strategic assessment, a series of conference calls or video conferences, aimed at fully understanding our clients’ scientific strategies. We want to find out what exactly do they plan on doing and what are the milestones that they want to go through in the next 18 to 24 months. Based on that our analysts will identify every funding opportunity possible, both through the solicited sources, because about 20% to 25% of all awards are solicited and from unsolicited sources. In which case we will approach program officers and ask for their feedback on specific projects. Based on all of that information we can then present our clients with two things. Number one, is a long list of opportunities or a map of different funding sources and opportunities; very specific ones. That would include deadlines, specific dates, how much money they can get out of these specific opportunities, what is the scientific scope that we can do and what is our assessment as to their chances of being successful and awarded. Then they can choose out of these opportunities that fit their strategy. The number two thing that we will give them is a long-term multi-submission strategy. What do our analysts believe should be the path and which application should we submit first. That is the first process. Then at that point we will strategize for each specific application, which mechanism to use, how much money to ask for, what specific aim to focus on, what should be the research design and collaborators. Then we will generate a template for the application, which will be the basis for the interaction between our writing team and our clients. We will write the application together, in a joint writing process, through a ping-pong of write and rewrite. Up to the point of submission we will cover every aspect of it: scientific, clinical, financial, administrative and resources. Every aspect of the application we will be able to cover and relate both the needs of the funding institute that we discussed earlier and the strategy of the application itself and its focus on the company needs. In this way we are trying to match not only the specific needs but also the presentation of science to the specific opportunity and institute that may give it the funding and to the needs of the company.
CEOCFO: When you are speaking with the CEO of a company; it may be a smaller one where funds may be tight; what is the “aha” moment when they understand that they should be spending dollars to get more potential funding?
Mr. May-Ron: The “aha” moment occurs when you tell them that within the past three years, each and every year NIH and DoD have invested or awarded more money to life science companies, compared to the entire VC community. When you understand that NIH and DoD give more money than the VC community. However, it is just as hard, it is not easy, but it is a very large sum of money that is available. That is the point that they realize that this is something should be taken seriously.
CEOCFO: Why do you think that so many people in the research and development community have not realized this?
Mr. May-Ron: It is a misperception that we have been fighting against for many years. It is derived from their academic backgrounds. Many researchers leave academia not to deal any more with writing grants and applications. There were more easier ways of getting funding, but the atmosphere and market has changed. It is not as easy to get funding from VCs anymore. They do not really present that great opportunity that they used to present. Individual angel investors do not really get there. At the same time, NIH and DoD are taking a huge leap towards industry. Today there is a great deal more money directed towards translational and clinical programs; not only basic research. Therefore, there is a gap of understanding of the needs, purpose and interests of these funding sources and how they may relate to the company’s needs. Many researchers and CEOs that I speak with, when I tell them that they can apply for an RO1, they think that it is just for Universities. However, if you go through the NIH website and look up the numbers you will see that many companies have won RO1s and R21s.
CEOCFO: How do you reach perspective clients?
Mr. May-Ron: We reach perspective clients mainly through the many activities that we do, such as educational work. We just held a weekly summer school. A series webinars during July and August, where we had about 100 to 200 attendees every week dealing with different aspects of approaching identifying and writing applications. It is all free. We have our annual event that we conduct adjacent to the JP Morgan event in January in San Francisco. This coming January will be the 9th annual event that we hold. Every year we have great speakers and workshops that we conduct free of charge. Beyond that we attend conferences and we meet people. These are standard ways of getting in front of people.
CEOCFO: Is there much competition or any companies that specialize the way that you do?
Mr. May-Ron: There are two different levels. When you talk about academia the main competition is internal, because every university has a grants office. They do not necessarily do what we do, and very few do that, but we work with many universities as well as many academic research institutes. We work together with these grants offices, but in theory they do present a competition. When you go into the industry mainly one can find many individual consultants focusing mainly on the SBIR Program; nothing beyond that and definitely no one our size. Therefore, there is a little bit of competition, but not very significant.
CEOCFO: You have an office in Israel; is the international arena a growing area for you?
Mr. May-Ron: About 15% to 20% of our work today is with non-American clients, such as in Germany, Austria, Spain, France, the UK. All over Europe. In fact, I will be in Vienna in November. We also have clients in Canada and Israel as well as Australia and Singapore. Therefore, we have many international clients and the key issue is the fact that most of the American non-dilutive sources programs are not discriminating against non-Americans winning. Hence, it is just as hard and very competitive. It is difficult to get the funding. Being a non-American company such as a Canadian company is not going to prevent you from winning. The question is going to be scientific. For those companies and universities around the world, this is a great achievement. Not only financially to get funding from the NIH, but also the recognition, approved and awarded by the top researchers and institutes in the world. That is of great significance for the money, but not only the money. With exception to the SBIR Program, these are only for Americans. Most of the other mechanisms will allow non-Americans.
CEOCFO: Are there concerns over funding with the US government crisis looming?
Mr. May-Ron: It is a concern, but it is not a major one. I do not think anything is dramatically different from what we experienced October 2012. There were government shut downs under previous administrations, so there is nothing amazingly new. If we look at the budget itself, it is quite evident that there has not been any major increases in NIH and DoD in life science research budget on the one hand. But on the other hand there has not been any major cutoffs either. For the individual company asking for example a $2 million award for whatever specific research you need to conduct, whether the NIH will have a budget of $30.9 billion or $29.7 billion will not make that much of a difference for the particular application. Therefore, there should not be a direct impact. However, CEOs should not just look into one source of funding; dilutive and non-dilutive funding to complement each other and get as much funding for the organization as they could.
CEOCFO: The VC community tends to be cyclical not just the amounts of money; certain conditions or areas are in favor and other times are not. Do you find the same situation in the grant area?
Mr. May-Ron: They are definitely broader. You have funding going to support anything that is remotely life sciences oriented from healthcare IT to nursing or behavioral research, development new technologies and medical devices to a new treatment for cancer or flu vaccine. Basic research all the way to Phase III. The fact that NIH supports cancer research in over $6 billion every year is true, but within that great field of cancer research there are specifics and if they have funded seven such projects of a particular focus last year, they may not fund very many in that area this year. Therefore, you have to be aware of all of these facts. It is harder because while the VCs will shift altogether towards one end, here you would have specific institutes and specific mechanisms that will make those shifts. Sometimes it may go in opposite directions. Therefore, you need to approach these organizations and fully understand their interests and their focus, so that you can address those issues. It is just like any other selling proposition. Without knowing the audience, it is difficult to make a sale.
CEOCFO: What should investors and people in the business community pay attention to FreeMind Group?
Mr. May-Ron: People should not necessarily pay attention to FreeMind Group. They should pay attention to non-dilutive sources of funding within the life sciences. We submit about 300 applications per year. Yes, we are large, successful and strategic and I definitely believe that we can help every client that we work with, but I am bias. If companies would accept the sources of funding that are crucial to the industry and that are the largest available part of this money, it will help the industry at large. Some will fail and some will succeed, but that is ok. But mainly people need to recognize this amazing and huge source of funding and treat it seriously.
The 2013 Galien Forum will take place at the Alexandria Center for Life Science on the morning of October 22nd, 2013, and will feature round table debates focusing on critical global healthcare issues and challenges.
The annual life science Forum is rapidly becoming a leading event for discussing issues of innovation in the industry. The Galien Forum brings together leading CEOs, biomedical experts from industry, academia and government.
4th GALIEN FORUM
Alexandria Center™ for Life Science –
450 East 29th Street, 2nd Floor
(between 1st Avenue and the East River)
New York City -7:30 AM- 4:00 PM
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently updated the SBIR and STTR programs for the upcoming December 2nd and 4th deadlines, respectively. Areas of interest cover Biological and Biomedical Technologies and are a fantastic source of funding for early-stage projects. Some $42,000,000 will be awarded through these mechanisms to roughly 250 awards.
ABOUT THE NSF
The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of about $7.0 billion (FY 2012), The NSF is a funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.
– TOPICS OF INTEREST –
BIOLOGICAL TECHNOLOGIES (BT)
BT1. Agricultural and Food Security Biotechnology. New approaches for meeting the world’s future nutritional needs. Target areas for improvement may include (but are not limited to) drought tolerance, improved nutritional value, enhanced disease resistance, and higher yield. Proposers should give consideration to technologies that enhance biodiversity, produce less carbon dioxide, and use less water and fertilizer.
BT2. Biosensors. Biosensors are sensorsthat contain a biologically-based sensing element. Proposed projects might include (but are not limited to) real-time sensors, microbial component-based sensors, sensors for monitoring fluxes of metabolites, nanobiotechnology-based sensors, biomedical sensors, and micro- or nanofluidic-based sensors. Application areas of interest may include (but are not limited to) toxicity testing, food safety, drug evaluation, environmental monitoring, and bio-prospecting. Other types of sensors should refer to the EI topic.
BT3. Life Sciences Research Tools. Developing novel technologies that will advance scientific research across the biological spectrum. This may include enabling technologies for drug discovery (high-throughput screening assays and platforms, and high-content screening assays and platforms; novel high-content screening technologies based on characterization of physical properties of cells are of high interest). Proposals should focus primarily on the development of innovative consumables, processes, and services where there is significant market opportunity.
BT4. Bioinstrumentation. The development of technology for novel or improved instrumentation primarily for biological research applications.
BT5. Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering. Using synthetic biology to engineer novel biologically-based (or inspired) functions that do not exist in nature. Proposed projects may include creating new manufacturing capability by designing microorganisms, plants, and cell-free systems for the production of novel chemicals and biomolecules. Applications may include (but are not limited to) health-care products, food ingredients, chemicals, and other biomaterials such as enzymes and bio-based polymers.
BIOMEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES (BM)
BM1. Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. Proposed projects must include new processing or manufacturing devices, components, and systems that will improve the efficiency, competitiveness, and output of the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector; that will reduce the cost, risk, and time-to-market of new pre-clinical and clinical-stage drugs and biological products; or that address major market opportunities in the developing world. Proposed projects may include transformative approaches and methods in manufacturing operations, project management, process development, process engineering, analytical development, or quality control and assurance. Proposals are strongly encouraged to address the net preservation and extension of natural resources, a reduction in the use or release of toxic or harmful constituents, the use of less extreme temperatures or conditions, or a reduction in the production of waste.
BM2. Materials for Biomedical Applications. Proposed projects may include biological materials, biomimetic, bioinspired, bioenabled materials and synthetic materials, all intended for biological, medical, veterinary, or healthcare applications. Examples of proposals may include (but are not limited to) the synthesis, purification, functionalization, characterization, development, validation, processing, scale up, and manufacturing of biomaterials. Novel polymeric materials, polymers, plastics, additives, sealants, elastomers, textiles, alloys, ceramic and composite biomaterials, improved implants; coatings for therapeutic applications; or nanomaterials.
BM3. Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. Proposed projects may include enabling engineering and manufacturing approaches, technologies and systems that will advance the research, development, quality control, and production of artificial tissues and their derivatives in scientific, therapeutic, or commercial applications. Proposed projects may also include novel methods or technologies to replace or regenerate damaged or diseased animal or human cells, tissues, or organs to restore or establish their normal function.
M4. Biomedical Engineering. Proposed project should focus on using engineering approaches to develop transformative methods and technologies that will solve problems in medicine. Proposed projects may include devices and systems that provide new strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of health conditions; advance end of life or palliative care; reduce drug counterfeiting; and enable new and more efficient risk-management methods to better address safety issues of drugs and medical devices; motion or structural biomechanic technologies for the improvement of human motion, and sensors, actuators, and intelligent systems for surgical robotics. Proposers are encouraged to form an interdisciplinary team that includes relevant engineering as well as biology/health-related expertise.
BM5. Medical Imaging Technologies. Proposed projects may include (but are not limited to) novel or improved imaging technologies and/or imaging agents to advance the diagnosis and treatment of disease , and improve prognosis.
BM6. Diagnostic Assays and Platforms. Proposed projects should focus on transformational diagnostic technologies. Proposed projects may include (but are not limited to) non- or minimally-invasive disease diagnosis, detection and monitoring, software-based diagnostic methods, biomarker development, disease-specific assays, personalized medicine, flexible implantable devices, lab-on-a-chip technologies, and low-cost point-of-care testing for diseases.
BM7. Drug Delivery. Proposed projects may include novel and transformative platforms, chemical formulations, excipients, devices, or methodology for the delivery of drugs or biological products.
BT6. Fermentation and Cell Culture Technologies. Proposed projects might include (but are not limited to) novel or improved microbial fermentation or mammalian and plant cell culture technologies, bioreactors, processes, scale-up, development of expression platforms, and purification.
BT7. Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. Developing and applying computationally intensive techniques (e.g., pattern recognition data mining, machine learning algorithms, and visualization) and may include (but are not limited to) sequence alignment, gene finding, genome assembly, drug design, drug discovery, protein structure alignment, protein structure prediction, prediction of gene expression and protein-protein interactions, genome-wide association studies, and the modeling of evolution. Proposed projects might include the creation and advancement of databases, algorithms, computational and statistical techniques, and theory to solve problems arising from the management and analysis of biological data.
Pumping Congress to find a way to wipe away the sequester cuts, or at the very least exempt NIH or restore funding another way, has become an important part of NIH Director Francis Collins’ job, which also includes singing the blues about the sequestration.
Collins says he has probably personally visited with more than 100 members of Congress in the last year, at NIH’s headquarters or down on Capitol Hill, as part of his campaign to combat sequestration.
He says it doesn’t matter which party he meets with on the Hill, they agree that the NIH funding cuts should be done away with. But then they tell him that there is nothing they can do, because of the “national impasse” over government spending and the deficit.
Nature 486, 559-561 (2012) doi:10.1038/nj7404-559a
Published online 27 June 2012
This article was originally published in the journal Nature
Some consultants offer to help researchers to find and secure grants. But scientists should carefully consider whether and how a consultant is worth the time and expense.
The e-mails were arriving in Pete Kissinger’s inbox almost every day: “TODAY ONLY: Extra 25% Off … Craft your R01 Grants Management … Only 1 Day Left.” They were from consultants trying to charge him to do something that scientists have long done for themselves: search for research-grant opportunities, write proposals and, in some cases, manage the grant once it has been won. Eventually, Kissinger’s curiosity got the better of him.
Having founded his first company in the 1970s, Kissinger, an entrepreneur and bioanalytical chemist who works part-time at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is no stranger to the challenges of raising start-up capital and research money. But he says that it is harder to get funding now than when he began. For one thing, the paperwork is more onerous. “And that’s not really the thing most of us in science enjoy doing,” he says. So about 18 months ago, when he needed money to develop a device for sampling blood to speed up clinical diagnoses, Kissinger hired FreeMind, a funding consultancy with offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Jerusalem. He is waiting for decisions on two applications that he made last year with their help, and on another that was put together in March.
Types of funding finder range from services offering online information packs that cost a few hundred dollars to consulting firms such as FreeMind, which can charge up to 10% of the grant total. In return, they offer familiarity with the applications process and established relationships with the programme officers and businesses that are offering the funds. Nothing stops a scientist from going directly to the US National Science Foundation for funding information, notes Ram May-Ron, vice-president of FreeMind. “We don’t claim to have any special powers, but we have lots of experience.”
Consultants say that they can help to highlight and emphasize the aspects of a proposal that increase the chances of funding. “It’s not just about how you raise money, it’s about how to direct what you’re doing in a fashion that will extract the social, medical and financial value of it,” says Mark Goldstein, chief scientific officer of MammaCare, a medical-device firm based in Gainesville, Florida. Goldstein has worked with Kirk Macolini, a funding finder at Centurion Technologies in Ithaca, New York, for more than 10 years.
Making the most of that help means knowing when to seek assistance, whom to ask for it and how to work well with a consultant.
The emergence of funding finders reflects the growing specialization and competition in science. Just as postdocs and technicians handle the nitty-gritty of experiments so that principal investigators can concentrate on guiding their laboratory’s research, some lab leaders are also seeking help with finding, winning and maintaining funding. “The nice thing is he does it all, from soup to nuts. It’s free and clear of my office,” says Ajit Varki, a glycobiologist at the University of California, San Diego, who hired Macolini to help him to get funding for a pharmaceutical start-up now called Sialix, based in Vista, California.
But hiring a funding finder itself requires careful planning. Researchers must consider how they will work with the consultant and other project collaborators to make the most of the time invested in the grant application. It helps to understand that funding finders cannot do all the work themselves. “If somebody drops an idea in our lap and says, ‘Write a proposal’, it would be quite difficult,” says Ian Eden, a senior consultant at Arttic in Derby, UK. “We work with them, not on our own.” Researchers need to set aside time to discuss their goals, answer technical questions about their research, evaluate suggestions from the consultant and produce and execute a strategy based on those discussions.
However, young researchers should begin by seeking funding advice from their home institutions, says Alan Rebar, executive director of Discovery Park, a research-coordination centre at Purdue that organizes networking events with other grant seekers. Universities often skim off a percentage of their researchers’ grants for overhead costs and devote administrative resources to helping scientists seek funding, so they usually prefer researchers to seek help internally, and may even prohibit them from using university funds to pay outsiders. The situation can become complicated, however, when researchers want to transfer their research from the academic to the commercial sector. “I can’t use university resources to do an outside business application,” says Kissinger.
Funding finders all say that their clients have higher success rates on average than scientists acting alone, although such claims are impossible to verify. The US National Institutes of Health reports that 11% of applications to the first round of its Small Business Innovation Research grants, which aim to help small businesses to commercialize research results, are successful. May-Ron says that 30–40% of his clients’ applications for those grants are successful.
In addition to proposal-writing help, some firms offer networking tips and strategic guidance. Gonzalo de Silva, a consultant at the Euro-Funding Advisory Group in Madrid, notes that to be eligible for many European grants, research teams must include scientists in different countries as well as an industry partner; funding finders can help to make connections between potential collaborators. “That’s where we add the most value, because we have a lot of contacts with businesses and experience,” says de Silva.
Funding consultants tend to deal repeatedly with the same contacts in business and at funding bodies, so they can build up an understanding of what such people are looking for. “If you have absolutely no clue as to what the interest of the programme officers is, then you really have no chance,” says May-Ron. “We try to close this gap through conversations with programme officers and researchers.” By talking to programme officers about a project idea before submitting the proposal, he explains, a consultant might learn that the funder puts increased value on certain components of the application. “So we tell the scientist to focus on those,” says May-Ron.
In other cases, programme officers might mention that they are about to open a call for proposals, giving the consultant time to alert a client. The applicant could get such information for free by contacting a programme officer directly, but making dozens of requests to keep on top of all opportunities would be very time-consuming. And consultants can get to know a programme officer’s preferences and interests. May-Ron recalls a case where one programme officer encouraged one of his clients, an influenza researcher, to submit a proposal in response to a call with guidelines that did not actually specify influenza research as a candidate area. The researcher won the award.
The right choice
Once scientists are convinced that they or their projects would benefit from external consultancy, they have to choose a firm. Universities sometimes contact grant consultants to supplement their in-house staff, notes Rebar, so researchers might be able to get a list of contacts. Or they could do some digging for themselves: Goldstein found Macolini through an Internet search.
The size of a potential project will make a difference to the type of consultancy the researcher should approach. Arttic, like many large firms, won’t work on grants smaller than about £10 million (US$13 million), says Eden, and its fee is 5–7% of the grant money.
Macolini’s fees include an upfront project charge and a percentage-based success fee, with the proportions varying from project to project. This creates a higher initial cost for the researcher than does a contingency fee alone, but consultants argue that it helps to prevent researchers sending them half-baked ideas just because they have nothing to lose when the grants don’t materialize.
Researchers can ask for references from consultants’ previous clients, but should treat them with caution. “The scientist has to evaluate the record of the consultants,” says de Silva. There are no obvious ways of comparing one company’s claimed success rate with another’s, because they have no reporting requirements and different scientific disciplines have different funding constraints, which could affect success. However, it is possible to compare companies’ years of experience and the number of grants they have facilitated, as well as the types of grants and collaborations.
Goldstein says he chose Macolini because he had a history of helping “really bright” research teams, an apparently sincere interest in the project and a willingness to offer criticism. It is particularly important to make sure that the scientist’s and the consultant’s aims are compatible, because one project may lead to another. “You need someone to tell you when you’re barking up the wrong tree,” says Goldstein.
Making the most of it
The more information researchers share, the more likely the consultants are to be able to find funding for the project — or improve the odds of winning a grant. “We try to fully understand their project and regroup and rearrange them to reflect what funding sources would expect to see,” says May-Ron. That could mean recommending that a researcher restrict an application to one avenue of research and hold off on another. Or it could mean bringing in components from other disciplines to strengthen a proposal.
The consultant runs through multiple drafts and revisions of the proposal in cooperation with the investigator, boiling down the content until it is simple, succinct and a good match for the ideas of the programme officers. “It’s really easy to submit a long proposal. It’s much harder to write a short one,” says Kissinger. External reminders make it easier to hit goals, he adds: “They help find opportunities, keep you on track with the format and make you remember deadlines.” In addition to the technical help, says Goldstein, good funding finders offer strategic advice. During brainstorming sessions, Macolini asks business-type questions such as how long it will take to explore an idea and what the client will do next with it. The ability to do that comes from “having a leg in each field”, says Goldstein.
It is still too early for Kissinger to know whether his funding-finding gamble will pay off. But at least his inbox is now overflowing not with marketing e-mails, but with tailored messages from his own consultant.