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Closing the Gender Gap in Biotech through SBIR/STTR Funding

October 5, 2016
Although progress has been made, there is no denying the biotech industry continues to have a large gender gap. Women hold only 16 percent of the senior management posts at the top pharma companies, and of senior executive positions at emerging companies — the 10 companies that raised most in venture capital A rounds in 2014 — only 12 (17 percent) were filled by women.*


The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), works to reduce this gender gap through targeted outreach about funding opportunities to women entrepreneurs and researchers in the biomedical space. To this end, NCATS and BIO recently hosted a women-focused webinar about NCATS’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs to increase awareness of how these programs can serve as powerful resources. Funding supports entrepreneurs as they develop and commercialize new translational technologies to improve prevention and detection of disease with the goal of getting more treatments to more patients more quickly.

SBIR and STTR funding is both stable and predictable, and also serves as an engine of innovation through grants, contracts and technical support. The funding received is not a loan; rather, it is non-dilutive capital. The intellectual property rights are retained by the small business. Furthermore, these resources are frequently leveraged by grantees to attract other funding and strategic partnership opportunities.

SBIR/STTR programs are structured in three phases:

  • Phase I helps to establish the technical merit and feasibility of the proposed R&D efforts, as well as the potential for commercialization. A typical Phase I award is $150,000 over a six-month period.

  • Phase II is a continuation of the R&D efforts initiated in Phase I, and requires a commercialization plan. Phase II support is typically $1 million over two years for both the SBIR and STTR programs. Applicants who provide proper justification to the NIH may propose longer funding periods and/or greater funding amounts deemed necessary for completion of Phase I and/or Phase II.

  • Phase III, typically, is the commercialization stage for the small business to pursue with non-SBIR/STTR funds.

Typically, there are three application submission due dates per year — currently January 5, April 5 and September 5 — and those planning to apply should start the process early. Submission and appropriate database registrations, especially for first-time applicants, can take as long as three months to complete, and it typically takes at least six months between application receipt and funding the award.

Applicants should be sure their small business has met eligibility requirements and that their work aligns with NCATS’ research priorities, which fall under these four categories:

  • Drug Discovery & Development

  • Diagnostics & Devices

  • Bioinformatics & Information Technology

  • Clinical Research Management Tools

For more information, bookmark NCATS’ Open Small Business Opportunities, and check back often for updates. In addition, NCATS SBIR/STTR staff are readily available for personal consultation: email them at

*Nature Biotechnology, Aug. 7, 2015