Episode 1 | Welcome to The Innovation Lab
In this episode, NCI SBIR Director Michael Weingarten and Program Director Monique Pond introduce the NCI SBIR Innovation Lab podcast and provide insight into the benefits and resources NCI SBIR Development Center can provide biotech innovators, no strings attached.
Subscribe and Listen to NCI SBIR Innovation Lab
Listen to this podcast to hear:
- NCI SBIR funding opportunities and commercialization resources to support biotech startups.
- How NCI plays the role of an early-stage investor, but without taking any IP or equity stake in the company.
- The cancer researcher’s journey through the NCI SBIR program.
- Programs small businesses can utilize to help their chances to successfully bring their technologies to patients.
Michael Weingarten, MA
In this role, Michael Weingarten leads a team of nine Program Directors who manage all aspects of the NCI SBIR & STTR Programs including a portfolio of $182M in grants and contracts annually. The SBIR & STTR programs are NCI's engine of innovation for developing and commercializing novel technologies and products to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. Weingarten has implemented a set of key initiatives for optimizing the performance of the NCI SBIR Program at the NIH. These include the establishment of a new model at the NCI for managing the program - the SBIR Development Center.
Monique Pond, PhD
Monique Pond, PhD is a Program Director in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Development Center at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She manages a portfolio of grants and contracts to small businesses developing novel cancer therapeutics, digital health technologies, and therapeutic devices. Pond leads the CARE program, Connecting Awardees with Regulatory Experts, and other collaborative initiatives with FDA to assist small businesses in navigating the regulatory pathway for their technology. She initially joined the NCI SBIR Development Center in 2018 as a Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Programs referenced in this episode:
- Small Business Transition Grant
- Applicant Assistance Program
- I-Corps at NIH Program
- Investor Initiatives Program
Visit our website, sbir.cancer.gov, for the latest funding opportunities and commercialization resources to support your journey from lab to market.
MONIQUE: Hello and welcome to Innovation Lab, your go to resource for all things biotech startups, brought to you by the National Cancer Institute’s Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, Development Center. Our podcast hosts interviews with successful entrepreneurs and provides resources for small businesses looking to take their cutting-edge cancer solutions from lab to market. I’m Monique Pond, a program director and team leader at the NCI SBIR and today's host.
The Small Business Innovation Research is a congressionally mandated funding program designed to propel technological innovation across the United States. Here at the National Cancer Institute, the SBIR Development Center is the institute's engine of innovation and the hub of small business funding. Today, as we kick off our first podcast series, I would like to introduce our program and walk you through some of the topics that we plan to cover in our upcoming series.
For our very first episode, I've invited one of our co-hosts and the Director of the NCI SBIR Development Center, Michael Weingarten. Hello, Michael.
MICHAEL: Hi Monique, how are you?
MONIQUE: Doing well today, thanks for joining us. Appreciate your time.
MICHAEL: Yeah. Happy to be a part of this and really excited that we're launching our own podcast.
MONIQUE: Great. So Michael, you started the SBIR Development Center back in 2006. Can you tell me how that came about?
MICHAEL: I was actually hired back in 2005 by the director then, Dr. John Niederhuber. And Dr. Niederhuber was really interested in taking a new look at how we could manage the SBIR program at the NCI. He was interested in bringing a strategic focus to this program. So he came to me and he asked me to come up with a range of different ideas for how we can improve the program overall and improve the impact of this program.
So we took a fresh look at the SBIR program and I came back with a set of recommendations, really that were based on looking at some of the best practices from across the government and some of the top agencies running SBIR programs, as well as just some ideas that we came up ourselves with. And probably the most important recommendation that we had was that we actually set up a center at the NCI, that we could run this program where individuals could actually spend 100% of their time just with small businesses and just managing SBIR's.
For the program and for our companies to be successful, we really did need program directors working at the NCI who had industry experience as well as some prior track record and experience with the commercialization of technologies. But we need people spending 100% of their time working with companies and guiding them and advising them, and that's what we're able to do with the SBIR program now that we've set up a center.
We have a team of about 22 people now and we're able to offer just a range of resources and assistance to companies who really need our help.
MONIQUE: So, Michael, tell me, what does the typical small business coming into the program look like?
MICHAEL: Well, when companies first apply for NCI SBIR funding, they're usually startups and fairly small. So I would say the typical company that approaches us first for funding maybe has two or three people when they first get started. A lot of times they’re a spin out from a university or a recent startup and they don't have a lot of experience in working with the NIH.
So typically, you know, they're -- We like to spend a lot of time with companies really educating them about how the NCI SBIR program works, what our different funding opportunities are, really how NCI can really help play a role in growing their company.
MONIQUE: Great. And why should a small business be interested in applying for NCI SBIR funding?
MICHAEL: Well, SBIR funding can be a really good deal for a small business and for a number of reasons. First off, we don't take any sort of intellectual property position in the company. All the IP that's developed under a grant or a contract through an SBIR is owned by the small business. We also don't take any sort of equity position in the company. All of our funds come to the company either through a grant or through a contract. So all the stock continues to be owned by the startup itself.
MONIQUE: So NCI is sort of playing the role of an early-stage venture capitalist, but without taking any IP or equity stake in the company. Would you say that's fair?
MICHAEL: Yeah, that's a good way to describe it. Because we're the government, we're actually able to take on more risks than probably a private investor would. So we typically will invest in these companies at an earlier stage of development than most investors would and we can help the company get the key data that they're going to need in order to be successful over the longer term because we're willing to take on a little bit more risk than a private investor would. So yeah, I kind of think of the NCI SBIR program as being kind of a seed fund for startups in the cancer space.
MONIQUE: Early-stage seed fun, I like it. All right, so after a company goes through the NCI SBIR funding program, do you find that many companies are ready to, you know, commercialize their product, launch their technology or do some also go into the venture capital world for follow on funding?
MICHAEL: That's a great question. So typically because of the large costs involved in life sciences, in terms of taking something from the lab all the way to the marketplace, at some point, most of these companies are going to need to be able to go out and raise some private capital. That private capital can come from angel investors, it could come from partnerships with a large pharmaceutical or medical device company, or it could come from raising funds for the venture capital world.
But NCI SBIR funding could be a really key component to get many of these companies through preclinical development and actually into clinical trials. So we can really help a company move their technology along to make them attractive to private investors in the future.
MONIQUE: How would a cancer researcher enter and journey through the NCI SBIR program?
MICHAEL: Well, probably the best thing they could do is go up to our website initially and that’s at sbir.cancer.gov. That's a great starting point [unclear] learn more about the program. We have information on our funding opportunities there, applicant resources, our awardee resources. We also have information about any upcoming events that we're doing. Just as an example, in addition to podcasts like this one, we also put on webinars frequently throughout the year where potential applicants can listen in and learn more about different funding opportunities that we're offering.
So go up on our website initially, read up a little bit about the program, and then if you're interested in funding, we also encourage you to try to set up a meeting with one of our program directors and you can e-mail us through the website just to set up a short conversation so we can learn more about your company, whether you're a good fit for the SBIR program.
MONIQUE: So, Michael, what would you say make small businesses successful in obtaining SBIR funding from the NCI?
MICHAEL: I would say a couple of things. First, start early in your planning. We have three different receipt dates throughout the fiscal year. So you do have a lot of opportunities to apply, but give yourself enough time to write a strong application. And probably the first step in that whole process should be connecting with the program director at the NCI SBIR program, that way you can talk about your idea and you can get some feedback on whether we think that's a good fit for the types of projects that we trying to fund under the program.
It's also a really good opportunity for you to review your specific aims on the project, that's probably the most important aspect to your application. And one of the things that we offer every applicant is the opportunity to go over your specific aims with a program director in our program and then we'll give you some real direct feedback and some suggestions on different things that you might not be thinking about.
Once you've done that, I think that really does set you up well to write an application. If you have not applied to the NCI SBIR program before or you haven't received an SBIR from the NIH as a whole before, you could also participate in our Applicant Assistance Program. It's a really helpful program for new applicants that we offer and essentially it’s an opportunity for you to get access to a coach who can guide you through the whole application process.
So if you're interested in learning a little bit more about our applicant assistance program, that's a resource that you can learn a little bit more on our website, again at sbir.cancer.gov, but that those are really kind of good starting places.
MONIQUE: Our three receipt dates for NCIS SBIR are January, April, and September. So for those listening, definitely contact a program director at least a month ahead of those times, I would say, and that way you know you'll be able to meet with somebody and have a good, you know, robust conversation about your specific aims, as well as answer any questions that a company or someone on the team might have about the application. So, Michael, what other resources does the program provide outside of funding?
MICHAEL: The way I like to think about our program at NCI is funding is obviously necessary for these small companies, but it's not sufficient for them to be successful. So we try to offer a range of other resources to our companies, all based on our meetings and conversations with companies that are in our portfolio and really understanding what kind of needs that they have. So we've actually launched a range of different resource programs that we offer and I can mention just a couple right now.
When a company first enters the program, they're actually eligible to participate in a program that we call I-Core or Innovation Core. And I-Core is actually an entrepreneurial training program, the best way I like to describe it is it really teaches a small business that's new to the program how to build a business model around the technology that they're developing.
We find that I-Core really helps set up our companies quite well to take the next step as they're continuing to develop their technology and then to apply for the next stage of funding, which would be phase two project under our program. We also run a program called our Investor Initiatives Program. We've been running that for about 15 years, right now and over that timeframe, we've developed relationships with most of the large investors in private capital that invest in cancer technologies, whether those be drugs, devices, diagnostics or digital health technologies.
And because we're the NCI, we can help open doors for small businesses that we’re funding so that they can start conversations with investors who might be interested in funding their companies. And we have a panel of about 80 different investors that once a year will actually review our portfolio and help us identify the most promising companies that we're funding in the portfolio.
And then they actually will grade and rank companies and help us identify companies, that we will then provide funding for, to go and present their company and their technology to private investors at some of the largest investor events around the country. And so our goal through our Investor Initiatives Program is to really help our companies make introductions for them to investors who could then hopefully -- we'll consider investing in them also.
MONIQUE: Thanks Michael for the description of the funding, as well as all these additional non-funding resources that sound like they can really help the company get going, who might be starting out or early on in technology development. So I appreciate you taking time to speak with us today.
MICHAEL: Happy to, thanks for the opportunity.
MONIQUE: Don't forget to check out our website, SBIR.cancer.gov for the latest funding opportunities and commercialization resources to support your journey from lab to market.
This was Monique Pond from NCI SBIR. Please join us again for the next installment of NCI SBIR Innovation Lab and subscribe today wherever you listen.
If you have questions about cancer or comments about this podcast, email us at NCIinfo@nih.gov or call us at 800-422-6237. And please be sure to mention Innovation Lab in your query. We are a production of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Thanks for listening.