Every physician that has been involved with medical research is familiar with the NIH (National Institute of Health), the monolithic government agency that doles out funding for medical research. What is less obvious to physicians is that the NIH has a mandate to transfer medical research into commercial products that treat patients and create high paying American jobs manufacturing these devices.
If you are interested in funding your early stage medical device concept, the NIH has some initiatives that could provide seed financing to help get your idea off the ground. The greater progress you can make in demonstrating the viability of your concept before approaching venture or industry financing sources, the greater control and equity you will maintain in your invention.
The two main NIH industry-related initiatives are SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) grants. Although SBIR/STTR grants come with some baggage (e.g. patent licensing mandates), these grants offer a great opportunity for a physician innovator to garner product development financing without giving away ownership of his/her baby. There are some hoops to jump through to set-up for submitting grant proposals to the federal government and the forms are the typical bureaucratic drudgery, but the upside makes the SBIR and STTR grants worth investigating.
In the fiscal year 2009, the NIH made more than $600 million in SBIR grants and greater than $72 million in STTR grants. Applying for an SBIR or STTR grant may mean you will have to set up a business entity around your idea, or you can collaborate with an existing medical device development company to jointly apply for the grant. General questions about the NIH SBIR program can be directed to Ms. Jo Anne Goodnight, Program Coordinator, 301-435-2688, firstname.lastname@example.org.