Healthcare is a vital, lively, and opportunity-rich industry.
We are at a point where small MedTech companies have the potential to drive efficiencies and tackle challenges by applying new solutions such as IoT, machine learning, additive manufacturing, or augmented reality. However, these companies are unable to bring their brilliant ideas to life because they lack the resources to develop them. Today, we talk with Richard McKay, VP of Healthcare Technologies at Inspiralia, to shed more light on how the US Government supports these types of innovations through its Federal agencies.
Q: Richard, tell us about the funding opportunities for small businesses in the healthcare, biotech, and biomedical sectors.
A: One of the best sources of funding in general for small businesses based in the US is the Federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This program is great because the funding is non-dilutive, meaning the government takes no equity. The small business also retains all IP rights to the technology developed with the money. The Federal government really wants small businesses to succeed and to develop novel technologies and bring them to market.
Q: How can healthcare and biotech companies take advantage of this SBIR opportunity?
A: One of the biggest sources of funding for companies in this sector is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is composed of 27 individual institutes, such as the National Cancer Institute or the National Institute of Mental Health. In fact, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has seen a massive increase in funding to help fund research addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The NIH is the largest biomedical research agency in the world, doling out over $32B in research funding. Over $1B of that is set aside for the small business program.
Q: That’s a big pot of money, but is NIH the only choice for healthcare companies?
A: Absolutely not! Many people in the health sector know about NIH. So while it is a big pool of funding, it is also highly competitive. One of the most interesting Federal funding opportunities is a fairly recent initiative coming from the Department of Defense (DoD), specifically the Air Force. The program is called AFWERX and it is an SBIR program that has a unique structure that allows them to move quickly to foster innovation and rapidly fund innovative companies.
Q: But does the Department of Defense fund healthcare initiatives? I thought they funded the development of weapons and radar systems and the like.
A: Believe it or not, the topics funded are very broad and include all sorts of healthcare innovations aimed at keeping our airmen and their families safe and healthy. They have funded projects on telemedicine, neurofeedback therapy, women’s health, antimicrobial devices, surgical training, diagnostic devices, you name it. If you’ve got a healthcare technology that can be adapted for use by the military in any way, it probably fits into the AFWERX program.
Q: Okay, so how does AFWERX work?
A: The Air Force is looking to help develop technologies of any sort that will aid the military. The goal of Phase I is to perform customer discovery and find someone within the DoD who is interested in your product or service. In Phase II, you will then get a contract to adapt your technology to Air Force needs. At each phase, after submitting your proposal, you receive a decision within 30 days! Once through this program, you are set to become a prime vendor of your developed product to the US Air Force. Plus, you retain full IP rights to your technology, and you are free to commercialize it and use it as you wish for any non-government purpose.
Q: Any final thoughts for those looking to fund their healthcare, biotech, and biomedical innovations?
A: Yes. Take advantage of the SBIR program. And remember, while the NIH is a good source of funding for your technology, don’t stop there. The Air Force may be interested in your technology too. AFWERX may be just the way to get an influx of non-dilutive cash and jump start your company.
Dr. Richard McKay, VP of Healthcare Technologies for Inspiralia USA, is an accomplished scientist and senior consultant specializing in biotech/medical government grants. He has validated and introduced hundreds of startups into the federal funding scene, allowing them to obtain the necessary capital to fully develop their solutions and reach the market. Dr. McKay continuously has his finger on the pulse of the non-dilutive funding environment and uses his talents to identify exceptionally high potential grant candidates and to deliver quality applications to various federal funding agencies.