Case Stoey

Funding without dilution: Small business innovation research grants

How we help tech and biotech companies win funding to bring their innovations to market


Billions in grant money fund promising ventures that offer novel ways to improve life, health and well-being.

While grants promise non-dilutive funding for small companies, these competitions are onerous, technocratic and consume resources.

A medical device company wanted research funding to bring a minimally-invasive orthodontic device to market.

Fuel brought 20 years of grant success to help the company develop a proposal.


Note: To protect our client's privacy, this story had identifying details removed.

A medical device company consulted with us on applying for a small business grant. They partnered with a university lab who had published promising research on jawbone regeneration.

The company wanted to develop a minimally-invasive orthodontic procedure to prevent bone and tooth loss. This advance may help patients avoid painful and costly surgery.

While the company had been profitable for years, they had no small business innovation research (SBIR) experience. And they expressed concerns that the application would consume their time and attention.


During discovery, we identified the strengths of the partners. The company had been profitable for several years and had a novel approach to a serious orthodontic problem. The lab was productive with several publications in the subject area.

We advised they apply for a small business technology transfer (STTR) grant because NIH reviewers would trust the university lab to carry out the research. The company was principal investigator and the lab was co-investigator.

We helped the team discuss the proposed project with a NIH program officer.

With only 10 weeks to deadline, Fuel assembled a team to take on key tasks, such as the research strategy and budget.


The team won funding on the second try, which is an excellent result. The initial proposal scored well, but not high enough to meet the payline (cutoff for funding).

The team discussed reapplying with their program officer who interpreted the review scores and comments. Fuel helped the team revise the proposal using review comments as a guide.

The funding supported research for a minimally-invasive device to help orthodontic patients avoid painful and costly surgery.

Some tips

  • Project should meet a greater good (i.e., be useful to others)
  • Funds are for R&D, not commercialization.
  • Partnerships help fill in skill gaps.
  • Evidence of research productivity (e.g., publications) is important.
  • Reapplying is more than fine. Many principal investigators apply 2, 3 or more times.
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