Thursday, April 29, 2010

Greed Drives Continued Campaign to Hijack SBIR's Funding Base

We're getting it from all sides. Small business is being pushed by big bullies. What we get from SBIR funding is tantamount to lunch money -- just enough to keep us from starving. But they want it. Want it all. Want it bad enough to lie and cheat to get it.

Yes, lie.

The bullies make statements asserting that VC funded businesses can't participate in SBIR. Of course they can. The companies just can't be controlled by VCs and still be eligible. And they tearfully make statements asserting that VC controlled company SBIR eligibility was "taken away" in 2002. Bullfrogfeathers. It was never allowed. Tell a lie often enough and people begin to believe it. Trouble is, it's our elected officials who believe the lies. Or (tucking campaign fund envelopes in their pockets or purses) choose to ignore the truth.

And, yes, cheat.

Will someone please ask Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) why he keeps trying to cheat the system by sneaking the House version of SBIR Reauthorization (HR. 2965) into other legislation? This is a bad bill. Viewed by everyone other than the NVCA/BIO bullies as being destructive to true small business innovation.

Altmire tried a couple of months ago to sneak it into the first Jobs Bill. Word is it was stopped by the Speaker after a rather rapid and loud outcry by small businesses all over the country. Altmire's on the House Small Business Committee. Isn't he supposed to be looking out for small business interests? Why is he taking the side of the bullies?

And, he's trying again. In a "dear colleague" letter sent out a few days ago, Altmire asked for support for including HR 2965 in the new "Jobs" bill, asserting that this was a "compromise" and good for small business. More bullfrogfeathers! In fact, the House Small Business Committee has steadfastly refused to negotiate with the Senate's Small Business Committee and hasn't even considered a compromise version of their much more reasonable SBIR reauthorization bill (S.1233) that was presented to it last October!

What's more, Altmire's letter was not signed by a single true small business. Lots of Universities and Big Businesses signed it though. This hijacking attempt is both a lie and a cheat!

We're appealing to the Speaker to again quash this attempt to cheat the system. (Join the Stop Altmire campaign!)

The bullies have gotten $1.5 BILLION in new funding from a combination of provisions in the recently enacted Health Care Reform Bill and the Jobs Bill. You'd think that would make them happy and they'd leave us alone for a while. All it's done is make them more greedy, emboldened to go and get it all. They're well funded and determined. And did I say greedy?

Even the Finance Reform bill inadvertently threatens small business via an unintended consequence of redefining accreditation of Angel investors and the process of doing funding deals. (Join the Save the Angels campaign!)

There have been a few voices out there on behalf of small business. The SBTC, Ann Eskesen, and Rick Shindell, for example, have tried valiantly to get out the word and counter the lies. And there are a host of other advocates who do their best to spread the word. Largely, these efforts have been ad hoc and woefully underfunded.

A new group has formed to try and organize some truth and reasonableness into this mess. It's called the Small Biotechnology Business Coalition (SBBC). Check out their website: See everything they're into. If you're a biotech small business, join. If you're interested in supporting small biotech businesses, join. Any of you not covered by that? Join anyhow.

And, finally, in my last column, I mused about antibacterial lip balm for our legislators' excessive lip-service challenged chapped lips. Little did I know there actually is one. And, it's incredibly (some might say appropriately) branded:

Nothing to add to this, folks. I rest my case.

Monday, April 26, 2010

SBIR Companies' Futures Threatened by Finance Reform Unintended Consequences

UPDATE: The Senate's Cloture Vote failed on Monday, but they'll try again. It's not too late to follow this guidance ...
It's so tiresome. Every time I hear one of our politicos, from the top guy on down, talk up the importance of small business I just want to puke. Not because what they're saying isn't true. Quite the contrary. It is true. It's the lip service they pay.

Not only do they not find the time or take the effort to actually enact legislation that's beneficial to the growth of small business, but they don't even stop to think about the consequences to small business when they try and fix something they think is broken.

This time it's Finance Reform. S.3217 to be precise. The Congress is hell bent on fixing Wall Street. We're not going to debate here whether they're doing it right, and God knows there are aspects that do need overhaul, but it's the unintended consequence to small business that I'm upset about.

SBIR only takes you so far. To proof-of-concept. Right up to the edge of the Valley of Death. Then other funding is needed to get you to a marketplace. So what does S.3217 do? Cut off the most likely funding source. Angel Investors. That's right, S.3217 kills the Angels.

The Small Business Technology Council (SBTC), led by my friend Jere Glover, began beating the drum on this as soon as the bill was made available for reading. (Yes, some of us actually do read these things.) Senator Dodd has assured Jere that they'll put in some amendments to save the Angels, but you'll pardon me if I don't just sit back and trust it to get done.

The deadline for introducing amendments to S.3217 is TODAY, Monday, April 26th, as the Senate will call for a Cloture vote at around 5PM EDT. So it's time to marshal the troops, warm up the fax machines, and be proactive.

I sent out an URGENT ALERT Newsletter to my clients and friends list yesterday. Here's a short link to the Newsletter:
It has the Call to Action with links to resource materials and a template of a letter you can send to your Senators urging inclusion of the "Save the Angels" amendments.

Read the information in the Newsletter carefully. Follow all the links and get informed. Send a letter or two or twenty. Then, spread the word. Forward this info around to anyone who can help us.

I've already heard from some of my contacts that they're re-broadcasting the Alert to their lists, doing Tweets and recruiting Facebook friends to help Save the Angels. One of these is my friend The Fiscal Doctor. (Thanks, Gary! Much appreciated.) Check him out -- he has good advice for emerging companies.

All that lip service has to be quite chafing. I wonder if they have trouble keeping lip balm in stock at the Capitol commissary? Hope they offer an anti-bacterial version for use with lobbyists!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The NIH SBIR proposal submission process SUCKS!

There. I said it. And I meant it.

Over the last few weeks I coached five companies through the intimidating, arduous, and demeaning NIH SBIR proposal submission process for the April 5th deadline. A few of them may need therapy, but by and large, they all survived the process. The jury's still out on me! What's the treatment for "craniac arrest"? I'm getting too old to work this hard!

Why does the NIH's SBIR process have to be so difficult? Required registrations on THREE websites, with multiple registrations on two of them. Just that alone may take a week or two. One of the websites, the NIH's eRA Commons, requires a faxed signature page! Even the IRS eschews that now.

Then, if that wasn't enough, one has to deal with an Adobe Form system with eleven major subforms (one mandatory subform marked "optional") and at least a dozen PDF attachments needed for those subforms, some with page limits, others not. There are dozens of fields and buttons to be filled in and selected, and you'd better do it just so. Or else.

Yes, the NIH provides an Application Guide. Only 234 pages. Shallow Table of Contents. No index.

Once you get the registrations done, all the forms filled out, and the various and sundry documents attached, you still have to endure the submission process. Take a deep breath...

First, upload the completed Adobe Form to (my favorite website...NOT!). Pray you've registered properly and that they'll pass it on to the eRA Commons. If not, fix the AOR credential, and upload again. Don't forget to use the Grant Tracking Number -- but it's called the Federal Identifier in the form. Huh? If it's passed on to the NIH, then the SO and PI can go to the eRA and check the eSub. Alphabet soup anyone?

And, better not have Firefox as your default browser. uses JavaScript. Firefox doesn't. You need JavaScript enabled to "Sign" the application. Aaargh! If JavaScript isn't enabled, you just sit and watch a screen that doesn't change. No message. Nada happens.

Then the eRA Commons does what I call the Nit-Pick Check. If everything's not perfect, you get ERRORS, and have to go back to the start, fix the Adobe Form and resubmit through You may only get WARNINGS, which do not require a re-submit, but scare the bejezus out of you.

The most ridiculous field that can trip you up is the "Congressional District". Collected for statistical purposes only, it's needed on two different subforms. The format is XX-nnn where XX is the state abbreviation and nnn is the District as a 3-digit number. The use of 3 digits is required even for Wyoming which only has one district. Come to think of it, California has the most Congressional Districts of any state - 53. Why do they require a 3-digit number? That's what I call a Walter Cronkite - "That's the way it is." Put it in wrong? ERROR! Fix and re-submit!

But the Walter Cronkite that really frosts my cookies, is the question that requires you to LIE to answer it right. Yes, LIE. I wanted to do a Joe Wilson when I first read it. It's in the Vertebrate Animals Use section. Here's the quote from page I-69 of the Guide: "Applicants should check “Yes” to the question “Is the IACUC review Pending?” even if the IACUC review/approval process has not yet begun at the time of submission." Then they want you to put "None" in the field for the Animal Welfare Assurance Number. (Isn't that obvious?) If you don't -- go all the way back to the start, put it in, and re-submit. (I know this because we had to do it yesterday!) A button for "Not yet" would make it so much clearer - and truthful!

The DOD's Spring SBIR solicitation will be out in a couple of weeks. Their Guide is only ~40 pages. One website with a 5-minute registration process. You write your proposal and upload one (1) PDF file. Three forms: a cover page, a budget, and a company information form. If you've had prior Phase IIs there's one more form. That's it. And NO submission process! They close the website at the deadline. Anything there gets evaluated. Period. So clean. So simple. Thank you DOD!

So, I'll say it again: The NIH's SBIR proposal submission process sucks. It's so tied up in administrivia it's easy for the applicants to neglect paying attention to the objective: clearly articulate an innovative solution to an important health-related problem. And the agency is so wrapped up in its process that it seems more time (and taxpayer money) is spent on bureaucratic enforcement of policies than on enabling innovation for solving serious health-related problems.

And now, the NIH is campaigning to eliminate the "Error Correction Window", the five extra days (used to be only two but they had to increase it because of recent policy/procedure changes) they give you to fix all the Nit-Pick problems they find. DON'T LET THEM DO THIS! You can weigh in until April 19th at this weblink: Read the NIH's view on why they should be allowed to do this in the Federal Register (page 11889, 12 March 2010). Again: DON'T LET THEM DO THIS!

Remember, the NIH is part of HHS -- our National Health Care agency. They'll be administering ObamaCare. And the IRS will be enforcing it.

Oy Vey! What are we in for?