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November 09, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Good news for life science start-ups announced at LST|CON

LSTCON 2017By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“LST|CON,” Life Science Tennessee’s (LifeSciTN) annual conference, spotlighted several areas of interest to entrepreneurs during the one-day event yesterday in Nashville. One announcement in particular is very important to start-ups.

As our readers may recall, the Tennessee General Assembly in its session earlier this year approved a recommendation from Governor Bill Haslam to appropriate $1.5 million for the new “SBIR/STTR Matching Fund Grants Program.” We described the initiative in this article.

Approval of the funding was an important accomplishment for LifeSciTN which worked arm-in-arm with Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN) to champion the state matching program for the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

During one of the general sessions at “LST|CON,” Abby Trotter, LifeSciTN’s Executive Director, said all of the currently available funds have been committed until more dollars are secured and eight of the 11 recipients of matching grants are life science companies. That amounts to about $1.1 million of the $1.5 million in first-year funding.

Moderator Jim Stefansic of Raiven Healthcare added more information during a later panel discussion on SBIR and STTR grants, noting that all 15 of the start-ups leveraged $8.3 million in federal dollars. That’s is a ratio of about 5.5 to 1.

During the afternoon panel, Knoxvillian Steve Ripp of 490 BioTech and Chris Przybyszewski of Memphis-based U.S. Biologic shared lessons they learned in pursuing SBIR and STTR grants. Both have won multiple Phase I and Phase II awards.

Ripp praised the foresight of the state in funding the matching program, citing the flexibility that it brings to start-ups that are almost always financially challenged. The federal dollars can only be used for research, and the cash-strapped companies frequently need funding for areas like sales and marketing services or staff, legal advice, and patenting costs.

The matching dollars can be used to cover those types of expenses, making the application to the federal agency more competitive. “It just strengthens your proposal,” Ripp said, explaining that reviewers will react positively to the availability of additional funding as providing likelihood of success. As far the state’s application process, he said that it “was the easiest thing we’ve ever done.”

Other advice Ripp and Przybyszewski offered included:

  • Writing the application to the federal agency – “You don’t do it the night before,” Ripp said. To that point, Stefansic added, “The only person that can write one of these grants is you. Don’t rely on someone else.”
  • Importance of relationships with agency Program Managers – “I don’t submit proposals unless I have had direct interaction with the Program Managers,” Przybyszewski said, emphasizing the importance of having an on-going relationship. “You’re going to (need) to build rapport.”
  • Industry support – “You must have letters of support from industrial partners,” Ripp advised. “You won’t get funding without them.”

NEXT WEEK: The joint LifeSciTN and LaunchTN “Venture Forum” results plus an insightful panel on changes in technology transfer.

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