‘America’s SEED Fund’
Contracting Excellence Highlighted in 2-Day Bootcamp
A 2-day contracting bootcamp hosted recently by the NIH Path to Excellence and Innovation (PEI) Initiative drew 252 attendees representing small businesses, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and 27 NIH institutes and centers.
“The PEI Initiative at NIH is a really unique comprehensive effort to strengthen HBCU capacity to compete for, receive and manage contracts,” said acting principal deputy director Dr. Tara Schwetz, who shared the program’s history.
She explained that consistent with two presidential executive orders, the PEI Initiative helps HBCUs do three specific things—“participate in federal programs, access federal resources including grants and procurement opportunities and partner with federal agencies.”
Toward that end, day 1 of the virtual bootcamp introduced participants to NIH’s Small Business Education and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) Fund program, which dedicates $1.2 billion from NIH’s research and development budget.
Health and Human Services (HHS) small business program lead Stephanie Fertig, who oversees the HHS and NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, described the 40-year-old SBIR and STTR programs, which were re-branded as “America’s SEED Fund.”
“The SBIR and STTR programs are how NIH supports biomedical research at small businesses,” she said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are included in NIH’s SBIR solicitation.
According to Fertig, small businesses support the NIH mission to turn discovery into health.
“That’s what the small business programs do,” she said. “They help get those great innovations into the hands of the patients, clinicians, caregivers and researchers that need them.”
Fertig also debunked several myths that she believes exist about NIH small business programs. For example, some businesses might think they have a better chance of being awarded an SBIR because that program has a larger budget. In reality, however, the size of the program does not correlate with the chance of getting an award. She also addressed requirements for clinical trials, noting that NIH’s definition of a clinical trial differs from FDA’s, which uses the number of subjects and risk as considerations.
Fertig also moderated a discussion on “Entrepreneurs in Action: Success Stories.” Panelists included Eric Adolphe, CEO of Forward Edge-AI, Inc.; Dr. Elizabeth Ofili of Morehouse School of Medicine, CEO of AccuHealth Technologies, Inc.; Tokunbo “TJ” Falohun, CEO of Olera, Inc.; and Dr. Loleta Robinson, SEED entrepreneur in residence.
Excellence in contracting was the theme for day 2. Kathleen “Kate” O’Sullivan, executive officer and director, NHLBI office of management, discussed research the institute is conducting in minority communities. Darnese Wilkerson, director of the Office of Acquisitions, overviewed the NIH acquisition process. Wanda Gamble and Dr. Desmond Stubbs, both of Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a business partner in the PEI 2.0 cohort, also presented.
Other participants included NIH deputy director for management Dr. Alfred C. Johnson, who discussed diversity and highlighted UNITE, and Office of Acquisition and Logistics Management director Diane J. Frasier, head of NIH contracting, who spoke about the promise of the PEI 2.0 Initiative.