Pursuing Federal Research Funding and Grants

Pursuing Federal Research Funding: One-Minute Interview with Dr. Ashley Mooneyham

July 15, 2020 – By Jared Mueller, Director – Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange

Dr. Ashley Mooneyham spoke to the Innovation Exchange’s members and Mayo Clinic experts in June 2020. The Director of Grants at Superior Medical Experts, Mooneyham advises medical researchers and innovative health care startups on pursuing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) federal grant funding from the U.S. government.

Q: You earned your Ph.D. in cancer biology at the University of Minnesota. During your doctoral studies, you spent a summer at the Office of University Economic Development. What led you to take that economic development opportunity — and then to a role where you help researchers and entrepreneurs source grant funding?

AM: I pursued a Ph.D. in cancer biology because I was passionate about impacting human health through scientific discovery. Thesis research involves intense study of a very narrow subject, and although I enjoyed that level of study, I quickly realized my work was likely decades away from actually improving outcomes in patients. I wanted to be closer to the action. That led me to my internship at the Office of University Economic Development and eventually my current position, where I get to help small businesses secure early-stage funding to accelerate trailblazing innovations to market.

Q: Can you share an “elevator pitch” on why SBIR and STTR grants can be so valuable to entrepreneurs — and a few key differences between the two categories of federal grants?

AM: The SBIR/STTR program funds over 5,000 applications every year, topping $3.7 billion in award totals for 2019. It represents a huge opportunity for small businesses to secure non-dilutive, early-stage funding to de-risk their technology. Moreover, the success rates are at least double that of traditional research grants (15-20% compared to 5-7%). In short, SBIR grants are designed for small businesses intending to do the bulk of the proposed work themselves, and STTR grants are designed for small businesses working in collaboration with research institutions. For academic and physician entrepreneurs, the STTR mechanism is a great opportunity to “keep your day job” while participating in entrepreneurial research activities.

Q: Can a researcher who has invested significant time in an existing grant application parlay some of that existing work into a SBIR or STTR grant application?

AM: Absolutely. I know — and have helped — many researchers who have taken an application for institutional or extramural funding, and turned that to a SBIR grant application. The core research and innovation concepts are often transferrable — it’s a matter of framing the work in terms of commercial potential to bring a product, process or service to market.

Q: How have you participated in Mayo Clinic’s Office of Entrepreneurship’s programming?

AM: I have given regular guest lectures for the Case Studies in Entrepreneurship course offered by Mayo Clinic’s Office of Entrepreneurship, focused on startup development. The Office of Entrepreneurship and subject matter experts alike want health care and life sciences innovators to understand the full range of funding options — and SBIR/STTR grants represent an extraordinary and underutilized opportunity, even if the application process can seem arcane and work-intensive to the uninitiated.

Q: What breakthrough innovations in health care delivery or technology excite you most?

AM: I’ve been impressed with advances in telehealth, including health applications to remotely interact with medical professionals and effectively manage care pathways from home. Especially in the era of COVID-19, where some may be hesitant to seek non-essential medical care and health care systems are stretched thin, telehealth represents an effective strategy for maintaining population well-being. Beyond telehealth, the best part of my job is working with brilliant innovators across diverse medical disciplines. Since SBIR/STTR grants can support technologies from any medical field, I have seen the next generation of therapies in fields from oncology to autism, and I’m very excited for the future of medicine.

Views expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mayo Clinic. As a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Mayo Clinic does not participate in political activities.