This tutorial focuses on weeks five and six of the proposed schedule. If you have been following the suggested guidelines, at this point you will have drafted sections two through six of the project narrative. In other words, you would have spoken with the National Program Leader to confirm that your topic fits within one of the topic areas of interest to USDA. You would then have drafted the following sections: (2) Responsiveness to USDA NIFA SBIR program Priorities, (3) Identification and Significance of the Problem or Opportunity; (4) Background and Rationale; (5) Relationship with Research or Research and Development and finally (6) Technical Objectives. With the stage now set- in Week 5 you will begin to work on section 7 – the Work Plan. As noted in the Request for Applications or RFA, this should be a substantial portion of the project narrative and can include graphics, tables and charts. As the Work Plan is related to the Technical Objectives, it cannot be prepared until you have completed the previous sections. We will assume that you have done so and will move on to a discussion of the work plan.
The purpose of the work plan is to describe, in detail what research or research and development will be conducted to test the objectives you have identified and to determine the technical feasibility of the proposed concept. This section should start with a discussion of the methodology you will use, clearly indicating why this method was selected and is appropriate to test the feasibility of the concept. The work plan itself is organized around tasks associated with each technical objective. For each task you should identify “who, what when and where”. In other words, for each task, identify what will be done, who will do it, when the task will be performed and where the research will take place. Often people also include a metric for success, associated with each task.
As you begin to draft the work plan, it is not uncommon to surface gaps that relate to people and facilities. In other words, you begin to realize that you don’t have the appropriate staff or facilities to implement the work plan. But don’t panic – you’ve started the proposal preparation process early enough that you can still ask for help. Contact the service provider with whom you’ve been working and discuss the situation. Usually, by looking locally or perhaps turning to a USDA Agricultural Research Service one can find what is needed in order to complement your team. However, you will need to work closely with the service provider as the choices regarding people and facilities are your choices and will have a budgetary impact.
With the FY19 Request for Applications or RFA, the Department of Agriculture began to place greater emphasis on commercialization. This emphasis is evident in section 9 of the project narrative. Although you do not need to write Section 9 at this time – it is recommended that you review those guidelines now, so that you understand what you will be asked to address. Again, don’t panic if you cannot answer these questions. Include a discussion of section 9 with your service provider and see if there is any additional support that they can recommend to help gather the information needed to write this section during the next couple of weeks.
The activities that you address in week 5 will flow over into week 6. Now that you have drafted sections two through seven – see if you can secure feedback on what you have drafted so that the proposal continues to take shape as you move forward. In Week 6 you will begin to draft Section 8. This section, entitled “Related Research or Research and Development” can pertain to additional research or commercialization activities that your company has performed or relate to other offerings available in the marketplace. As noted in the guidelines provided by USDA “It is critical that the applicant make a convincing case that the proposed research builds upon previous research and, if successful, will lead to the development of a new innovation or to substantial improvement of an existing product, process, service or technology.
In week 6, also begin to consider where you can secure Letters of Support. USDA has expanded the guidelines provided on such Letters and stresses their importance as an indication of market validation and technical support for the proposed innovation. Letters of Support also demonstrate that the company has initiated dialogue with relevant stakeholders including potential customers or end users, strategic partners or investors. During week 6 review USDA’s guidelines on Letters of Support and begin to consider from whom you should try to obtain them. As it takes a few weeks to secure letters, start thinking now about who you will approach, how you will approach them, and which categories within the stakeholder community they represent. More guidelines will be provided on Letters of Support in the next Tutorial.
By the end of week 6, the draft of your project narrative will be in fairly good form – lacking only section nine. In the revisions you begin to make, it is now important to consider the page limits for the project narrative, as well as the type font and style guidelines that USDA provides. To find those guidelines, conduct a keyword search in the RFA, searching for the word “font” and they can readily be found. In the next Tutorial we will begin to talk about the budget and Grants.gov.