Calling Entrepreneurs: NLM’s SBIR/STTR Program Helps Unleash the Potential of Data and Information

Guest post by Allison Dennis, PhD, Program Officer for the Division of Extramural Programs, National Library of Medicine.

This month marks my one-year anniversary managing NLM’s Small Business Program as part of the Division of Extramural Programs and comes just in time for the reissuing of NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program funding opportunity announcements. In celebration, I want to highlight this unique program and encourage entrepreneurs, small businesses, and partnering research institutions focused on developing cutting-edge solutions in the field of biomedical informatics to apply. Some exciting examples of projects that NLM recently funded include:

The NLM SBIR/STTR program nurtures innovation in biomedical informatics—a multidisciplinary field that combines biomedical research with data science, informatics, and information technology. The program aims to encourage small businesses to develop novel technologies, tools, and platforms that can enhance health care delivery, biomedical research, data management, and health information dissemination. We are especially interested in funding early-stage research and development initiatives conducted by small businesses on biomedical informatics topics such as:

  • Visualization approaches or techniques for complex biomedical data at multiple levels
  • AI techniques for health-related data analysis
  • Novel platforms, technologies, tools, and techniques for integrating heterogeneous biomedical data resources
  • Technological approaches to protect biomedical data confidentiality during storage and sharing
  • Tools to enhance security of biomedical data, including personal health data
  • Development of new, innovative tools and methods for annotating, curating, and managing biomedical data resources
  • Novel data-science methods to facilitate health-related decision-making in real time
  • Tools, technologies, and other strategies to track disease outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics
  • Tools and technologies for understanding and predicting climate and environmental effects on human health

The NLM SBIR/STTR program provides funding for different program phases, from early-stage proof-of-concept projects to advanced product development that culminates in commercialization. The funding is typically awarded in the form of grants that enable small businesses to explore and refine their innovative ideas, conduct research, and develop prototypes or software tools that have the potential to revolutionize health care and biomedical informatics.

In addition to financial support, entrepreneurs supported by NLM gain access to a vast network of trade associations and societies, angel investors, venture capitalists, and strategic partners who facilitate knowledge sharing, offer opportunities for investment, and foster professional growth. The program’s association with NIH and the peer review-informed selection process lends credibility to the projects, making them more attractive to investors and other funding opportunities.

To participate in the NLM SBIR/STTR program, applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria. Generally, small businesses that are based in the United States, are independently owned and operated, and have fewer than 500 employees are eligible to apply. The program also encourages collaborations between small businesses and research institutions to foster a dynamic exchange of ideas and expertise through technology transfer and joint innovation efforts. The main difference between SBIR and STTR grants is the level of collaboration with research institutions: SBIR allows collaboration but does not mandate it, whereas STTR requires a formal partnership between the small business and a research institution.

Part of NLM’s vision is to unleash the potential of data and information, and the NLM SBIR/STTR program is committed to empowering small businesses and entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of biomedical informatics to accelerate and transform discovery and improve health care and overall health. By providing funding and networking opportunities, the program enables the development of transformative technologies that have the potential to revolutionize health care delivery, biomedical research, and health information management.

So, are you passionate about biomedical informatics and have an innovative idea? The NLM SBIR/STTR program could be your gateway to your successful impact on health and drive you closer to creating a positive impact in the world of biomedical discovery and data-powered health. Send me an email at if you are developing an NLM-related project aligned with one of the topics listed above. (For other topics, please reach out to an appropriate NIH institute or center’s program officer.) If you have any questions about the SBIR/STTR program or applying for funding, please review the NIH SEED website and guide on how to apply. We are always happy to discuss the scope of a potential project aligned with the topics listed above and appreciate the opportunity to review draft specific aims (this video provides a useful tutorial for drafting SBIR aims related to digital health technologies).

Allison Dennis, PhD

Program Officer, Division of Extramural Programs

Dr. Dennis serves as the scientific contact for Bioinformatics, Translational Informatics, Personal Health Informatics, and the SBIR/STTR program in the NLM Extramural Research Program. Prior to joining NLM, Dr. Dennis was a Technical Lead in the NIH Office of Data Science Strategy, where she oversaw initiatives in artificial intelligence, and a Health Informatics Officer with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, where she advanced health IT standards for scientific discovery. Dr. Dennis holds a PhD in Biology from Johns Hopkins University. She has nearly a decade of experience conducting data-driven biomedical research as part of the NIH Intramural Research Program.

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