January 20, 2021
SBIR/STTR applicants are encouraged to provide Letters of Support in their applications. For first time applicants, it may not be entirely clear what the purpose of these letters are or how one should go about obtaining them. We will provide some insight into how these letters may be leveraged in an application along with some helpful tips for finding the “right” letter writers for your application.
What exactly is a Letter of Support?
Letters of support provide third-party validation of your project and typically satisfy one or more of the following purposes:
- Legitimizes the unmet need that your product addresses
- Demonstrates support for technical innovation and/or feasibility
- Demonstrates a commitment or interest in future partnership or investment
- Demonstrates interest from perspective of potential end-user/customer
- Pledges commitment of time or resources that are critical for completion of project objectives
As such, the most effective letters will come from key opinion leaders, potential or actual investors, strategic partners, future customers or end-users, and collaborators.
Examples of how Letters of Support can enhance your application include:
Example 1: Company A is developing a medical device for more cost-effective minimally invasive surgery. They include letters from the following individuals in their application:
- a minimally invasive surgery specialist at a respected hospital
- an investor who is considering participating in a future Series A funding round
- a health care administrator with a clear understanding of the current costs of minimally invasive surgery
Example 2: Company B is developing a novel therapeutic for the treatment of COVID-19. They include letters from the following individuals in their application:
- an Intensive Care Unit physician to attest to the need for improved therapeutics
- a drug manufacturer interested in producing the therapeutic once approved for use
- a public health expert specializing in infectious disease epidemiology
How do I find people to provide Letters of Support?
Start by tapping into your professional network and asking colleagues if they have relevant connections. You can also search online for key opinion leaders in your field and send an introductory e-mail to gauge their potential interest. Local incubators and the Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC) can also serve as good resources. When reaching out to potential letter writers, briefly describe your company and your technology. Offer to discuss your technology solution with them. Finally, if they agree, provide a pre-written draft for them to edit, sign and return. Communicate that the letter of support is an expression of interest only and is non-binding.
What is in a Letter of Support?
Each letter should be addressed to the PI and reference the grant mechanism and title of the project. The letters should include the appropriate letterhead and signature. Each letter should cover the following points:
- brief description of the unmet need and how your technology provides a unique solution
- expertise of the letter writer, highlighting aspects of their background that demonstrate domain knowledge relevant to project/technology
- expression of interest for your product or technology, its innovative nature, and/or its potential for commercialization.
Personalize each letter based on the specific writer so that it is appropriate for their background and interests.
How many Letters of Support do I need?
The number of preferred or required Letters of Support varies by agency (e.g., NSF only allows 3 letters for Phase I applications), so review your funding opportunity announcement to determine the appropriate number of letters to seek. A general rule of thumb is to include approximately 3 letters with your Phase I application and 5 letters with your Phase II application.
And finally, leverage your letters to demonstrate that your technology is exciting, addresses a crucial pain point, and is commercially viable!