Writing Your Specific Aims

The specific aims page is a critical page in an SBIR/STTR application.  The aims page should be treated as a standalone page from which a reviewer can gain a reasonable understanding of the critical components of the project without reading any other parts of the application. Applicants are only allowed one page for their specific aims.  Because 3 or 4 primary reviewers are responsible for scoring an application, it is common practice for the primary reviewers to be the only reviewers on the panel to read the application in its entirety. However, for applications that are discussed, the final score will be set after the discussion in the room with 20+ additional peer reviewers. Often the majority of peer reviewers in the room will only read the aims page of an application, as the application is discussed. Therefore, it is critical that the aims page convey why this application should be funded. 

The first half to two-thirds of the aims page should cover key background information.  The background should clearly convey three things;

  • The Significance 
    • The significance of the project should be clear from the aims page without turning to other parts of the application. A problem/proposed solution format often works well to convey significance. If there is an unmet clinical need, it will help the application for this need to be clearly stated.
  • The Technology
    • A clear technology description is critical to an SBIR/STTR application and is often one of the key differences separating an SBIR/STTR application from an academic application. Academic applications often focus on the scientific advancement or knowledge gain, but every part of an SBIR/STTR application should focus on the product.
  • The Innovation 
    • How will the technology change the current paradigm or practice? How will patients benefit from this product being commercially available? The aims page should convey this information as well as provide some textual highlights of the preliminary data as supporting evidence that the product will perform as proposed. 

The second half to one-third of the aims page should state your specific aims. An often successful format for the aims is one in which a clear bolded aims statement is made, followed by key assays and models that will be used to achieve the aim and appropriate milestones. It is critical that each aim have clearly articulated success criteria. Whenever reasonable, the success criteria should be defined by quantitative metric(s) or milestones. However, in cases where only qualitative success criteria are appropriate, they should be clearly stated. 

A statement of next steps is often a nice way to wrap-up an aims page. A statement about what will be accomplished during phase II allows reviewers to judge if the aims will appropriately set up the project to move on to this next step. A statement of next steps also provides an opportunity to show the reviewers that the company is focused on moving the product forward on a path to commercialization and that you will be using SBIR/STTR funding appropriately to help move the product forward.

Overall, the SBIR/STTR application must be focused on the technology, and each section should focus on how the proposed work will improve the technology or move the technology toward commercialization.  Most importantly, use the aims page to show how your technology, once commercialized, will benefit society.