Grant applications: Find me the money

The e-mails were arriving in Pete Kissinger’s inbox almost every day: “TODAY ONLY: Extra 25% Off … Craft your R01 Grants Management … Only 1 Day Left.” They were from consultants trying to charge him to do something that scientists have long done for themselves: search for research-grant opportunities, write proposals and, in some cases, manage the grant once it has been won. Eventually, Kissinger’s curiosity got the better of him.

Having founded his first company in the 1970s, Kissinger, an entrepreneur and bioanalytical chemist who works part-time at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is no stranger to the challenges of raising start-up capital and research money. But he says that it is harder to get funding now than when he began. For one thing, the paperwork is more onerous. “And that’s not really the thing most of us in science enjoy doing,” he says. So about 18 months ago, when he needed money to develop a device for sampling blood to speed up clinical diagnoses, Kissinger hired FreeMind, a funding consultancy with offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Jerusalem. He is waiting for decisions on two applications that he made last year with their help, and on another that was put together in March.

Types of funding finder range from services offering online information packs that cost a few hundred dollars to consulting firms such as FreeMind, which can charge up to 10% of the grant total. In return, they offer familiarity with the applications process and established relationships with the programme officers and businesses that are offering the funds. Nothing stops a scientist from going directly to the US National Science Foundation for funding information, notes Ram May-Ron, vice-president of FreeMind. “We don’t claim to have any special powers, but we have lots of experience.”

Consultants say that they can help to highlight and emphasize the aspects of a proposal that increase the chances of funding. “It’s not just about how you raise money, it’s about how to direct what you’re doing in a fashion that will extract the social, medical and financial value of it,” says Mark Goldstein, chief scientific officer of MammaCare, a medical-device firm based in Gainesville, Florida. Goldstein has worked with Kirk Macolini, a funding finder at Centurion Technologies in Ithaca, New York, for more than 10 years.

Making the most of that help means knowing when to seek assistance, whom to ask for it and how to work well with a consultant.

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