SBIR/STTR Frequently Asked Questions

What is the SBIR program?

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is a highly competitive three-phase award system providing $2 billion annually to qualified small businesses that propose innovative ideas meeting the specific research and development needs of the federal government.

 

What is the STTR program?

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program is a highly competitive three-phase program that reserves a specific percentage of federal research and development funding for award to small businesses in partnership with nonprofit research institutions to move ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace, to foster high-tech economic development and to address the technological needs of the federal government.

 

What are the advantages of the SBIR program?

More federal agencies participate in the SBIR program than in the STTR program, which means that more federal money is available for SBIR awards.

The agency award budget for SBIR awards is 2.7%, rather than the 0.35% agency award budget for the STTR program. These budgetary differences transfer into a SBIR “pot of money” that is about eight times larger than that for STTR awards.

Because more federal agencies participate in the SBIR program than the STTR program, there may be a greater opportunity to tailor your proposal to match solicitation requirements of multiple agencies.

No research institution partner is necessary.

 

What are the advantages of the STTR program?

Since the STTR program is a collaborative research effort between a small business and a research institution, this partnership can offer the following benefits:

  • Enhanced credibility, which can increase the chances of winning an STTR award,
  • Additional opportunity for proposal review prior to submission,
  • Opportunity for research ideas to develop within the research institution,
  • At some research institutions, the researcher can take a leave of absence to work on an SBIR/STTR project, and
  • SBIR applications have historically outnumbered STTR applications by more than eight-fold, causing the success rate for SBIR applicants to be lower than that for STTR applicants.

 

What agencies participate in the SBIR program?

The following federal agencies set aside a portion of their budget for SBIR:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce (National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Transportation
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • National Science Foundation

 

What agencies participate in the STTR program?

The following federal agencies set aside a portion of their budget for STTR:

  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • National Science Foundation

 

How much time will it take to complete my SBIR/STTR Phase I proposal?

For first-time SBIR/STTR proposal writers, it is advisable to start working on a Phase I proposal 6-8 weeks before the due date. Successful proposals require a substantial amount of work. The proposal author(s) should be proactive in soliciting feedback from experienced reviewers at every stage in the drafting process.

 

What is a principal investigator, and what is his or her role in the SBIR or STTR project?

The principal investigator (PI) plans and directs the project and plays a central role in leading the technical aspects of the project. The PI will usually serve as the primary contact for the federal agency’s SBIR/STTR program and works to ensure that the project is concurrent with the guidelines of that federal agency’s SBIR or STTR program.

Under SBIR program requirements, all PIs must be primarily employed (over 50%) by the small business during the duration of the performance of the contract or grant.

Under STTR program guidelines, the PIs do not need to be primarily employed by the small business that is submitting the proposal. However, the PI is still required to have a formal appointment with or commitment to the small business that is submitting the proposal. As in SBIR projects, PIs involved in STTR projects are responsible for the overall scientific and technical direction of the project. Each agency has specific requirements on the percentage of work effort that the PI should contribute to the STTR project. It is important to carefully examine STTR agency solicitations for information about the required PI work effort.

 

What are Fast-Track applications?

The Fast-Track mechanism for SBIR and STTR applications allows for an expedited decision-making and award process specifically aimed at scientifically meritorious applications with high potential for commercialization. In the Fast-Track review process, both Phase I and Phase II proposals are submitted and reviewed together. The Fast-Track application must contain a product development plan (commercialization plan) that addresses specific topics.

 

Can I submit proposals in response to solicitations from more than one participating federal agency?

The proposal can be tailored to match the interests, priorities and unique requirements of multiple agencies. (Since each agency has different needs and areas of emphasis, it is important to custom tailor each proposal to fit the agency.)

The agencies do require that you disclose in each proposal whether you are submitting a “similar or related idea” to other agencies. It is important to disclose not only how multiple proposal submissions may be similar, but also how they are different. If there are substantial and important differences between the proposals that are submitted to multiple agencies, and more than one agency wants to give you an award, it is possible to accept multiple awards, as long as the agencies agree to it.

However, if the proposals are duplicative, and multiple agencies are interested in giving your company a SBIR/STTR award, then you can legally only accept one offer.

 

Can I submit the same proposal multiple times within the same agency?

The agencies differ considerably on how they view multiple proposals on one topic in their solicitation. They may have different rules about submitting the same idea in multiple proposals, and whether an idea can be submitted for consideration under both SBIR and STTR programs. It is important to read the specific agency’s solicitation guidelines carefully before submitting your proposal multiple times to the same agency.

 

Does the Small Business Administration designate any of the topics cited in SBIR solicitations or make any awards under SBIR?

No. The legislation governing the SBIR program gives unilateral authority and responsibility for these functions to each of the participating federal agencies.

 

What is the federal agency solicitation process for SBIR and STTR proposals?

Each of the participating federal agencies list solicitations that address specific research topics 1- 4 times per year. These federal agencies won’t accept unsolicited proposals that do not correlate with their proposed research topics of interest.

Research topics for some agencies are more focused than others. For example, the Department of Defense (DoD) can be very specific in their solicited research topics. Research topics for the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) tend to be more general in scope, which often allows SBIR applicants to submit proposals that serve their particular research areas of interest while still meeting the overall science and technology areas outlined by such agencies.

Each agency releases their solicitation lists at different times during the year. A schedule of each federal agency’s annual SBIR program solicitation dates can be found at on the SBIR.gov website. Through the SBIR.gov website, prospective applicants can filter their searches by agency and keywords. An alternative resource that can be used to track seasonal solicitation dates by agency is SBIR Gateway’s Phase I Solicitation Finder located at www.zyn.com/sbir/scomp.htm.

 

What is the difference between an SBIR solicitation and a pre-solicitation announcement?

SBIR solicitations are specific requests for proposals released by the federal agencies participating in the program which may result in the award of Phase I SBIR funding agreements.

SBIR pre-solicitation announcements, released by SBA, contain pertinent data on SBIR solicitations such as research topic areas that are about to be released by the participating federal agencies.

 

What are the goals of the major federal agencies that participate in the SBIR program?

The Department of Defense uses SBIR as a procurement solution to mission requirements; they are interested in obtaining solutions that result from the SBIR applicant’s research and development (R&D) efforts. The NIH and NSF use SBIR grants for general societal benefit; they normally are not viewed as the end customer for the technology that is created with SBIR awards. The Department of Energy uses SBIR as both a procurement tool to meet mission requirements and for general societal benefit.

 

Who reviews my SBIR/STTR proposals?

Depending on agency, SBIR/STTR proposals may undergo an internal review, an external review, or a review that incorporates both internal and external reviewers. With internal reviews, agency members review the SBIR proposal. External reviews involve a review by people outside of the agency, such as university personnel or other experts in the field.

The Department of Defense, the Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Department of Transportation all use an internal review process. NASA uses both internal reviewers and at least two independent reviewers. The NIH uses dual review systems comprised of an external peer review panel, and advisory panel, and an internal review group. The NSF uses ad hoc external review panels. USDA proposals are reviewed by a separate review panel for each topic area; proposals are subsequently reviewed by an ad hoc review panel.

 

How can I ensure that my SBIR or STTR proposal meets agency reviewers’ expectations?

SBIR/STTR applications are evaluated on the basis of the following core review criteria:

  • Technical Merit
  • Team Qualifications
  • Value to Agency
  • Potential for Commercialization
  • Cost/Cost Realism

Each SBIR agency has different priorities in terms of these evaluation criteria. For specific agency SBIR and STTR review criteria, consult SBIR program information on agency websites and contact agency SBIR/STTR program leaders.

 

How long does it take SBIR/STTR agencies to notify award winners after a solicitation has closed?

After the close of SBIR/STTR solicitations, the amount of time that lapses before award winners are notified can vary between 3 and 6 months, depending on the agency. Information about the SBIR/STTR award selection and notification time frame can typically be found in the agency solicitation or on the SBIR/STTR program section of the agency website. Links to the SBIR homepages of SBIR agencies can be found at SBIR.gov or on the SBIR Gateway website at www.zyn.com/sbir.

 

What are my chances of winning an SBIR award?

SBIR success ratios for Phase I range from between 1 to 5 and 1 to 15.

SBIR success ratios for Phase II range from between 1 to 2 and 1 to 3.