SBIR Road Tour: Who Should Attend and Why

February 24th, 2016 by Rebecca Todd

(First in a series)

On April 19, the 2016 national SBIR Road Tour will come to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The event, hosted by the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, will bring leaders of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer competitive funding programs to our state to meet with science and technology entrepreneurs.

sbir-road-tour-logoThe Road Tour allows entrepreneurs to engage SBIR/STTR leaders face-to-face. During one-on-one sessions, you will have the rare opportunity to share your research ideas with SBIR/STTR program managers from several federal agencies and learn how your ideas align with the agencies’ areas of interest and missions. This direct agency-level feedback is invaluable for crafting winning proposals.

Who should attend?

  • Entrepreneurial university researchers interested in commercialization
  • Members of industry who are in the early to intermediate stages of research and development of new products or services
  • Leaders of companies that have previously won SBIR/STTR awards and are interested in exploring new funding opportunities

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How do I know if my research is a candidate for SBIR/STTR funding?

SBIR/STTR provides $2.5 billion annually in federal funding for research by small companies. Each agency within SBIR and STTR has particular research topic areas of interest. Qualified proposals must respond to at least one of the research topic areas in order to be considered for award.

To find out if your research focus has historically been of interest to any SBIR/STTR agencies, a best practice is to conduct keyword searches for closed topics on To search for more than one keyword at a time, be sure to insert “+” between your keywords.

When you run a closed topic search, more than one agency may appear. If so, the SBIR Road Tour is an ideal event for you to attend, since you will have an opportunity to engage with program managers from at least eight components of the 11 total SBIR/STTR agencies. Your project idea may be relevant for multiple agencies. The best way to find out what agency to target first is to meet with them in person at the SBIR Road Tour event.

PrintOne thing you may notice as you search closed SBIR/STTR topics is that many grant-focused agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Institutes of Health, repeat the same topics from one solicitation cycle to the next.

Grant agencies are not interested in being your long-term customer; they are looking to bring needed technologies to market to address unmet societal needs. Since grant agency topics are often recycled, if you find a closed topic match and don’t locate any awards that duplicate your project idea, your project has a stronger chance for award through the SBIR/STTR program.

Contract agencies such as the Department of Defense don’t generally have the same topics from year to year. However, by researching their missions and areas of research interest, it’s possible to make an educated guess about whether or not a contract agency may be interested in your research idea.

After searching for closed topics, you’ll then want to see what projects in your field have already been funded. It’s important to regularly check on funded awards for a given topic area to stay current on any news awards that have been made in your field of interest. Instructions for searching closed topics and prior awards can be found here.


My company has won federal awards before. What value would this event offer for me?

Maybe you’ve been successful in applying for federal funding in the past or believe you have all the tools you need to write a winning proposal without any input from the funding agency. This may be true, but why not take advantage of any resources that could help increase your chances of winning?

SBIR/STTR is highly competitive – first-time applicants have about a 15% chance of winning a Phase I award. The application process is also time-consuming and requires a great deal of planning.

Meeting program managers in person has several benefits. Program managers can recommend how to modify a research concept to be a stronger fit for a specific SBIR/STTR topic area, for example. They can also let you know if another agency may offer a better fit for your technology idea.

If you can develop a positive relationship with the program manager for your topic area and ensure that he/she understands your project idea, then the project manager is in a position to address concerns that may arise when your proposal is reviewed by a panel. When I’ve joined conference calls between my small business clients and agency program managers, I’ve found that the program managers give direct, useful feedback that the small business client had not previously considered.


Next Time: Developing a Quad Chart

Stay tuned for the second post in this series, when we discuss how to prepare for the SBIR Road Tour event by developing a quad chart. Want a sneak peek?

Quad chart template (PowerPoint file)