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Start Planning Your National Science Foundation SBIR/STTR Proposal

January 27th, 2016 by Rebecca Norman

Innovative small businesses and their research partners are encouraged to prepare now for future National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation and Small Business Technology Transfer grant funding opportunities. Both SBIR and STTR solicitations will be posted in March.

The Phase I award amount has increased to $225,000 with a project performance period of 6-12 months.

Required Registrations (free)
In order to be eligible to receive SBIR/STTR funding, small businesses must be formally registered in several places. To get started, you’ll need to make sure you have both a DUN and Bradstreet Number and an Employee Identification Number. For the DUNS registration, it’s recommended that you use Firefox or Internet Explorer as your browser.

It can take 2-4 weeks to complete all of the required registrations, so start as early as possible! The full list of required registrations in sequential order:

  1. DUN and Bradstreet
  2. EIN
  3. SAM.gov
  4. SBIR.gov
  5. Grants.gov
  6. NSF FastLane

Closed Topic and Prior Award Search
Before checking out the agency’s technology topic areas, prospective applicants are advised to search closed topics and prior awards using the SBIR.gov site. For an explanation of how this approach is beneficial and step-by-step instructions, see this previous Lab2Launch post. During the process of conducting these searches, findings can be tracked for later reference using this basic template.

Open Topic Search
Since the NSF’s SBIR/STTR topics tend to be similar from one solicitation cycle to the next, interested and qualified prospective applicants can begin reviewing the agency’s technology topic areas here.

Concept Paper 
The NSF is looking for groundbreaking new technology product and service ideas that align with one or more of your topic areas. Once you locate a potential topic match within the agency’s technology topic listing, another best practice is to draft a 200-word concept paper summary that concisely outlines your project scope of work.

An explanation of the uses for this concept paper and instructions can be found here. Your concept paper will also be useful if you plan to explore other agency programs.

Executive Summary Preparation

The NSF asks potential applicants to email a 1-2 page Executive Summary to the program manager identified with particular topic areas. The summary needs to include the following information: the company and team; the market opportunity, value proposition, and customers; the technology/innovation; and the competition. Once you’ve worked with your local SBTDC to draft this summary, you can email it to the program manager listed within the technology topic area of interest to request specific feedback on your project idea.

Communication with NSF SBIR/STTR Program Managers
The goal of this agency-level communication is to determine whether your project idea is a strong fit for the technology topic area of interest and whether or not it would be considered for award. The program managers may also provide useful suggestions for modifying the proposed innovation to be a stronger fit for the topic area, or recommend that the applicant consider another NSF topic area.

The NSF is open to communication with SBIR/STTR applicants year-round, so you can receive feedback from them well before the official solicitation open date.

What Next?
If you receive a positive response from the NSF program managers and encouragement to prepare a responsive SBIR/STTR proposal, it’s time to start working with your local SBTDC on next steps.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center will guide Arkansas applicants through this entire process, starting with development of an outline based on the agency’s solicitation. This is the time to refer back to your concept paper draft and modify your scope of work based on agency feedback. The concept paper will then become the foundation of your full proposal work plan that can be broken down to the task level.

Potential Customers
The NSF reviewers will be more likely to fund proposal application with strong commercialization plans.

In order to show the agency that you have a clear pathway to commercial market, begin talking with potential customers before you even begin drafting your proposal. Gather their feedback on your project idea using suggestions found in this previous L2L post.

Check out the 2015 solicitations to get a strong understanding of the content that will need to be included in your proposal application.

Upcoming NSF SBIR/STTR webinar
The ASBTDC will be hosting a live webinar, “The NSF SBIR/STTR Program: Strategies for Success” on April 6 from 10-11:30 a.m. CST. Register today.