Small Business Innovative Research Programs
Are you familiar with the SBIR Program? If not, think of federal agencies as eager investors with a mandate to develop new technologies. If you can find a topic that fits your expertise, you may be awarded the funds to develop it. To qualify for the SBIR program a for-profit business must have less than 500 employees, be U.S. based, and the chief researcher must be employed by the submitting business.
As directed by Congress, SBA’s Office of Technology “administers the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program.* Through these two competitive programs, SBA ensures that the nation’s small, high-tech, innovative businesses are a significant part of the federal government’s research and development efforts.”
Each agency with SBIR funds publishes periodic lists of requested proposals. The topics vary widely—from digital gaming in education to new energy storage devices.
In addition, each agency has different rules about procurement and administration of SBIRs. For example, when lists of requested projects are announced, most agencies provide contacts for questions, while others preclude any contact at all. Be aware that each of the DoD’s components (Army, Navy etc.) have slightly different rules and procedures. Sometimes there are specific instructions for a particular topic, so you must study the solicitation instructions thoroughly. Some agencies also change their instructions from year to year. Most proposals are limited to 25 pages; you must learn to be really succinct.
I once did an SBIR submission for a company that always included colored line graphs to illustrate scientific points. The submission rules for that agency clearly stated that color was not acceptable because they would be copying the proposals in black and white for the evaluation team. These line graphs were meaningless in black and white. It was a huge chore for me to convince the scientists that color was not allowed. A small item like this can doom you to failure.
SBIR award amounts are from $100,000 to $150,000 for phase I, and $750,000 to $1,000,000 for phase II. This does not affect an agency’s right to make awards of greater or lesser amounts. $150K is not a lot of money to do basic research. Phase II is commercialization. More on that later.
Finding Information About SBIR Agency Programs
Two web sites offer the most information about SBIR programs.
The first is the SBIR Gateway ( http://www.zyn.com/sbir/ ) which offers plethora of information, including a newsletter, news about the program and solicitations, event calendars, and agency links.
* STTR requires the small business to partner with organizations such as universities, contractor-operated federally funded research and development centers or other non-profit research institutions.