15 Notes for Proposing on Small Business Innovation and Research Grants

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As the new calendar year approaches, technical small businesses turn their minds to the holidays… and SBIRs.  SBIRs are Small Business Innovation and Research grants.  They are a method for the government to get innovative ideas into the fold from sources that are typically neglected, like small businesses.  Each federal agency is required to devote a percentage of their funding toward these grants.  They are not easy to win, as small businesses all over the country put their best foot forward to win.

NASA opened up their pre-solicitation period for SBIRs today.  The Department of Defense will open their first (they have three solicitations throughout the year) on December 12th.

Some important notes:

  1. Different agencies have their own solicitation schedules.  NASA (sbir.nasa.gov) and the Air Force tend to release topics once per year.  The rest of the DOD (dodsbir.net) (Army, Navy, DARPA, etc.) release topics thrice per year.  DOE, DOT, etc. have their own schedules (sbir.gov).
  2. Each agency has different funding levels and proposal requirements.  Pay attention to the requirements of both the topic description and the proposal instructions.
  3. Each agency evaluates things a little differently.  DOT and DOD do things differently, and this has to be understood when proposing.
  4. Your business must be registered in SAM and have a DUNS number and CAGE code.
  5. Ensure that you can show expertise or a way of quickly obtaining it for each area that you must address in your proposal.  For example, if you have no experienced bridge builders for a proposal dealing with building bridges, find a consultant and schedule visits to bridge construction sites.  Demonstrate that you’ve taken the appropriate steps to address potential weak points.
  6. In line with #4, partner if you need to.  You can partner with other small businesses, educational institutions, consultants, and large businesses.  There are certain limitations to this, which are spelled out in the proposal instructions.
  7. You will most likely not win the first time.  A NASA Small Business Officer once told me that companies on average take four tries before winning their first SBIR.
  8. It will take more time than you think to put together a proposal.
  9. Make sure that whatever concept you propose is innovative.  These are not typically engineer to requirements.  This is research and development, and your proposal needs to reflect that.
  10. You can ask questions at any time during the pre-solicitation and solicitation periods.  You can only talk directly to the Topic PoC (Point of Contact) during the pre-solicitation period.
  11. If you don’t win an award, make sure to get a debriefing.  Agencies are required to provide debriefings for losing proposals if requested.  The debriefings are text-only, and will provide you with feedback you can use for the next proposal.
  12. Again, if you don’t win, you can look and see who did.  Unfortunately, you can only see their abstract, but that’s good because…
  13. Your intellectual property remains yours, not the government’s.  This is different that the typical government contract.  You need to retain your IP, though, because…
  14. SBIRs are supposed to result in production and, possibly, commercial products in the end.
  15. Speaking of which, SBIRs are broken into three (3) phases.  Phase I is usually research and/or testing to establish that your concept will work.  It can also involve some detailed design work.  Phase II is essentially prototype development, production, and testing.  Phase III may or may not be partially funded by the government.  Phase III would be full-rate production.  If there is true commercial viability, the government believes that you can find a commercial partner or other source of financing to make up the difference.  They may provide nothing.  The IP remains yours, but they gain a perpetual license to use whatever comes out of the SBIR.

Stratosmith will be proposing on at least one SBIR in the coming months.  We often look to partner with companies that can provide capabilities that we don’t have in-house.  We also look to support others’ proposals.  If there is something that you think we can help you with, from writing the proposal to engineering to testing, give us a call or e-mail us at SBIR@stratosmith.net.

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