5 Questions for STEM-preneurs to Answer BEFORE Pursuing the SBIR Proposal

Mike Fritsch, NIIC Senior Entrepreneur in Residence

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program has become one of the best financing options for tech-oriented entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’ve looked at it and are interested in submitting a proposal. Where do you start? Here are five questions you need to answer before writing the SBIR Proposal.

1.       Does this project or idea fit my company’s plans?

I’ve seen many entrepreneurs come up with ideas that have nothing to do with their company or business experience. So, what will you do with your technology if you build it and it works? You need to have a written plan describing how it fits into a growth plan for your company.

2.       I can build it, but who wants it?

How do you know that your high-tech idea is something that anyone wants and will purchase? It’s one of the most important questions to answer. Believe it or not, the government wants to know the answer, too. Far too many technologies sit on a shelf for lack of commercial readiness. Look up the term customer discovery. A Google search I did today netted about 392,000,000 results.

3.       How am I going to sell it?

How to sell your technology may be one of the most overlooked areas in the commercialization plan for your technology. In which markets will you sell it? Who will be your potential partners? What will be the cost? I’ve heard entrepreneurs say, “This is so awesome. It will sell itself.” Instead, consider your plan to market and sales strategy.

4.       Can I live within the government’s timing?

What is your impression of how fast things get done in large organizations? Even though the SBIR Program has streamlined processes, you are still working on government time. And Phase I and Phase II programs can take years to complete. Do you know there is also a Phase III?

What is the speed of entrepreneurship? Months.

Can your market and your company live with an expanded timeframe? Or, do you think another innovative solution may surpass your technology?

5.       Can I write a winning proposal?

Writing a winning proposal involves much more than writing it. It usually starts with having a relationship with the government agency you want to fund your technology. Eleven federal agencies participate in the SBIR Program. Which best fits with our technology?

Although each agency process differs, it’s best if the proposal is not the first time they have heard from you. Working through the agency provides the opportunity for you to tailor the proposal to what the agency wants.

Beyond that, follow the rules, provide what is requested, and do not rush the process.

How do I proceed? 

So, you’ve worked through the five questions and are ready to proceed. There are a lot of free resources out there to help, especially from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

The SBA typically contracts with one organization within a state to help companies with SBIR/STTR proposals. Look for the organization that is part of the FAST Program in your state.  In Indiana, it’s the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. Go here to get started.


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