7 Tips for High Tech Businesses Writing Proposals for SBIR and STTR Funding

Mike Fritsch, NIIC Senior Entrepreneur in Residence

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs support research and development and financing of cutting-edge technology.

For STEM entrepreneurs, it can provide a significant boost to launch and grow their businesses. Following are 7 Tips for writing an SBIR or STTR proposal.

1.       Start with the end in mind.

Dale Carnegie, author and world-renown business expert, had it right all along. “Start with the end in mind.” An SBIR submission must include what the government requests for a given project.  However, more importantly, it should be about where YOU and your company want to go. Where is that?

Think beyond the Phase I project and the Phase II project. Look ahead to Phase III and think about the commercialization of your technology. It will help your company advance its strategic direction.

2.       Identify the agency and opportunity that best fit your technology.

How do you know the best agency and fit for your submission? After all, there are 11 SBIR participating agencies. At first glance, it may seem obvious. Yet, sometimes an agency like the National Science Foundation might be a better fit for your health-care idea than the National Institutes of Health.

Find out by talking with SBIR resource representatives or directly with the agency. I encourage you to speak with the agency as much as you can.

3.       Do your homework before you start writing.

How do you determine which agency to pursue funding? Many proposals could align with multiple agencies. Identify what each agency looks for and spend MOST of your time doing your homework to answer the questions with some deep thought and research.

4.       Learn each agency’s administrative requirements. Start meeting them first.

Do you know about SAM (System of Award Management) is?

What DUNS (data universal numbering system)?

Are you familiar with Grants.gov?

The requirements for submission vary by the agency, but some of them can take a month or more to achieve. Don’t wait to start the process. Do this first.

Other questions you’ll need to consider as part of the potential requirements include:

Are you incorporated? Are you a small business? How do you do accounting?

5.       Read the rules, then follow them.

Again, each agency is different. Know the submission timeframes, the process, and format. Follow the rules. Your application could get declined as a result of the smallest infractions. Provide what is requested.

6.       Get help.

Many “tech-types” I know tend to want to do everything themselves. And NOT by reading the instruction manual. Give in—concede. There are many 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, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. Go here to get started.

7.       Don’t give up.

You know that real entrepreneurs keep going and keep pivoting until they find success. The same applies to SBIR proposals. Your first award or win on an SBIR proposal might come on your fourth try. I wonder how many quit after their first non-funded effort.

Commit to success. Develop a relationship with the federal lab. Narrow in on the match between what you’re thinking and what they’re thinking.

If you receive funding your first try, awesome. If not, you’re not alone. Keep going.


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