Five questions to ask the Program Officer.

  • April 18, 2023

The vast federal SBIR/STTR program contains 11 separate agencies, each with its unique set of protocols. Each agency publishes a variety of different Funding Opportunity Announcements that have proprietary rules associated with each. For this reason, it is wise to consult the program officer before applying. The Program Officer will answer any applicant’s question, but throughout our experience, we have found the following five questions essential for drafting a successful proposal.

1. Is my project a good fit for this solicitation?

We have written previous posts on the importance of aligning a proposed project to the proper solicitation (rather than trying to make the project fit the solicitation in a desperate ploy for funding). The best person to verify if the proposal fits the solicitation is the Program Officer. It is advisable to ask directly if the proposed project fits the organization’s current funding priorities. All potential applicants should run their summary and objectives by the Program Officer before drafting a proposal to ensure fit.

2. Clarification questions regarding the FOA

While every attempt is made to create FOAs with clear, concise language, the instructions can be vague or confusing to applicants. The best way to gain clarity on ambiguous language is to inquire directly. If an applicant does not understand part of an FOA or the proposal content and format directions, the best thing to do is ask the Program Officer.

3. Mistakes and gaps

The program officer has insight into past proposals. This enables them to inform future applicants of common errors and gaps they may have witnessed in the last round of proposals. Asking the Program Officer what other applicants were lacking and what the Program Officer would have liked to have seen included in these past proposals provides an opportunity for improvement.

4. Ask if they will review a concept paper.

While it is unlikely a Program Officer will review an entire proposal, they may be willing to review a 2-3 page concept paper that outlines the key ideas an applicant plans on including in their full proposal. Asking the Program Officer for a review shows that the applicant cares about alignment and is looking for constructive feedback. This, in turn, can encourage the Program Officer to give the proposal deeper consideration.

5. Who will be reviewing the proposal/what is the review process

Each proposal has a different process for review. This includes different numbers of reviewers, merit review criteria, and the technical expertise of the review panel. Asking the Program Officer about the composition and standard operating procedures of the review board is a great way to learn more about the review process and align the proposal to it. Understanding the technical expertise of the review panel and the merit review criteria they use to score proposals can help applicants draft stronger proposals.

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We assist our clients in locating, applying for, and evaluating the outcomes of non-dilutive grant funding. We believe non-dilutive funding is a crucial tool for mitigating investment risks, and we are dedicated to guiding our clients through the entire process—from identifying the most suitable opportunities to submitting and managing grant applications.