Navigating the New NSF SBIR Phase I Project Description Template: Key Changes You Need to Know

  • June 28, 2024

As the landscape of innovation and technology continues to evolve, so too do the requirements for securing funding. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently updated the SBIR Phase I Project Description template, introducing several key changes aimed at enhancing the clarity and comprehensiveness of proposals. Here’s a detailed look at what’s new and what you need to know.

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Changes to section labels and page limits

In the updated NSF SBIR Phase I Project Description template, several key changes have been made to the suggested page lengths for each section, reflecting a push for more detailed and comprehensive proposals. The Executive Summary has been removed entirely. The Intellectual Merit section has significantly expanded to 7-10 pages, underscoring the need for an in-depth exploration of the project’s significance and technical innovation. The Broader Impacts section remains at 1-2 pages, continuing to emphasize the societal contributions and broader benefits of the project.

The Project Overview, now detailed under the Intellectual Merit section, contributes to the increased page count for Intellectual Merit. The Technical Approach, integrated into the Intellectual Merit section, also forms part of the 7-10 pages, requiring a thorough methodology and literature review. The Commercialization Strategy has been redefined as Commercialization Potential, now spanning 1-3 pages, down from the previous 2-4 pages of The Commercial Opportunity, yet necessitating a detailed market analysis and competitive landscape.

The Company and Team section has been streamlined to 1-2 pages, reduced from the previous 1-3 pages, placing a sharper focus on the qualifications and experience of the team members. The Facilities and Equipment section remains concise at 1-2 pages, ensuring that reviewers understand the resources available to support the project. The Budget and Justification section has been slightly expanded to 2-3 pages, up from the previous 1-2 pages, requiring a more detailed rationale for each budget item and clear cost-sharing expectations.

This revised structure ensures that proposals are not only more detailed and comprehensive but also more strategically focused, enhancing the clarity and impact of each submission.

Saying Goodbye to the Executive Summary

One of the most notable changes is the removal of the Executive Summary. This section, once a staple of the proposal, has been eliminated. However, the critical elements it contained are now seamlessly integrated into the Project Summary and Project Description sections. This streamlining aims to reduce redundancy and ensure that the most important aspects of your proposal are front and center.

Project Description: Diving Deeper

Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts

The NSF has revised its guidelines to place a stronger emphasis on intellectual merit. Your proposal must now clearly articulate the significance and innovative nature of your project. Additionally, the broader impacts section has been expanded to include detailed discussions on societal benefits and contributions to the field. It’s essential to demonstrate how your project can make a meaningful difference.

Project Overview

A detailed project plan with specific milestones and deliverables is now a must. The updated instructions also highlight the importance of describing potential technical risks and outlining your mitigation strategies. This added layer of detail helps reviewers understand your project’s feasibility and the thoughtfulness behind your planning.

Technical Approach

The technical approach section has been significantly enhanced. A comprehensive literature review is now required to establish the foundation and context of your proposed work. Moreover, a step-by-step methodology with timelines is mandatory, providing a clear roadmap of how you plan to achieve your project goals.

Commercialization Strategy

Commercialization is at the heart of the SBIR program, and the updated guidelines reflect this. Your commercialization plan must include a detailed market analysis and a go-to-market strategy. Additionally, a new section requires you to outline the competitive landscape and explain how your solution differentiates itself. This clarity will help reviewers assess the commercial viability of your project.

Company and Team

The qualifications and experience of your team are now under greater scrutiny. The new template places additional emphasis on demonstrating that your team has the expertise needed to execute the project successfully. You should also describe your company’s previous accomplishments and how they relate to the proposed work.

Facilities and Equipment

Precise details about the facilities, equipment, and resources available to support your project are now required. This information helps reviewers gauge whether you have the necessary infrastructure to achieve your project objectives.

Budget and Justification

The budget and justification section has been revised to require more detailed explanations for each budget item. This includes a rationale for the costs and new guidelines on allowable costs and cost-sharing expectations. A well-justified budget shows that you have thoroughly planned your project and can effectively manage the funding.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the new NSF SBIR Phase I Project Description template might seem daunting, but these changes are designed to enhance the quality and clarity of proposals. By understanding and adapting to these updates, you can strengthen your application and improve your chances of securing funding.


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