NSF success rate

  • November 30, 2021

Many clients interested in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) are curious about their overall odds of scoring federal funding. They ask us for various success metrics, such as the success rates of the program overall, as well as for various agencies. Success rates change annually and vary widely by the agency in question. Nonetheless, we do our best to stay current with these rates so that we can better inform our clients of their overall chances of success. We published a post about the NSF SBIR success rate in 2016 (https://www.ebhoward.com/success-rates-of-the-national-science-foundations-sbir-sttr/). At that time, the NSF success rate was 17%, the most recent published statistics for fiscal year spending indicated that agencies made awards for $2.572 billion, including 3,223 Phase I awards totaling $568.0 million and 1,871 Phase II awards totaling $2.004 billion.

The Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program is a federal grant opportunity released annually to fund high-risk, innovative research and development programs. There are 11 agencies that participate in the program.

Each of the 11 agencies releases its own topics and subtopic and has a unique success rate. The success rate of each agency indicates the percentage of applicants that are awarded funds, on average. This measurement relates to how large the overall funding pool is for that agency as well as how many applications the agency receives. Programs with large funding purses and fewer applicants per round tend to have a higher percentage of awarded proposals, while programs with less funding or a higher number of applicants are more competitive.

Today in 2021, the statistics are a little different. While official data is not yet published, reports released earlier this year state, “The SBIR/STTR Phase I Programs are highly competitive. While success rates vary year-to-year, approximately 10-15% of the full proposals submitted are selected for an award. Thus, there are many qualified businesses applying to the program each year that do not receive funding.” This indicates the success rate has dropped a minimum of 2 percentage points and perhaps up to 7. This means it is more important than ever to research what goes into a winning proposal.


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