Success Rates and DOT SBIR

  • March 15, 2022

One of the most frequent questions we get from our clients is “what are my odds of winning this grant”?

While we have no influence over the outcome of any proposal, we can guide our clients by informing them of the average success rates for their program. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has an overall success rate that varies annually.

Each of the 11 agencies that participate in SBIR has its own individual success rates that also vary by year. Regardless of which agency they are applying to, our clients can rest assured that we have researched the most current publications surrounding SBIR success rates.

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 with their 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. Success rates relate 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 success rate, while programs with less funding or a higher number of applicants are more competitive.

Overall, the federal government invests approximately 50 billion dollars per year into the SBIR/STTR program. The most recent published statistics for fiscal year spending indicate 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 success rate overall was 17% for Phase I and 60% for Phase II.

More than half of SBIR awards made in FY2017 were Phase I awards (63%). However, over three-fourths of SBIR funding went to Phase II awards (78%) between FY2000 and FY2017. As you can see, it is much more difficult to obtain a Phase I than a Phase II award.

In addition to the success rate of the program, another important thing to consider is the success rate of the grant preparation professional who is assisting with the application. Understanding the agency’s success rates and overall funding strategies can help guard against dishonest success rate claims from grant preparation professionals. For example, if you know that only 17% of all Phase I are funded per year and your grant preparation professional claims to have a 75% success rate in SBIR, that would mean that they alone were responsible for 22.66% of all winning Phase I awards throughout the country. This is highly unlikely. Knowing the statistics of the program to which you are applying is a great way to ensure you do not fall victim to false claims. However, if they make such a claim about their Phase II success rates, this is more believable, since we know that 60% of all Phase II awards are accepted.


The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) is one of the 11 federal agencies that participate in the SBIR program. The Funding Opportunity Announcement is typically issued in late winter. DOT SBIR/STTR seeks applicants with ideas that have the potential for commercialization through products and applications that can be sold to the private sector transportation industry, state departments of transportation, U.S. DOT, or other federal agencies.

DOT SBIR/STTR awardees have developed innovative technologies that benefit the department and the public while providing a basis for growth for small businesses. The DOT SBIR/STTR program has invested $50 million in qualified small businesses. DOT topics surround transportation, transportation safety, and materials for the surfaces upon which transportation takes place. There are also opportunities for AI or ML-driven detection equipment as well as energy and fuel-related topics.

DOT Success Rate

Five of the 11 agencies receive the bulk of funding for the SBIR program. These include the Department of Defense (DOD), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Energy (DOE), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The remaining 6 agencies, including the DOT, are allocated only 3% of the funds. With such a small allocation of funds, it is understandable why the DOT only has a success rate of 7%. The average number of awards for DOT Phase I is only 14, and Phase II only 15 per year. The DOT generally awards $11.3m overall with $1.9m allocated to Phase I and $9.4m allocated to Phase II.

We work with high-growth startups and organizations that support the startup and innovation ecosystem. We build highly specific non-dilutive funding menus, provide proposal preparation services, and measure outcomes of funding through evaluation. Schedule a consult call with us HERE.