Most of our clients ask us what the success rates are for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program overall as well as for the individual federal agency with which they are applying. These rates vary annually and we do our best to perform ongoing research in order to answer these questions as accurately as possible for our clients.
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. 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.
Overall success rates within the SBIR program should inform the validity of alleged success rates of grant preparation professionals. Occasionally, a grant preparation professional will make outlandish claims regarding their success rates. Knowing the success rates and statistics of the SBIR program overall and for each agency can help guard against dishonest success rate claims from grant preparation professionals. Given that only 17% of all applications are accepted, Phase I is a great success rate to inquire about. If only 17% are accepted and your grant preparation professional claims to have an incredibly high success rate in SBIR Phase I, this should be a red flag. As Phase II is awarded more frequently, a 40-60% success rate in this category for a grant preparation professional would not be unusual.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of the 11 federal agencies that participate in the SBIR program. Phase I RFAs are released each June with due dates in October, and Phase II RFAs are released in December with due dates in February. USDA SBIR/STTR seeks applicants with high-quality research related to important scientific problems and opportunities in agriculture that could lead to significant public benefits. The program stimulates technological innovations in the private sector and strengthens the role of federal research and development in support of small businesses. The SBIR program also fosters and encourages participation by women-owned and socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses. USDA topics surround agriculture, improvements to rural areas, automated water, soil testing, pest management or food production systems, nutrition, biodiversity, food production, and more.
USDA Success Rate
Five 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 USDA, are allocated only 3% of the funds. With such a small allocation of funds, it is understandable why the USDA only has a success rate of 12%. The average number of awards for USDA Phase I is 88, and Phase II 26 per year. The USDA generally awards $24.2m overall with $8.7m allocated to Phase I and $15.5m allocated to Phase II.