The #1 one thing that should not be written in your SBIR/STTR proposal – Part II

  • January 17, 2023

Last May, we published a blog post, “3 things not to write in your SBIR Proposal”. This follow-up is in response to lessons learned through our team’s continuous professional development, continuing education, and collaborative brainstorming sprints we undertake to increase the value of our services for clients. Our team decided this one item that should not be written in a proposal is so important it required a separate post.

Sometimes the best practice for proposal preparation is not what one might think. For example, when applying for an innovative R&D grant, many clients (incorrectly) assume that their innovative product does not have market competitors. While this is a logical conclusion to draw theoretically, we see many clients choose this approach to great detriment to their overall proposal. The truth is that every product has market competitors. Failure to recognize this fact on the part of the applicant leads reviewers to believe the applicant does not understand their market segment, performed no customer discovery, has done insufficient market research, and as a result, is ill-equipped to commercialize the product – which is one of the main goals of SBIR.

“There are no market competitors for my product”

said innovators/startups assuming that there is no compeition and then thinking it will fly with SBIR/STTR funders.

Every proposed solution has a competitive, existing solution. We refer to this as the “industry standard” solution – the current alternative to the newer, better, faster, more cost-effective solution the applicant is designing. To describe this well, applicants are advised to research their customer segment thoroughly. This includes identifying customer needs, determining how customers currently solve those needs, and determining the value proposition of the new solution as it relates to them.

With these knowns in place, the applicant can then conduct further research to determine the nearest market competitors. In describing competing products, it is critical to illustrate how this proposed innovation surpasses the industry standard. Illustrate why customers would be more willing to purchase the new product than the competitor and how the applicant arrived at that hypothesis (market research, customer discovery, projected industry growth trends).

The best way to show product superiority among market competitors is with an infographic or table. This way, the capabilities of each can be illustrated in a digestible way that does not fatigue the reviewers. One of the biggest mistakes we see in general among applicants is not enough attention to the commercialization plan in general, but specifically when it comes to describing market competition. No matter how innovative a solution is, customers are solving existing problems in another way. It is far more effective to focus on how an innovation surpasses the capabilities of competitor products than to (falsely) claim to the reviewers that no market competition exists.

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.