The Blunt, Cold, Hard Truth: Success rate or success ratio is a bad measure

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:00 AM

Why “Success Rate” is a bad measure and the answer is not as straightforward as you would like with SBIR/STTR funding and Win Rate or Success Rate or Success Ratio is a misnomer and a misconception.

 

In the non-dilutive funding world (e.g. grant writing) there is an assumption that if you have 30% success – you must be BAD or if you have anything better than 75% you must be GOOD.

Did you know that there are funding lines like SBIR/STTR that have funding rate of ~9 to 18% probability of success? Yikes!! So how does one reconcile this with a professional that claims to have a 75%+ success rate with a funding line like SBIR/STTR? How those numbers are derived are important given the agency and funding line you are applying to and something you should deeply consider as you are looking for funding.

Down to brass tax, why am I not say, “We have X% success rate”?

All of our projects and clients are different, so to compare them to each other is not a good measure as there are multiple topic lines and our clients are from various industries. How do I compare Artifical Intelligence vs Virtual Reality proposals that were both submitted for SBIR funding? Those are two different proposals under the same funding line. Another good example of this would be comparing a pen, a TV, and a plant – yes, they are all objects or nouns – but they are different types of nouns. It would be different if they were all submitted for the same topic type or a very specific proposal. No two proposals or clients are the same.

OK, so what does success look like for us?

Success for us is that your proposal was submitted on time ahead of the deadline or cut off period. We believe you have to be in it to win it.

Success for us is getting your proposal through the First Level Review. Did you know that 1/2 of the proposals submitted to the federal agencies don’t follow the directions (e.g. page length, font, margins, attachments, etc.)? They don’t even make to the first level of review. At this point, your proposal as beat out 50% of the competition. Hypothetically if there are ~500 in a specific funding round that eliminates ~250 applications – leaving ~250 in play.

Success for us is getting your proposal in the reviewer’s hands and some agencies have one or two more level of reviews before that happens. This means, depending on the agency, another 50% of the competition is eliminated for various reasons (e.g. budget costs, forms, etc.) before you get to review. At this point, before the review, you have eliminated 75% of your of the competition. From our previous example – that would leave ~150 in play.

Of course, success for us is getting your proposal funded, but also getting reviewers feedback and notes. At this stage, many times reviewers like your proposal and score you well, but have run out of funding OR that another application (your competition) has a better application and really has nothing to do with your application – rather the reviewers like the other hot-wiz-bang in the other application. As you know we have no control over making the funder – fund a project. What we can do is help put our clients in the best position possible – given that 1) we don’t know who the reviewers are going to be (a blind review process), 2) how many applications will be submitted, and 3) who is submitting an application; your competition.

That’s nice, but I want to win. What CAN you say?

We CANNOT imply or promise any type of guarantee that your grant proposal(s) or projects will be funded, but we can work to get your proposal in front of the right people so that it will be considered and taken seriously.

In general, depending on dollars available – the number of applications received, other applications submitted (remember applicants are competing against each other)… Among those that submitted a proposal – SBIR/STTR Phase I proposals have about a ~9 to 18% probability of success (although the odds improve for well-planned and written proposals that adhere to agency-specific requirements). Phase II proposals are funded at a much higher rate ~35% depending on the agency. Using our earlier example of ~500 applicants  – this means between 45 and 75 proposals are funded in Phase I in a given round.

Typically we take on 3 to 4 projects per funding round per agency. Some agencies have three or two funding rounds per year. Knowing what we know about agency success rates (e.g. SBIR/STTR Phase I proposals have about a ~9 to 18% probability of success) – we are really excited if in a funding YEAR – 2 or 3 land per agency.


Let us help you meet your M/WBE utilization goal. We can help you locate funding, apply for funding, and help organizations measure & report on outcomes. See our experience with grant writing and evaluation services HERE.
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