Thinking about SBIR/STTR? Consider these 6 Tips before applying

Often organizations bring me to the table when they are trying to understand why a previously submitted proposal was not funded, or they are just thinking about throwing their hat into the SBIR/STTR ring for the very first time and need help managing the process of development and timelines.

As a result, I have seen some really good products and idea from organizations that could potentially be game changers within their industry that should receive funding from SBIR/STTR, and some really… let’s just say… ideas or products that should not even be thinking about SBIR/STTR at all. I have also seen a mix of some half-thought-out, could be a good idea or product, but not quite there and probably should not go for SBIR/STTR in this round or near future.

In short, I have seen the spectrum of products and ideas for SBIR/STTR. No matter how good or not so good products and ideas for SBIR/STTR, all of them have had several common themes emerge. As a result, I push all of my clients to consider the following before approaching SBIR/STTR. [I am keeping this broad and applying this to ALL of SBIR/STTR funding opportunities across various agencies as the following theme seems to be the same no matter the agency.]

Here are 6 things to consider before applying to SBIR/STTR:

1. Know the funding likelihood

No matter the agency or funding line, even if it is not SBIR, you should know what you are up against regarding likelihood. You should be fully aware of how many grant awards a funding agency intends on awarding and you should be fully aware of how many applications they receive vs. they actually fund. Ask yourself, is the funding opportunity you are looking at a long-shot or realistic and achievable?Are they only awarding 4 across the country or 200? How big is their budget this year? Can they afford to award all proposals? As of two years ago, the following was true for SBIR:

  • Among the Phase I proposals submitted annually, only 6% to 19% are funded with some agencies have a higher funding rate than others. This means there is an 81% to 94% chance of NOT getting funded.
  • Among the Phase I proposals submitted annually, approximately 25% are first-time winners. This means 75% have submitted a proposal unsuccessfully in the past.

2. Read the solicitation and preparation instructions.

When you are done, read them again. Take time to truly understand the purpose of SBIR/STTR, the requirements, deadlines, and the focus of each solicitation. Understanding what the expectations of what should be included and not included in a high-competitive proposal are key. Take notes and ask yourself, “Does the solicitation align with what I am trying to accomplish?” What are the submission deadlines? Can I get a high-quality proposal in on time?

3. The 30-Day Rule

I strongly recommend that the process of applying (the application and the proposal) for any federal proposal begin 30 days or more prior to the due date. If you are considering SBIR/STTR and the deadline is less than 30 days away; don’t go near it. There are too many moving parts related to the application itself, not including a highly competitive proposal that needs attention, that need to be in place before it is submitted. For example, if your proposal is due September 5, proposal preparation should have begun August 5th or earlier.  [Personally, I will not take on a project that is less than 30 days away from the deadline. I do not feel comfortable prepping a project in a hurry and would be concerned that I would miss something. It definitely would not be my best work.] The sweet spot is 30 days or more prior to the due date.

4. Call the program officer or key contact person listed in the solicitation

Talk to them about why you think your organization is a fit and what they are looking for in a proposal. Most importantly, I recommend that you put together a list of questions to ask during the call. Be advised, don’t ask them questions that can be easily answered by reading the solicitation or preparation instructions. Clarification questions are one thing, but questions regarding page length and format will not go over well.

5. Check out previously awarded SBIR proposals

Even though you are in strong alignment with the funding solicitation, has something like what you are trying to do or accomplish been done? Has this agency funded something like this before? Looking at the previously awarded proposals will give you a good idea of the type of proposal the agency is looking for in terms of quality and focus.

6. Start collecting Letters of Support 

Often there are criteria on how many LOSs you can submit and who’s LOS you can include into the proposal. Collecting LOSs should begin right away and not something that can wait until the application deadline. I recommend taking a similar approach LOSs as proposal preparation (see #3 above); begin to request LOSs 30 days or more prior to the due date. There is more on how to collect LOSs HERE from previous posting Best Practices for collecting Letters of Support for SBIR proposals.”

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