Elements of a Successful SBIR Proposer

At the beginning of the quest for an SBIR/STTR award, people often consider several issues, such as fit of the solicitation or agency to their work, the deadline for a proposal, etc.  However, arguably the first thing to consider is a good self-assessment to have a clear understanding of the fit of the program to the entrepreneur and team. With that, some key attributes of a successful SBIR venture are as follows:
  • Understanding of and willingness to perform customer discovery – Without the ability to articulate who the customer is, and stakeholders are for the product, most SBIR proposals will fail.
  • Desire to operate a business – Unlike other grants, the goal of the SBIR program is to fund a company to commercialize a product. In fact, the funds are awarded to a small business concern.  If the desire to run a business is not part of the equation, many of the key elements of writing a proposal will not be as covered as rigorously as necessary to win the award.  Even if the Phase I proposal can be written to compensate for a lack of desire to operate a business, it is highly unlikely that appropriate amount of enthusiasm will go into the commercialization plan for a Phase II.  Finally, as some point, the grantee must operate a for-profit business to conform with the terms of the grant.
  • Focus on innovations with profit potential – SBIR funding is dedicated to solutions that can be commercialized. Unique, novel, elegant or just plain cool concepts are not appropriate for SBIR without evidence that the product will sell AND will sell for a profit.
  • Clear understanding of industry segment – This item can be learned by a proposer, but a lack of knowledge of the proposed industry segment puts a proposer at a disadvantage with regard to time researching the segment and lacking a sense of intuition about the customers in that market.
  • Clear understanding of research methods and budgeting in a research environment – Unlike the previous business-based items, understanding research methods and associated budgeting is imperative for a grant to fund cutting-edge technology. It is the “R” in “SBIR”.
The final criterion for a successful proposer is the unwavering appreciation for a team.  The SBIR agencies will weigh scoring of a proposal heavily on the existence and quality of a team, full-stop.  The justification for this is manifold, but it should be obvious that one person will likely not possess all the key attributes of a successful SBIR venture.  Given that such people do rarely exist, issues with productivity, motivation, and checks/balances on work become critical when one or even two people are sharing all the business and research functions. Among the variety of SBIR related services provided by SBTDC Tech Commercialization team, our counselors are available to discuss the self-assessment and assist with mitigating the deficiencies while accentuating the adequacies.