5 Critical Elements in Developing a Competitive SBIR/STTR Proposal

Mar 13, 2023

SBIR and STTR proposals are truly unique documents. They must meld together strong technical / scientific content with a robust understanding of the potential market and value creation possibilities. Often times it takes more than one attempt at submitting a proposal before it gets funded. Over years of reviewing proposals, working with clients and communicating with agency program staff, we have seen a number of flaws that commonly are found in proposals. Below are a few of these.

1. Overpromising – Are you being too optimistic with the work you expect to accomplish? Most solicitations that you will submit a Phase 1 proposal for will have a set dollar cap and timeline. Although there are always exceptions, most agencies fund between $100k to $300k and provide 6 to 12 months of time. While it may be enticing to propose an unrealistic amount of work given the dollars and time available, reviewers will be critical of this. Their fear is that you may run out of funds before completing the work and, as a result, the entire project will be a bust.

2. Milestones Unclear – Have you developed milestones that are measurable? Your workplan should be divided into distinct technical aims, each with their own milestones. Considering that a phase 1 proposal should be focused on proving the feasibility of an innovation, the milestones that you set out to achieve must be measurable. If they are not, proving feasibility will be difficult. Whether it is quantitative and/or qualitative data that you expect to achieve, be sure to engage with a team member or consultant who brings statistical expertise.

3. Innovation – Are you developing something truly unique, or are you tweaking an existing solution to make it better? Agencies are looking to fund truly unique, innovative, novel technologies. It is your job in a proposal to suggest that your R&D efforts are going to move the state of the art forward in a big way. Proposals that suggest only incremental improvements to existing solutions simply are not innovative enough.

4. Value Proposition – Have you clearly described the potential value that your novel technology will have? It is imperative to define who will benefit from the technology you develop and by how much. Value can be in many forms: economic, health, efficiency, etc. Benchmarking against the current solutions (ie. competition) is important here. This can be difficult to calculate, but showing the reviewers that you have taken steps to calculate educated estimates will go a long way toward building your credibility as a product-focused business.

5. Team – Have you built and R&D powerhouse team that will be compelling to the proposal reviews? A well-defined team with appropriate R&D experience is a key element. Be sure to take a critical look at who will carry out the R&D work that you are proposing and consider the gaps that may exist. Remember that 30% of the work in an SBIR Phase 1 and 50% in Phase 2 can be conducted via a subcontract to another entity.

The SBTDC’s Tech Commercialization Team is available to work with you in an advisory capacity as you develop your proposal strategy. Our services are confidential and no-cost.

Please reach out to sbir@sbtdc.org.

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