Unlocking the Doors to Success: A Beginner’s Guide to the SBIR Federal Grant Program for Startups

Narine Emdjian
6 min readJul 9, 2023

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Securing funding for your small business can be a daunting task, but the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs offer a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to receive financial support for their research and development projects.

However, with over $4 billion in annual funding, competition for these grants can be fierce. That’s why it’s essential to have a comprehensive strategy in place to maximize your chances of success.

In this article, we’ll provide you with tips for each phase of the SBIR/STTR grant process, from identifying the right funding opportunity to crafting a winning proposal. Whether you’re a first-time applicant or a seasoned veteran, these insights will help you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of securing the funding you need to take your business to the next level.

Advantages of SBIR grants for startups

Let’s first understand is it really worth to spend time and efforts to apply for the federal grants.

  • The biggest advantage of SBIR grants are that those money are non dilutied, meaning that you don’t have to give up equity in your company in order to receive funding. Currently, the SBIR Program is the largest source of non-dilutive capital specially deisgned for US-based small businesses. A company can rasise close to $2M capital for tow year project.
  • Access to the capital not only comes without diluting any part of yoru company, but also you can retain full ownership and control of your startup, management, and intellectual property.
  • SBIR grants are specifically designed to fund research and development efforts, which means that startups can use the funding to focus on developing new products or services. This can be a great way to accelerate the growth of your business and stay ahead of your competition.
  • Another advantage of SBIR programs is that they cover broader technology sectors including manufacturing, defense, energy, and the environment, all key to growing America’s economy. Currently, all 12 federal agencies are participating in the SBIR program and are required to set aside at least 3.2% of their extramural R&D funds for the SBIR program. Two agencies accounted for more than three-fourths of total SBIR funding in FY2019: the Department of Defense (DOD) ($1.533 billion, 48%) and HHS ($988.0 million, 31%). The next three highest SBIR funding agencies (DOE, NSF, and NASA) together accounted for almost 19%. The remaining agencies accounted for about 2%.
  • Receiving an SBIR grant can be a great way to increase your credibility in the eyes of investors, customers, and other stakeholders. It shows that your business is innovative and has the potential to make a significant impact in your industry.

But, before apply for any SBIR Program you must make sure that your company meets eligibility requirements.

Eligibility requirements for SBIR grants

In order to be eligible for an SBIR grant, your business must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be a small business: To be considered a small business, your company must have fewer than 500 employees. In addition, the business must be independently owned and operated, and not be dominant in its field.
  • Must be owned by the US citizen: At least 50% of the Company should be owned and controlled by US individual(s) or permanent resident(s). Also, the majority of the company should NOT be owned by venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or privateequity firms.
  • Must be based in the US: SBIR grants are only available to businesses that are based in the US. In addition, at least 50% of the research and development work must be conducted in the US.
  • Must have a research and development focus: As mentioned earlier, SBIR grants are specifically designed to fund research and development efforts. Therefore, your business must have a focus on developing new products or services.

Types and Phases of SBIR grants

There are several types of SBIR grants available, each of which is designed to fund different stages of the research and development process. Here are some of the most common types of SBIR grants:

Phase I: Phase I SBIR grants are designed to fund the initial research and development of a new product or service. This funding is to demosntrate tecahnical feasibility of thr proposed solution. The grant amount is typically between $150,000 and $275,000, and the funding period is usually 6–12 months.

Phase II: Phase II SBIR grants are designed to fund the continued development of a product or service that was previously funded by a The grant amount is typically between $400,000 and $1.5 million, and the funding period is usually 2 years.

Phase IIB: Phase IIB SBIR grants are designed to help businesses commercialize products or services that were initiated fuirng Phase II. The Agency will match up to $500,000 additional capital if the Company brings third party investments from VCs and othe private investors.

Tips for writing a successful SBIR grant proposal

The application process for SBIR grants can be complex and time-consuming, but it’s important to take the time to do it right in order to increase your chances of receiving funding.

Here are some tips that can help you develop a winning proposal:

  • Start early: The application process for SBIR grants can take several months, so it’s important to start early in order to give yourself enough time to develop a strong proposal.
  • Understand the evaluation criteria: Each grant program has its own evaluation criteria, so make sure that you understand what the reviewers will be looking for when they read your proposal.
  • Be clear and concise: Your proposal should be clear and concise, with a strong focus on the research and development goals of your business.
  • Identify the right grant: The first step in the application process is to identify the right grant for your business. Make sure that you understand the eligibility requirements and the goals of the grant program before you begin the application process.
  • Develop a research plan: In order to receive an SBIR grant, you’ll need to develop a research plan that outlines your goals, methodology, and expected outcomes. This plan should be detailed and well-researched in order to demonstrate that your business has a clear understanding of the research and development process.
  • Write a grant proposal: The grant proposal is the most important part of the application process. It should be well-written, detailed, and persuasive. Make sure that you address all of the requirements of the grant program and demonstrate that your business has the expertise and resources to successfully complete the project.

Common mistakes to avoid when applying for SBIR grants

While there are many things you can do to increase your chances of receiving an SBIR grant, there are also some common mistakes that you should avoid. Here are a few:

  • Failing to follow the guidelines: Make sure that you read the guidelines for the grant program carefully and follow them exactly. Failure to do so can result in your proposal being rejected.
  • Lack of focus on research and development: Remember that SBIR grants are specifically designed to fund research and development efforts. Your proposal should clearly demonstrate that your business has a strong focus on these activities.
  • Lack of expertise: Make sure that your proposal demonstrates that your business has the expertise and resources to successfully complete the project. If you don’t have the necessary expertise, consider partnering with someone who does.

SBIR grant resources and support

If you’re interested in applying for an SBIR grant, there are many resources and support available to help you navigate the application process. Here are a few:

  • SBIR.gov: This website provides information on the SBIR program, including eligibility requirements, application deadlines, and grant opportunities.
  • SBIR Ready: This program provides training and support to businesses that are interested in applying for SBIR grants.
  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs): SBDCs provide counseling and support to small businesses, including assistance with applying for SBIR grants.

SBIR grants offer a great opportunity for startups to raise capital and accelerate their research and development efforts. While the application process can be complex and time-consuming, it’s important to take the time to do it right in order to increase your chances of receiving funding. By following the tips and advice in this article, you can develop a winning proposal that demonstrates your business’s expertise and potential for success.

Interested in applying for SBIR Program? Schedule a call with me today to learn more about available grants and eligibility criteria. Send a call request at funding@ifundlab.com

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Narine Emdjian

Founder at iFund Lab | Federal Funding Expert helping startups & tech entrepreneurs to raise non-dilutive funding through SBIR & other federal funding programs.