SBIR Grants: A New Barrier to Entry

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is piloting a new step in its application process for Small Business Innovation – SBIR grant process – adding an additional barrier in competing for funds: startups must submit a project pitch first before they can apply for seed funding. Essentially, the competition has become an invitation-only affair. 

Working with many startups that fall short of having what it takes to win a grant, I understand the heightened scrutiny but also firmly believe in early R&D and access to money, like SBIR grants. I attended the NSF’s first webinar on the topic and how it relates to SBIR grants.

Key Takeaways for the SBIR Grant Process

  1. You cannot submit a full SBIR grant proposal unless the NSF invites you, based on your project pitch.
  2. A program officer reviews your pitch. If it is not deemed a fit or ready, the officer will ask a colleague to weigh in before sending a rejection.
  3. The pitch gives you the benefit of getting feedback before spending precious time on lengthy company registrations and developing a full proposal.
  4. Companies do not have to be incorporated to pitch.
  5. If you’re not invited for a full proposal, you can revise your pitch.
  6. You may be invited to submit additional information if the pitch is incomplete or unclear.
  7. Once a pitch is pending, you must wait for an answer before submitting another pitch. If a full proposal is under full review, a pitch on the same topic cannot be submitted.
  8. A company cannot submit more than 2 pitches, on different topics, per submission window. This is to avoid companies spreading themselves too thin.
  9. Pitches are submitted online and can be edited until a program officer picks it up for review.
  10. Once your SBIR grant proposal is under review, pitches are processed and an answer can be expected within 3 weeks.
  11. To submit your pitch, use the online form at Information and links can be attached, but essentially, the form is text only.
  12. Of the four required elements, the technical innovation (500 words) and proposed R&D (objectives & challenges, 500 words) are key. Articulate clearly what is different and better about your technology, and how seed funding would move the technology and company forward. The team and market opportunity (250 words) must be covered too. Even when market potential is limited, an interesting technology may receive funding.
  13. For the purposes of the pilot, there are 2 submission windows for full proposals (currently March 4-June 13 and June 14-December 12). This covers almost the entire year of 2019. Rather than working with hard deadlines in June and December that force applicants to wait many months if missed, the two windows enable companies to submit full proposals year round.
  14. The NSF is expecting 1500 pitches between today and June 2019. Make sure you shine or risk not standing a chance. 

For details, see the NSF website ( A recording of the webinar (38 minutes) is now available too.

If you’d like help better understanding the process of submitting for an SBIR grant and could use some help insuring your submission is the best it can be, let me know! I’m here to help.

Fun fact: The NSF distributes $200M dollars of non-dilutive SBIR grant funding each year to startups for R&D that is high-impact and high-risk to support commercialization and make a positive impact on society. The vast majority (85%) of Phase I awardees have 5 or fewer employees.

Chantal Kerssens understands how people think, make decisions, and behave. And she knows how people interact with new health technologies. Contact Chantal for all of your digital health application needs. 

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