Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grants

SBIR Grant Funding and Writing

Who's awarded SBIR Grants, what are they used for and how often are they given?

Small business innovation research (SBIR) grant funding awards come from all branches of
the U.S. federal government in an effort to foster new ideas and research. A small business is
defined as one having 100 or fewer employees. SBIR grants are generally offered
three times per year, with due dates depending on the specific governmental
agency. For the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, the deadlines are January 5, April 5, and September 5.

Three phases of SBIR Grants

SBIR grants have three phases (i.e., stages).

Phase I, generally up to $150,000, is a maximum six-page application, and is used to establish feasibility of the concept. Completion of Phase I should result in a working prototype.

Phase II: Up to $1.0 million and of two-year duration, is a maximum 12-page application that describes development of the prototype into a final product. In addition, a combination phase I/phase II application, called a “fast-track” SBIR, is allowed for especially promising concepts.  

Phase III, the commercialization of the product, does not receive
any funding. However, applicants for phase II SBIR grants must submit a 10-page
commercialization plan, which details financing, marketing, besting competition,
and protection of intellectual property.

SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) review criteria

SBIRs are reviewed similarly to other NIH grant applications, according to five
criteria: (1) significance; (2) innovation; (3) investigator; (4) environment; and (5)
approach. Scientific merit is based on a numerical “impact score” of 1 – 9, with 1
being the best, and 9 being the worst, score.

Applications are usually electronically assigned to three reviewers, who assign initial scores, prior to meeting (usually in the Washington, DC area) of a full panel of 20- 30 members. Based on initial impact scores, a threshold cutoff is made (usually at least the bottom 50%) such that non-meritorious proposals are not discussed, as voted on by the entire panel.

Discussed SBIR grants then are assigned a final impact score, with recommendations again by the three designated reviewers. The average is then multiplied by ten, for a final score ranging from a possible 10 (best) to 99 (worst).

Finally, these recommendations are submitted to an NIH council, who prioritize awards based on impact scores and the availability of funds.

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