3 Mistakes Crippling Your SBIR Proposal

May 9, 2023
min read

3 Mistakes Crippling Your SBIR Proposal

J. Greg Tinch

The SBIR program is a funding opportunity to develop and commercialize your startup’s new technology. This installment of our deep dive on the SBIR and STTR programs is about the application process.

SBIR Background

The Small Business Innovation and Research program is a federal government program supporting tech innovation by providing funding for small businesses and startups.  Eleven federal agencies administer this program. Read our last post to learn more online at: https://www.tinchlawmd.com/blog/intro-to-sbir.  

This post discusses our insights on successful SBIR applications.

Confirm you Meet Eligibility Requirements

Your first step is confirming eligibility. Your business needs to meet minimum SBIR-eligibility requirements, including:

  • For profit;
  • US owned/operated and majority controlled by a US citizen (or citizens);
  • Focused on performing R&D – not purchasing equipment, commercializing a technology that has already been developed, or one that has very low risk and only needs capital; 
  • Staffed by under 500 employees, including affiliates.

Every applicant must designate a Principle Investigator (PI) who will be primarily responsible for the project throughout the program. The PI, a single individual, must:

be “primarily employed” by the applicant small business during the award period. Agencies differ on what “primarily employed” means. Some agencies have more stringent requirements, but all of them require that the PI cannot be fully employed elsewhere.

It’s highly important to check the agency’s solicitation that you are applying to so that your firm meets all the eligibility requirements. For example, there may be additional eligibility requirements for Venture-backed applicants: a VC-backed applicant may be eligible if no VC, hedge fund, or private equity firm is a majority stockholder.

Time to Apply! Eliminate these 3 Mistakes to Strengthen Your Proposal

You confirmed that you are eligible, and you are ready to submit a proposal. Here are some common places your application may be vulnerable to rejection:

  1. You haven’t satisfied all the formalities.

The solicitations that agencies post include detailed instructions and requirements for the application. One of the most common reasons that proposals get thrown out is from not including all the components or right documents. Make sure to check these requirements throughout the writing and editing process.

  1. You did not spend enough time editing.

Editing for content, clarity, grammar, and word choice are often overlooked. Poor writing can ruin a great proposal if the bottom line is unclear and difficult for the reader to understand. As a rule of thumb, you should spend at least 25% of the time editing the proposal.

  1. You are not checking for TABA requirements.

Technical and Business Assistance (TABA) allows agencies to help their SBIR awardees by funding vendors to support commercialization or by providing direct funding so that they can contract with vendors and consultants for commercialization.  

Not every agency has TABA and different agencies vary in whether you have to apply within your proposal, during the award period, or at some other time. The individual solicitations will describe instructions for TABA and also any information needed about the vendors that an awardee wants funding for. TABA is an opportunity for you to earn up to an additional $6,500 in Phase I, so be sure to read the solicitation to see if you have to apply separately.

4 Bonus Tips

Here's other important considerations:

1.  Be strategic when choosing the subject matter for your project.  

  • Read Funding Opportunity Announcements for clues about current topics that agencies are interested in exploring via SBIR
  • Check past awards to see what projects are currently underway or were recently completed
  • Review program sites for participating agencies and check out the abstracts of proposals that were chosen for Phase I/II.

2.  Carefully comply with formalities

3.  Pay careful attention to the solicitations calendar to learn when each agency’s SBIR cycle begins and key deadlines. Open solicitations are available online here: https://www.sbir.gov/solicitations/open. Pay special attention to subject matter areas specified in the solicitation and deadlines.  

4.  Read the solicitation carefully for any special application rules.  Some solicitations have special rules like “Proposal Preparation Instructions”, “Application and Submission guidance”, and “Evaluation criteria.” Follow any special rules to increase your proposal’s chances of surviving the administrative review process.





J. Greg Tinch

J. Greg Tinch - Founder and Principal of Tinch Law Firm, P.C. - is a patent attorney helping clients realize wealth and legacy in their ideas. Greg has counseled clients from early-stage startups to the federal government on patents, trademarks, copyrights, and transactional and entity formation aspects of business law. Greg's intellectual property practice is informed by his interest in public policy, experience working in Congress and litigating civil cases in Maryland.