We focus on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, we award $200 million in funding to entrepreneurs across the country. Our goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in the United States, and companies seed funded by our program have since gone on to tremendous success.
-NSF Americas SEED Fund
Some of the best known grant funding for startups is focused on technology innovation. Traditionally, the government has been the actor with the most aggressive risk profile. In fact, it was federal grants and contracts that built silicon valley. This kind of grant funding is specifically designed for science based companies, working on "high-risk, high-impact technologies."
Naturally, our suggestion is going to be OpenGrants. Here is a quick overview of what our platform has to offer as a means of searching for grant funding. We highly recommend starting here for two reasons: it's free, and it's the fastest way to kick off your research journey.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR and STTR enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation's R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.
Central to the STTR program is the partnership between small businesses and nonprofit research institutions. The STTR program requires the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution in Phase I and Phase II. STTR's most important role is to bridge the gap between performance of basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations.
The mission of the SBIR/STTR programs is to support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of Federal research funds in critical American priorities to build a strong national economy.
The program's goals are to:
Stimulate technological innovation
Meet Federal research and development needs
Foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and socially or economically disadvantaged persons
Increase private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal research and development funding
In addition, the STTR program aims to:
Foster technology transfer through cooperative R&D between small businesses and research institutions
The SBIR/STTR Statute (15 U.S.C. §638) establishes a cap for the maximum dollar amount of SBIR and STTR awards, above which an agency must request a SBA-approved waiver. SBA adjusts the maximum dollar amount every year for inflation. The adjusted cap is effective for all solicitations and corresponding topics issued on or after the date of the adjustment. Agencies may amend their solicitation and other program literature accordingly. Agencies have the discretion to issue awards for less than the maximum dollar amount. For more information regarding a specific agency's award guidelines, please visit their solicitation and website. Agencies may exceed this cap for a specific topic with approval from SBA prior to the release of the solicitation, award, or modification to the award for a topic issued on or after the date of adjustment.
As of November 2019, agencies may issue a Phase I award (including modifications) up to $256,580 and a Phase II award (including modifications) up to $1,710,531.
The first step you will want to take is to identify the specific funding opportunity you want to apply for. Make an honest assessment of whether your idea really fits with the topic, or if you are unintentionally trying to force a fit. Review any literature cited or referenced in the topic description. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the topic and the Agency’s interest. Finally, establish a dialog with the Agency’s TA to secure clarification on the topic. This will help you determine what is and is not of interest.
Here are the tools we use to source SBIR/STTR opportunities.
You want to look for an agency that aligns well with your values. One clear example is, if you are developing technology for the military, consider applying to one of their challenges or programs instead of applying directly for NSF SEED Funding, which may also be a good fit for your technology, but not your values.
If you plan on submitting a proposal to any of the Agencies that participate in the SBIR or STTR programs, it is recommended that you take the time now to get your DUNS number, SAM Registration and register with the SBA.
In addition to these three required registrations, each agency has other unique systems with which you must register.
You will want to get the registrations done in this order:
DUNS Registration - The online registration will take about 5 minutes of your time to complete. During the DUNS registration process you will be asked for your EIN or Employer Identification Number.
SAM Registration - If you are not registered with SAM you cannot get paid. You will need your DUNS number and Employer Identification number in order to complete the application. As part of the registration process you will receive a Marketing Partner Identification Number or MPIN.
SBA Registration - This registration process should take no more than 10 minutes. You will also be asked to provide contact information for various company officials so come prepared.
Additional programs will require registration in other portals as mentioned above. Here are links to those portals. Review your opportunity carefully to understand where you need to register.
Before writing a proposal you must first understand how it will be evaluated, as the proposal that you submit must be responsive to these criteria. All solicitations contain a section where the evaluation criteria are discussed - usually placed somewhere toward the end of the solicitation document.
By reading the evaluation criteria before you begin proposal preparation, you will understand those items that you must address thoroughly within your proposal. Successful applicants assess “win themes” based on the criteria. Careful examination surfaces gaps and allows companies to find a good fit. The graphic above illustrates our process for developing a winning solicitation. Here are a few additional takeaways:
Get Organized - We love Asana, but really a whiteboard will work. Get a system, choose some tools, make a plan and stick to it. Writing a great is going to take longer and be harder than you think.
Engage Your Team - Pull in partners and engage your team as early as possible. You will need them for everything from letters of support to detailed feedback on technical aspects of your proposal.
Focus - Get really clear about the project. Grants are structured around discreet projects with a start, middle and end. The more clarity you and your team have, the better your proposal will be.
One mistake that is often seen with companies preparing their first SBIR or STTR proposal is that they try to force fit a research project of high personal interest into a topic that has been released by an agency. With broad topics, such as those released by most granting institutions, the proposer has considerable leeway. However, when the stated need is more specific, as is the case with contracting agencies, it is the responsibility of the proposer to demonstrate that he or she has heard and understands the expressed need of the agency and can provide a solution that is highly responsive and utilizes the small business core competencies.
Your grant will ultimately be a contractual relationship with you and a government agency. The only advice we will give here is: have your attorney review your contract!
If you are doing business with the government, you will probably get audited at some point. The following is a quick rundown of the audits you may face, and would do well to prepare for.
With a pre-award audit, the focus is on items such as price proposals, forward pricing, and indirect rates. All of these could be subject to audit. For firms having a cost-reimbursement contract for the first time, the pre-award accounting system survey is one of the most important financial hurdles to overcome.
During post-award, a common audit is an Incurred Cost audit. This is required with Cost Reimbursable type contracts, where you’ll need to report your year-end actual incurred costs to the government. Other post-award audits may include those for Truth in Negotiations compliance, Cost Accounting compliance, audits of contract changes and other claims, as well as labor floor check audits.
Fortunately, there are audit types that will not apply to you as a small business, such as the audit of your Cost Accounting Standards, or CAS, disclosure statement. There are thresholds for having a CAS-covered contract that requires a more rigorous documentation of your accounting system. However, small businesses are exempt from certain CAS requirements so you don’t need to worry about this type of audit which can be rather long and rigorous. In addition, defective pricing and change order audits are unheard of in the SBIR/STTR realm.
Interaction with DCAA regarding Phase I SBIR/STTR proposals is quite limited as these are usually firm fixed price contracts. There is no pre-award accounting system survey required for any firm fixed priced awards, and scrutiny of proposal pricing, in most cases, is manageable, as long as it’s less than $750,000. Once you receive a Phase II award your interaction will become more complex as the awards are often cost reimbursement type awards. DCAA involvement in Phase II will include a pre-award survey and pricing scrutiny, post-award accounting system audits, and incurred cost audits during the performance of your Phase II.