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Oregon Small Business Development Center Network

About SBIR and STTR

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are competitive federal grant programs designed to stimulate technological innovation by small businesses. Since 1982, more than $27 billion has been awarded that assisted more than 15,000 firms and resulted in more than 50,000 patents.

Following the submission of proposals, agencies offer awards based on the small business’s qualifications, degree of innovation, technical merit and future market potential.

Small businesses that receive awards then begin a program that can have three-phases:

  • Phase I is the startup phase. Awards of up to $150,000 for approximately six months support exploration of the technical merit, feasibility and commercial potential of an idea or technology.
  • Phase II awards go up to $1 million, for as many as two years, and expand Phase I results. During this time, the research and development work continues and the commercial potential of the product is evaluated. Only Phase I award winners are considered for Phase II.
  • Phase III is the period during which Phase II innovation moves from the laboratory into the marketplace. No SBIR funds support this phase, so the small business must find funding in the private sector or other non-SBIR federal agency funding.

The SBA’s Role

The US Small Business Administration plays an important role as the coordinating agency for the SBIR program. It directs the implementation of the SBIR program by the 11 agencies that offer grants, reviews their progress and reports annually to Congress on its operation. SBA is also the information link to SBIR. The SBA collects solicitation information from all participating agencies and publishes it quarterly in a Pre-Solicitation Announcement (PSA). This PSA is a single source for the topics and anticipated release and closing dates for each agency's solicitations. All of the SBA's programs and services are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grants

Each participating federal agency administers its own individual SBIR program within guidelines established by Congress. These agencies designate research and development topics in their solicitations and accept proposals from small businesses. Awards are made on a competitive basis after evaluating proposals. Participating federal agencies issue solicitations for SBIR/STTR proposal topics throughout the year, and each agency has a different process and different timeline for solicitations.

Currently, 11 federal agencies solicit SBIR proposals:

  1.  Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  2.  Department of Commerce (DOC): National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  3.  Department of Defense (DOD)
  4.  Department of Education (ED)
  5.  Department of Energy (DOE)
  6.  Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
  7.  Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  8.  Department of Transportation (DOT)
  9.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  10.  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  11.  National Science Foundation (NSF)

SBIR Eligibility

Small businesses must meet certain eligibility criteria to participate in the SBIR program:

  • American-owned and independently operated
  • For-profit business
  • Principal researcher employed by business
  • Company size limited to 500 employees

For more information about the SBIR program, visit http://www.sbir.gov. In addition, federal agencies maintain department-specific SBIR program webpages.

Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grants


The Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) program strives to stimulate technological innovation through partnerships between small businesses and nonprofit research institutions. This involvement with nonprofit research institutions is a major difference between SBIR and STTR grants. These federal agencies designate research and development topics and accept STTR proposals:

  1.  Department of Defense (DOD)
  2.  Department of Energy (DOE)
  3.  Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
  4.  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  5.  National Science Foundation (NSF)

Businesses must meet certain eligibility criteria to participate in the STTR program:

  • American-owned and independently operated
  • For-profit business
  • Principal researcher need not be employed by the business
  • Company size limited to 500

The nonprofit research institution must also meet certain eligibility criteria:

  • Located in the US
  • Meet one of three definitions:
    1.  Nonprofit college or university
    2.  Domestic nonprofit research organization
    3.  Federally funded research and development center (FFRDC)

There is no size limit on the number of employees for the nonprofit research institution.

For more information about the STTR program, visit http://www.sba.gov/content/small-business-technology-transfer-program-sttr-0. In addition, federal agencies maintain department-specific STTR program webpages.

SBIR/STTR federal agency solicitations contain the following information:

  • A description of the program
  • Deadline for submissions
  • Information on funding levels, instructions for applying, method of selection and review criteria
  • Research topics and scope of work

SBIR/STTR Award Types: Contract or Grant

Just as federal agencies differ in their solicitation processes, they also differ in the way they administer SBIR/STTR awards. If and when your small business obtains an SBIR or STTR grant, the award will be disbursed to you as either a contract or a grant. The key differences between these two award types are outlined below.

Contracted SBIR/STTR Awards

  • Agency establishes plans, protocols and requirements
  • Highly focused research topics
  • More fiscal requirements

Granted SBIR/STTR Awards

  • Investigator initiates research approach
  • Broad research topics
  • More flexible fiscal requirements

Proposal Review Process

Federal agencies have differing processes for reviewing proposals. Some review proposals internally by agency staff, while others have external review processes that utilize experts from the public and private sectors. Proposal reviews are based on the following:

  • Merit—Technical and/or scientific
  • Importance of the problem—Response to agency need, relevance to agency mission
  • Innovation—Technical and/or scientific
  • Potential opportunities and commercialization plan
  • Credibility of research team
  • Budget—Appropriateness and justification
  • Completeness of proposal

For more information about SBIR/STTR grants, see the tabs listed above.

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