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How to Write a Competitive SBIR or STTR Proposal

A Thought Leadership article we liked from OCSC Partner University Lab Partners:

10 Tips for a Competitive SBIR or STTR Proposal

How to Write a Competitive SBIR or STTR ProposalLearn more about what you need to receive small business funding.

The 10 tips for writing a competitive SBIR/STTR proposal below will help your company navigate applying for a highly-competitive SBIR/STTR grant. The grant application process can seem complicated and intricate at first, but with the right tools, it can be done efficiently and correctly. This article will help you understand your company's options and your best course of action in order to draft a competitive SBIR or STTR proposal.

1. Find the Best Fit

At the very beginning of your quest for funding, you need to find the best agency for your project (whether it is a device, a drug, a therapeutic, etc). The 2 major places for small businesses that provide funding and deal with biotech innovations are the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundations (NSF). There are many other agencies that set aside money for funding but they are a little bit more ‘picky’ in comparison to the NIH and the NSF. Below are some basic guidelines that will help you draft a competitive proposal.

What's the difference?

The NIH seeks application of knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness or disability. The NSF on the other hand is more focused on technology and using science and engineering to profoundly impact society. The due dates and other relevant information are detailed in the graphic below. In summary, the NIH works with regular due dates while the NSF works with submission windows in response to the current pandemic. The NIH has said they will be flexible but it is always best to have open communication with the agency if you think you or your company might need an extension.


In the graph above, you will also see that the NIH has a significantly larger budget than the NSF, $1.15 billion in comparison to $1.75 million in Phase I and $110 million in Phase II at the NSF. So this means if your project has an impact in the medical field you might want to consider working with the NIH to maximize your funding. The NSF also requires a 3-page ‘Project Pitch’ that outlines your invention and associated risks. This may seem like just another hoop to jump through, but it is actually a great way to show your innovation to industry professionals at the NSF who can provide valuable insight for your company.

Here is a breakdown of what types of technology or product is best for either the NIH or the NSF.

Platform Technology

  • Can be used to create an impressive business plan
  • Inappropriate for NIH SBIR/STTR applications
  • Preferred for NSF SBIR/STTR applications

Individual Product or Service

  • Preferred for NIH SBIR/STTR applications
  • Data is needed to advance your product or service toward the market, and methods employed to protect that data (AKA research)
  • The NIH will always be more focused on treatment and prevention, so they are more likely to want specific drugs products/devices that will treat specific diseases or conditions

Types of Solicitations

Another thing to consider when working with the NIH and the NSF is to consider which 'topic area' to apply through. The omnibus/parent grant solicitations at the NIH are generic announcements from the NIH that show...

Read the rest of this article at

Thanks for this article excerpt to University Lab Partners.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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