Programs for Entrepreneurs

Small Business Innovative Research

These exclusive full-day workshops cover all aspects of National Institutes of Health SBIR and STTR proposal preparation.

What is SBIR?

Eleven federal agencies, including the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DoD), are obligated to contribute 2.5 percent of their annual R&D budget to fund entrepreneurs and small businesses performing research. This means that about $2.5 billion/year in grants (with no obligation to repay and no dilution of equity) are available to fund small businesses under this program.

The most recent workshop took place on November 17, 2011.

Key Points to Know About the Program

  • SBIR can be used for just about any industry: life science, physical sciences, information technology, or even education technology. 
  • Phase I award: typically provides about $150,000 for feasibility studies and proof-of-concept experimentation.
  • Phase II awards: If Phase I proves successful, the company may be invited to apply for a Phase II award providing upwards of $1 million over multiple years. Phase II expands upon the initial Phase I results and further develops the concept, usually to the prototype stage. Only Phase I awardees are eligible to participate.
  • A sister program known as Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) allows for R&D to be performed in partnership with a University or non-profit research institution.

Are You Eligible?

  • The company is of small business concern located in the United States.
  • The company is for-profit and employs no more than 500 employees.
  • For SBIR, the principal investigator’s (PI) primary employment must be, at least, 51% with the small business during the project.  For STTR, the PI may have full-time appointment with a partnering university or institution.  
  • The company is at least 51% American-owned and independently operated; firms with greater than 50% VC ownership are ineligible.

How Do You Apply & How Do The Federal Agencies Decide on Awards?

Federal agencies use the SBIR program to source external brainpower to solve their most intractable problems. Each year, the agencies issue program solicitations describing the technical areas for which they are interested. The solicitations, their release and due dates, and submission instructions are available at each agency website, available at The SBIR proposal is your response as to how you will solve the agency’s problem.

A peer review process evaluates the proposals for technical merit and commercial value. Reviewers are often external to the agency. The best proposals are succinctly written while also proposing a technology that is innovative, financially viable and aligned with the government’s research plans. Proposals are scored and formal award notices are sent to successful applicants.

According to 2010 NIH data, the success rate for Phase I SBIRs was about 15%, and for Phase IIs, 32%. Overall, the chances of success are quite good.

Hear What Others Have to Say About Why You Should Apply

The SBIR program helps fund the creation of new products. 
“SBIR funding has been invaluable for realizing our mission of improving access to healthcare,” said LanguageMate CEO Bill Z. Tan. “Without the NIH support through the SBIR program, the creation of our e-learning and clinical informatics platforms would not have been possible.” LanguageMate has received more than a dozen NIH SBIR awards to help build the Manhattan company to over 50 employees.

The SBIR program provides more than just funding. 
“SBIR grants increase the value of the company. Consider it ‘risk mitigation’ through a relationship with NIH,” said D. Joe Smith, former CEO of Novalon Pharma. Novalon won five NIH SBIR awards before being sold to Karo Bio AB. The SBIR stamp of approval helps validate a technology and pave the way for commercialization.

SBIR can open the door to valuable partnerships with focus and patience. 
The program has helped NYC-based Reservoir Labs, Inc. develop a unique set of powerful software technologies for high performance computing. To date, the company has been awarded over 10 SBIRs from DoD. The value building process of SBIR funding has given Reservoir leverage to build relationships and business with elite clients across finance, energy, defense, and computational biology. CEO Richard Lethin’s words of advice to new applicants: “The program is well worth pursuing but requires focus, attention, persistence, and patience. Focus, because writing a winning proposal requires effort. Attention, because there is no formula for success; one has to listen, analyze, and course correct at every stage of the process. And patience—the turnaround from submission of one proposal to actually getting funded can really stretch out—months, even close to a year. Or sometimes one loses, and has to go back to square one.”

SBIR grants have inspired entrepreneurs to do big things. 
Take for example Children’s Progress Inc. of New York City, who with the help of SBIR funding, developed academic assessment tools to support student learning. To date, the company has been awarded close to $1 million in SBIR research funding from the NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF). The value building process of SBIR funding has enabled Children’s Progress to leverage equity funding from angels and venture capitalists to further its growth. “Our equity totals in excess of $8 million,” notes CEO Kevin Greaney. “At this stage, we are poised to expand and hire additional researchers.” Reflecting on his SBIR experience, Greaney’s most important piece of advice to new SBIR applicants is “patience, as nothing happens overnight.” In fact, the company’s first SBIR application was rejected and the resubmission was not accepted immediately. “It is, at the very least, a nine-month process.”

News & Updates

Divisions Involved

Contact Info

Lenzie Harcum
Director, Bioscience
Center for Economic Transformation