Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

How to tap federal research funding and get tech grants

While a great idea may be the kernel you need to start a small business, without the proper research and development, you're unlikely to get too far too fast. There is, however, government funding available that can help ease the burden: the Small Business Innovation Research Program.

To qualify for the SBIR program, a company must:

  1. Be American-owned, independently operated and for-profit
  2. Employ the principal researcher
  3. Have fewer than 500 employees

But, the SBIR process is a complicated one, so here are a few more things to consider:

Know what you're getting into

SBIR is a highly competitive program. Only top applicants will be awarded first-round funding and have a possibility to apply later for Phase II grants. So do your homework before plunging in and get the application exactly right.
Small Business Administration and SBIRworld.com are good places to get a quick education about SBIR funding. For a more comprehensive overview, go to SBIR Gateway, which has links to SBIR news updates, participating agencies, events and assistance services.

Narrow your scope

Each of the 11 federal departments participating in SBIR has some money to hand out. Check out the individual agencies' Web sites to review their guidelines, requirements and projects they're interested in funding. Then, target the group that would be best served by your R&D.
Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology all have individual sites listing available grants and recent awards.

Get a coach

If you want to shore up your chances for getting a piece of the pot, think about hiring a professional who knows about the application process, has helped other small businesses win awards and can review your pre-application qualifications.
  • The federal government isn't the only one doling out money. Many states have similar SBIR programs; check to see what's available on a local level.
  • If the SBIR application process becomes too overwhelming, there are software tools available that will help you along the way. Look at programs like SBIR-ToolKits for pre-formatted proposal and grant request templates.

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