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What to Know About the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

By September 27, 2021February 14th, 2022No Comments

Dear Founders,

Many of you are feverishly working to finish the year strong, start preparing for next year, and continuing to keep yourselves and your teams resilient.  If you have investors, then you are likely thinking about when your financial runway needs a capital boost.  But while you are closing out your year the US Government is in the first month of their new fiscal year.  Yes, October 1st is their New Year’s Day which means that fresh budgets just got activated.  So as you start planning for 2022 funding think about how SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) funding could be part of your stack.  SBIRs provide $50K to $1M in non-dilutive, research-focused capital that many investors and Founders don’t investigate properly.

The program’s highlights:

11 Federal agencies run SBIR programs, and each one is a little different but here’s what you need to know:

  • The effort to apply: A lot of people assume that getting Federal money takes a lot of time and effort and generally they are right. We would expect that first-time applicants will spend about a hundred hours on a proposal. However, the AFWERX SBIR is a lot easier and you can probably put one together in 20 to 30 hours.
  • Chances of getting funded: Gauging your chance of winning is difficult because so much depends on the specifics of your technology and the government’s priorities but on average there is a 15% success rate.
  • Get more information on the program and who it is good for: SBIR is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to free money, but it isn’t right for everyone so we have published a suite of free guides, how-tos, and analyses of the SBIR program to help founders understand the program:
  • A founder’s guide to SBIR
  • Other guides and helpful resources

What to do if you’re interested:

The government’s investment theses change all the time so the first thing to do is to see whether the government is interested in your tech area, and the two best sites for that are:

What to do if the government isn’t funding products like yours. The SBIR program can have a fairly narrow funding hypothesis at any given time so if your product doesn’t fit well take a look at two groups that are a little more flexible:

  • For emerging/deep tech funding check out the National Science Foundation HERE
  • If you have a functioning product that the DoD might be interested in check out AFWERX HERE (NOTE: AFWERX distributed over $500M in non-dilutive grants last year to over 1,000 startups; more seed stage capital than any VC firm over the same period)

While we know your time is precious, we highly recommend taking the time to explore SBIR grants.  While Venture Capital firms have traditionally underappreciated government grants and contracts the tide is turning.  So spend 15 minutes to see if the program might be a good fit for your company!


Brandon & Geoff