Learn as much as possible about SBIR Phase 1 before moving through the application process.

Innovation requires an agile mind that can pivot quickly from a dynamic speed to a more methodical pace. In the case of courting funds from the various Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) federal programs, it pays to be slow, steady, and inquisitive. 

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Getting your hands on that sweet government funding takes time and a gauntlet of no less than three gated phases. Each phase bears its own unique requirements, and to increase your chances of successfully moving through the process, it’s essential to ask all the necessary questions along the way. 

This blog will review the most critical questions associated with Phase I of the SBIR program across all involved government agencies.

Table of Contents



  1. What is SBIR Phase I?

Kicking off the proceedings, Phase I is mainly the research component to the funding process. Phase I could have some prototyping involved, but it’s essentially a feasibility study to evaluate an idea’s scientific and technical merit. 

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  1. What is the Timetable for Phase I SBIR, and How Much Does it Award?

Depending on the government agency you’re working with, a Phase I award is typically six to nine months and awards $50,000 to $250,000.

  1. Who Qualifies for SBIR Phase I?

Small businesses that operate entirely in the U.S.—outside of a small number of subcontractors or consultants—with fewer than 500 employees qualify for SBIR Phase I. 

The company must also be majority-owned by U.S. citizens. These requirements are the same across all three phases and all government agencies.

  1. Can I Skip Phase I and Go Directly to Phase II?

No. The SBIR program was established to create new innovations that meet existing federal research and development needs. The results of Phase I determine whether or not there will be a Phase II award to continue your efforts.

  1. Can Nonprofits Participate in SBIR Phase I?

No. Because of the ultimate goal of commercialization, nonprofits are not eligible for SBIR Phase I or any other phase of the SBIR program. 

  1. What Government Agencies Participate in SBIR Phase I?

Eleven government agencies grant SBIR funding. These include: 

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Transportation
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • National Science Foundation
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  1. Who is the SBIR Phase 1 Contact for Each Agency?

Each agency has multiple contacts that can help you navigate the application process. 

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  • Department of Agriculture




  • Department of Education

  • Department of Energy

  • Department of Health & Human Services
    • Stephanie Fertig, Small Business Program Lead
    • Email: seedinfo@nih.gov
    • Phone: 301-435-2688



  • Department of Transportation

  • Environmental Protection Agency

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

  • National Science Foundation

  1. Does the Small Business Administration (SBA) Contribute Awards in SBIR Phase I?

No. While the SBA itself doesn’t award funds, the federal agency monitors and coordinates all activities of the SBIR program, reporting the results to Congress across all three phases. 

  1. Can I Submit an Unsolicited Proposal for SBIR Phase I?

No. SBIR programs across all agencies require you to respond to one of their current topics.

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  1. What are Appropriate Topics for SBIR Phase I?

All agencies that offer SBIR programs list appropriate topic opportunities in their solicitation or Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). The only exception to this rule is the Department of Energy, which publishes a separate topic list several weeks before it releases its FOA.

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  1. How Can I Find Funding Opportunity Announcements for SBIR?

Back in the day, you had to read actual paper copies of solicitations from beginning to end to see if there were any topics relevant to your field of expertise. 

Today, with the help of the internet, all solicitations are distributed electronically—making the entire process faster, easier, and more conducive to results. 

You can find topics via a collection of search engines set up by the federal government. Type in your keywords, and the search engine goes through the topics that are currently open or recently closed. 

  1. What Are the Best Search Engines for Finding SBIR Phase I Opportunities?

Grants.gov can be used to search across all federal agencies offering all types of awards, including SBIR. But remember, less than half of all SBIR awards are made as grants, with the rest made as contracts. 

To search SBIR contract opportunities, go to sam.gov. Along with these two resources, many individual government agencies have their own search engines associated with their SBIR program. 

Meanwhile, some cross-agency search engines focus strictly on the SBIR programs. Some of these search engines are free, while others are only available for a charge. Of the free search engines, the best is SBIR.gov.

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  1. What Are The Submission Dates For SBIR Phase I?

Submission dates for Phase I of SBIR programs vary depending on the agency. To stay on top of your SBIR potential, you must keep track of four sets of dates: Release Date, Open Date, Due Date, Close Date. 

These denote the period for the different stages of an SBIR Phase I lifecycle, giving you a timeline and a good old-fashioned motivational deadline. This searchable page on the SBIR website lists ALL upcoming submission dates for every federal agency. 

  1. How Can I Win SBIR Phase I?

There is a lot of competition for SBIR grants and contracts. As such, you need to set your small business up for success to have the best chances of winning. Follow these basic tips:

 

  • Study The Details.

    Know your innovation front to back, which agency would show the most interest, and what that specific agency requires in its applications. 

 

  • Communicate.

    Remember that list of contacts from question #7? Reach out to the appropriate agency contact and start a dialogue. These agencies want to award funding the best possible innovation. So let them know you exist! Eventually, you should prepare a 1-2 page summary of your idea and email it to your point of contact. 

 

  • Take Your Time.

    As we stated earlier, the SBIR program is highly competitive. Put in the necessary time to correctly complete the application. This is not a process that only takes an afternoon—it should represent hundreds of hours of hard work! Consider hiring an SBIR grant writer. 

 

  • Read Proposal Samples.

    No one dives into the complicated world of SBIR program applications without a healthy dose of research and know-how. Search for successful proposals from other companies and reverse engineer their results into manageable goals. 

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  1. What are the Performance Benchmark Requirements for SBIR Phase I?

Small businesses with multiple SBIR awards must meet minimum performance requirements to be eligible for a new Phase I award. This ensures that all Phase I applicants are working toward commercializing their work. There are two main requirements:

 

  • Phase I to Phase II Transition Rate:

    An awardee must have received an average of one Phase II for every four Phase I awards received during the most recent 5-year period.

 

  • Commercialization Benchmark:

    This applies to SBIR Phase I applications that have received more than 15 Phase II awards over the last ten fiscal years (excluding the last two years). It’s required that these companies achieve the minimum levels of commercialization actively from their past Phase II work to be eligible to submit a new Phase I proposal.

  1. What are the Consequences of Failing to Meet Phase I Benchmarks?

The consequences of failing to meet Phase I benchmarks are rather severe. On June 1 of each year, the Small Business Association identifies the companies that failed to meet the minimum performance requirements. These companies will lose eligibility to submit a Phase I proposal for one year from that date. 

  1. How Long do SBIR Phase I Contracts Last?

SBIR Phase I contracts last for six to nine months. 

  1. Are SBIR Phase I Proposals Public Record?

SBIR data is protected from disclosure by the participating agencies for no less than 20 years, with the protection period beginning at the time of the Phase I award. This is also true for phases II and III.

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  1. What If I Have Questions Specific to a Particular Government Agency?

You SHOULD have specific questions for the federal department that’s the object of your application.
You can contact the department using the directory we provided in question #7 or review the “Frequently Asked Questions” pages for each agency:

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  1. What Are The SBIR Phase I Accounting Requirements?

Before netting any awards or contracts, you’ll need an accounting professional to review the integrity of your financial statements. The terms and conditions of the SBIR Phase I program require that you use best accounting practices to track how you spend your Phase I funds. This includes keeping track of timesheets for all employees whose wages or salaries are charged to your SBIR award. 

The expectations for a small business’ accounting system changes between phases I and II. While you need to demonstrate that you have a robust and meticulous accounting system for Phase I, the drastic funding increase between phases—from $150,000 to $1 million—equals much higher expectations from the federal government. 

Assisting you in all aspects of your SBIR accounting system is part of Team 80’s mission to end small business failure. We know the policies inside and out, and we can provide a team of professionals to help you meet all the accounting requirements for any federal agency during any phase of the SBIR process.

If you’ve been awarded an SBIR Phase I Grant or you’re looking for exceptional small business accounting 

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