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The Anatomy of a Winning DOE SBIR Grant

As one of 11 federal agencies participating in the Small Business Innovation Research program, the U.S. Department of Energy has a unique metric for success.

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The Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is a highly competitive three-phase process. Small businesses seeking DOE SBIR award funds must propose innovative ideas that meet the federal government’s specific research and development needs.

So you’ve got your amazingly innovative idea ready for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the federal government’s Department of Energy (DOE). Now what? How can you increase your chances of actually scoring funds?

This blog will look to answer that grand question and a few more minor queries along the way. But first, let’s define the basics.


What Does DOE SBIR Stand For?

DOE SBIR stands for “Department of Energy Small Business Innovation Research.” Established by Congress, SBIR programs at the DOE support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of federal research funds, with the expressed purpose of meeting critical needs and helping build a robust national economy.

Beyond the DOE, the government program consists of 11 federal agencies with considerable research and development (R&D) budgets. These agencies set aside a fraction of their budgets for competition among small businesses, who keep the rights to any technology developed and are encouraged to commercialize the technology, should they win the award.

What Is STTR?

STTR stands for “Small Business Technology Transfer” and refers to another type of competitive awards-based program sponsored by federal government agencies.

How is STTR Different from SBIR?

The STTR program focuses primarily on expanding public-private partnerships to include collaboration with nonprofit research institutions, particularly research universities. STTR projects require that any efforts in R&D are divided between the small business and its research partner. What’s more, STTR projects allow small companies to appoint a principal investigator who the nonprofit research partner employs.

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How Many Program Offices Are Involved in the STTR/SBIR DOE Program?

Thirteen total program offices work collaboratively with the SBIR/STTR programs throughout the DOE. 

Each of these program offices considers its own high-priority research needs and program mission and the goals for the program in developing research topics.

The DOE SBIR/STTR Program Offices are as follows:

  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR): Discovers, develops, and deploys computational and networking capabilities to analyze, model, simulate, and predict complex phenomena important to the DOE.
  • Environmental Management (EM): Manages one of the world’s most significant groundwater and soil remediation efforts. Seeks to eliminate threats to human health and the environment and prevent pollution from ongoing government activities.
  • Basic Energy Sciences (BES): Supports fundamental research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels. Thus providing the foundation for new energy technologies and supporting DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security.
  • Fossil Energy (FE): Helps the country meet its continually growing need for secure, reasonably priced, and environmentally sound fossil energy supplies. Ensures the nation can rely on traditional resources for clean, secure, and affordable energy.
  • Biological and Environmental Research (BER): Supports transformative science and scientific user facilities to achieve a predictive understanding of complex biological, earth, and environmental systems for energy and infrastructure security and resilience.
  • Fusion Energy Sciences (FES): Expands the fundamental understanding of matter at high temperatures and densities, building the foundation needed to develop a fusion energy source. The office achieves this by studying plasma, the fourth state of matter, and how it interacts with its surroundings.

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  • Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER): Leads emergency preparedness and coordinates responses to disruptions to the energy sector, including physical and cyber-attacks, natural disasters, and manufactured events.
  • High Energy Physics (HEP): Provides humankind with new insights into the fundamental nature of energy and matter, along with the forces that control them.
  • Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation R&D (DNN R&D): Reduces the threat to national security by advancing capabilities to detect and monitor foreign nuclear fuel cycle and weapons development activities, special nuclear material movement or diversion, and nuclear explosions.
  • Nuclear Energy (NE): Advances nuclear power as a resource capable of meeting the country’s energy, environmental, and national security needs by resolving technical, cost, safety, proliferation resistance, and security barriers through research, development, and demonstration.
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE): Supports early-stage R&D of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that seek to make energy more affordable while strengthening the reliability, resilience, and security of the U.S. electric grid.
  • Nuclear Physics (NP): Researches ways to understand the structure and interactions of atomic nuclei and nature’s fundamental forces and particles as manifested in nuclear matter.
  • Electricity, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE): Provides national leadership to ensure that the country’s energy delivery system is secure, resilient, and reliable. Develops new technologies to enhance the infrastructure that brings electricity into every aspect of American life.

Why Does DOE Use a Letter of Intent?

A Letter of Intent (LOI) is a document that outlines the preliminary commitment of one party to conduct business with another. 

It declares and makes official the main terms of the prospective deal. 

The DOE uses a Letter of Intent during the SBIR/STTR process mainly because of a Congressional requirement to shorten the review process. An LOI gives DOE program managers the power to identify appropriate technical reviewers before submitting the complete application.

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How Do I Prepare a DOE SBIR/STTR Phase I Grant Application?

The Phase I Grant Application process for the DOE can seem like a daunting prospect at first glance—and for the most part, it is.

The keyword to remember is “competitive,” in that netting an SBIR grant from the DOE is highly competitive. As such, the application process should be slow and methodical.

You should take each step as seriously as possible, researching and reviewing your work closely.

If your grant application is completed in a week or two, that almost certainly means it’s under-developed and poorly prepared.

For a well-thought-out DOE SBIR Phase I grant application, you and your team should dedicate at least 300 hours for completion, with a skilled grant writer leading the way.

As luck would have it, the DOE recently updated its instructions for completing an SBIR Phase I grant application. Read through the document before even starting the process—it will give you a leg up on the competition!

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What is an SBIR DOE Project Narrative?

Essentially, the SBIR DOE Project Narrative is the heart of your proposal. 

This research proposal tells the story of your innovation, from research tactics down to the nuts and bolts of your project. It’s generally broken down into the following outline:

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  • Cover Page
  • Proprietary Data Legend
  1. Identification and Significance of the Problem or Opportunity, and Technical Approach
  2. Anticipated Public Benefits
  3. Technical Objectives
  4. Work Plan
  5. Performance Schedule
  6. Facilities/Equipment
  7. Research Institution
  8. Other Consultants and Subcontractors
  9. Bibliography and References Cited

Before you begin working on your Project Narrative, you must be working from the DOE’s most recent Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), a notice on grants.gov of a federal grant funding opportunity. As the DOE often updates its FOAs, always check the DOE website and download the most recent PDF.

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What is an SBIR DOE Commercialization Plan?

The Commercialization Plan requires you to describe your company’s strategy for commercializing the technology you develop for the DOE SBIR. 

To achieve this, you must provide specific information on the need within the market for your technology and the size of the market you intend to target. You should also include a schedule that demonstrates the quantitative commercialization results your company expects to achieve. 

For SBIR Phase I, the DOE requires a two-page Commercialization Plan uploaded through grants.gov in a specific section referred to as “Other — Phase I Commercialization Plan” in the DOE FOA. 

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In recent years, the DOE has placed an increased emphasis on commercialization in Phase I, stating that “if the Commercialization Plan is not included at the time of application submission, your application will be administratively declined without review.”


What are the Topics for SBIR DOE Phase I?

SBIR DOE Phase I topics include an exhaustive list of possible grant projects in the scientific and engineering field. 

A recent release by the DOE communicates a plethora of topics, running the gamut from “Technologies for Managing and Analyzing Complex Data in Science and Engineering” to “Technology to Facilitate the Use of Near-Term Quantum Computing Hardware.”

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Who is Eligible for SBIR DOE Phase I?

Only small businesses in the U.S. are eligible to participate in SBIR DOE Phase I.


Applicants for DOE SBIR/STTR must meet the following criteria at the time of their Phase I awards:

  • Independently owned and operated
  • Organized for-profit
  • Principal place of business in the U.S.
  • Small businesses structure with 500 or fewer employees, including affiliates
  • Meet the benchmark requirements for progress toward commercialization
  • Present ideas that align with the DOE’s mission

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Who Can be a Principal Investigator in an SBIR DOE Phase I?

Every DOE SBIR/STTR proposal must designate a single individual who will serve as Principal Investigator (PI) on the proposed project.

This person takes on the overall responsibility for the project—as such, they must possess the education, work ethic, and project management experience to complete the job.

As for official eligibility, the PI must be primarily employed by the small business during the SBIR award period.

This means the PI cannot be full-time employed anywhere else during the DOE SBIR award process.

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How Much Are SBIR DOE Phase I Awards?

The DOE’s SBIR Phase I awards fall into two monetary categories: $150,000 or $225,000, depending on the project. DOE SBIR Phase I awards have project periods of six to 12 months, with the final timeframe contingent on the scope of the feasibility effort.

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Who Has Won SBIR DOE Phase I?

Though the DOE’s SBIR Phase I awards constitute an extremely competitive process, plenty of small businesses have walked away with substantial grants that have helped to fund an array of successful projects. 

These DOE success stories can inspire small businesses on the hunt for project grants.


One such success story comes from Heliotrope Technologies, an Alameda, CA-based small business with 40 employees. 

Working on the next generation of smart glass, Heliotrope developed Universal Smart Window Coating, designed to limit heat gain generated from the sun without blocking visible light. This technology allows building owners to reduce energy usage by 50 percent. 

Guillermo Garcia, co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Heliotrope, said that SBIR/STTR grants help advance the technology through funding while also putting the company in a position to attract future investment through private financing. 

Guillermo Garcia, co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Heliotrope

Guillermo Garcia
co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Heliotrope

Photo Credit

“[SBIR funding] was critical in the early stages of the company because it was a reliable source of capital that helped us address technical risk flagged by future investors,” said Garcia, whose company received a combined $1,150,000 in phase I and II awards. “With these funds, we were able to mitigate the technical risk and land private investment. Without this aid, we would have never de-risked the product and landed future [quality] investment.”


The same can be said for NanoGraf Technologies, an even smaller company of 15 employees (at the time of their grant application), based out of Chicago, IL. Formerly known as SiNode Systems, they developed battery anode material to overcome existing limitations on energy and power density while minimizing costs. 

After receiving Phase I and II funds totaling $1,150,000, SiNode was able to form NanoGraf Technologies with JNC Corporation, a Tokyo-based specialty chemical manufacturer. The $4.5 million joint venture now focuses on commercializing materials for the lithium-ion battery industry. 

Amazingly, Samir Mayekar, Co-Founder & CEO of NanoGraf, was part of a team that applied for an SBIR grant while still graduate students.

Photo of Samir Mayekar

Samir Mayekar
 Co-Founder & CEO of NanoGraf

Photo Credit

“One of our entrepreneurship professors encouraged us to look at the SBIR program, and we immediately applied for a Phase I award when we found a topic that was directly related to our technology area,” said Mayekar. “We learned how to communicate our technology roadmap and critical milestones, found a lab space outside of Northwestern University where we would spin out if awarded an SBIR, and assembled a qualified team to advance the company.”


Then there’s Energy Sense Finance (ESF), a company that proves you only need a handful of dedicated team members to win a grant and make a difference. Based out of Tampa, FL, ESP boasted a mere four employees at the time of its award, which helped them develop technology to help realtors, appraisers, lenders, insurance companies, solar installers, homeowners, and home buyers calculate the value that solar adds to a home. 

As a matter of chance, ESF founder and CEO Jamie Johnson had signed up for the DOE SBIR newsletter and saw the funding opportunity for a solar subtopic. That chance reading eventually led to a combined $1,725,000 in Phase I and II awards.

Headshot of Jamie Johnson - CEO of Energy Sense Finance

Jamie Johnson
Energy Sense Finance Founder and CEO

Photo Credit

“Getting SBIR grant funding from DOE gets you an audience. It shows the world that we’re innovating,” said Johnson. “Getting direct funding from DOE increased the size and depth of our network. For example, by working with DOE, we established deep connections with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and had great discussions with Solar City, SunPower, and other installers.”

Team 80 Clears A Path To Success with DOE SBIR Phase I Awards

The DOE’s stated mission is to “ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” Team 80 believes in this mission and knows that innovative small businesses are strapped for cash, time, and work power. That’s why we step in to manage your accounting concerns—so that you can focus on the task at hand and energize your team on the way to securing that all-important SBIR grant money.

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Ben Smith

Director of Governmental Accounting

Ben has worked in and around small business for the majority of his career. Ben didn’t start out as an accountant, but was actually a chef. In 2009 he opened his own catering business. The accounting duties for the catering company fell on Ben’s shoulders, and that was when he realized accounting was a much better fit for him! Ben is passionate about helping small business owners make their companies successful, and brings a highly varied set of experiences to the table to help in this pursuit. When he’s not crunching numbers he can be found hanging out with his wife Maaike and their Miniature Pinscher Milo, or pursuing his other passions which include skiing, windsurfing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing guitar and riding dirt bikes.

Been with Team 80: Since Sept 2018

Education
Colorado State University-Global Campus
Degree Name: Bachelor of Science (BS)
Field Of Study: Accounting
Graduated: 2016

Colorado State University
Degree Name: BA
Field Of Study: English
Graduated: 1995


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The Top 20 Questions People Ask About SBIR Phase II

SBIR Phase II focuses on the development, demonstration, and delivery of your small business’ proposed innovation.

Phase II of the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program continues the research and development (R&D) initiated in SBIR Phase I. Funding received in Phase II is based on the scientific, technical, and commercial potential of the proposed project. All SBIR grants are federally funded.

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The journey through the three phases of the government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is long and arduous, no matter which federal agency you’re courting for funds.

But when all your hard work pays off, and you receive your funding at the end of a phase, there’s nothing sweeter!

However, there’s no time to rest on your laurels. As soon as you make it through Phase I, it’s time to put your team into high gear and get to work on Phase II.

The second of three phases in your SBIR effort, Phase II sees the continuation of the research and development (R&D) you started in the first phase. It’s crucial that you press on with your efforts—don’t fall behind now when you’re so close to the finish line!

To help make this process as fruitful as possible, we’ve gathered the top 20 questions people ask about SBIR Phase II.

Table of Contents



  1. What Is SBIR Phase II?

Let’s start at the very foundation of SBIR Phase II, the basic definition.

In the second phase, your team takes the R&D that was initiated in phase I to the next level.

Phase II is the stage that truly gives life to your business, and more importantly, your technology. Phase II awards are given based on the results of the research and tests conducted in Phase I and are intended to fund the creation of an actual, workable prototype.

In the simplest terms, Phase II sees your innovative idea become an actual product.

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  1. How Much Funding is Awarded in SBIR Phase II?

The funds you receive in your Phase II award are based mainly on the results you achieved in Phase I and depend on which federal agency you’re working with.

It’s entirely possible that you could receive more than $1 million in a Phase II award, though the average is roughly around $920,000.

For example, the Department of Defense’s Navy awards funding that typically ranges from $500,000 to $1,700,000.

  1. How Long is Phase II of SBIR?

The SBIR Phase II award period typically lasts up to 24 months.

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  1. What are the Eligibility Requirements for SBIR Phase II?

First and foremost, only small businesses that have received an SBIR Phase I award are eligible for SBIR Phase II awards.

And while each federal agency might have different technical requirements for Phase II, the general requirements for eligibility mirror those of Phase I and are as follows:

  • The small business must operate in the U.S., outside of a small number of subcontractors or consultants.
  • The company must have fewer than 500 employees.
  • The company must be majority-owned by U.S. citizens.
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  1. How Does the Small Business Administration Define a “Small Business Concern” for the SBIR program?

As stated above, only small businesses can strive for an SBIR Phase II award. But what is a “small business concern?” The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines it as such:

  • Organized for-profit

  • Located in the U.S., operating primarily within the U.S., or makes a significant contribution to the U.S. economy through taxes or makes use of American products, materials, or labor.

  • Legally considered an individual proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, joint venture, association, trust, or cooperative. If it is a joint venture, there can be no more than 49 percent participation by foreign business entities.

  • At least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in, the U.S.

  • Has no more than 500 employees, including affiliates

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  1. What Federal Agencies Participate in SBIR Phase II?

The same 11 agencies that award funds in the first phase also participate in SBIR Phase II.

For contact information for each agency, check out our blog about SBIR Phase I.

 

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  1. Can a Small Business receive an SBIR Phase II Award from an Agency Other Than The One That Issued The Phase I Award?

Yes! Any small business that receives a Phase I award from one federal agency may receive a Phase II award from another agency.

This happens through a written determination that the topics of the awards are the same, and both agencies report the awards to the SBA.

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  1. Does SBIR Phase II Require a Commercialization Plan?

Yes! The SBIR Phase II award process requires a consideration of the proposal’s commercial potential. 

This includes the possibility to transition the technology to private sector applications, government applications, or government contractor applications.

Commercial potential in SBIR II may be demonstrated through:

  • The small business’ record of successfully commercializing other research.
  • Phase II funding commitments from the private sector or other non-SBIR funding sources.
  • General indicators of the commercial potential of the innovation.

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

No. The results of your SBIR Phase I work determine whether or not there will be a Phase II to continue your efforts. Only Phase I awardees are eligible for a Phase II award.

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  1. What is a “Direct-to-Phase II” SBIR Award?

Though you cannot “skip” Phase I and go directly to Phase II, if you already have a working prototype, there is a pathway known as “Direct-to-Phase II.”

This pathway is for small businesses that have already performed Phase I research through other funding sources. However, this is not available for the STTR program.

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  1. What is The “Fast-Track” Mechanism in SBIR Phase II?

Presently available in solicitations at various participating government agencies, the Fast-Track mechanism expedites the decision and award process for SBIR Phase II funding.

This is mainly for scientifically meritorious proposals with a high potential for commercialization. Fast-Track incorporates a submission and review process in which both Phase I and Phase II proposals are submitted and reviewed together.

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  1. What is the Difference Between Fast-Track and Direct-to-Phase II?

The primary difference between Fast-Track and Direct-to-Phase II applications is the timing of the Phase I project work. 

Phase I work is the first component of the project period in a Fast-Track. Direct-to-Phase II bypasses this step.

Instead, Direct-to-Phase II applicants must have performed the equivalent of Phase I research before applying.

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  1. What is SBIR Phase IIB?

When you renew your Phase II application for another round of funding, it’s known as SBIR Phase IIB. 

Offered at some federal agencies such as the Department of Health & Human Services or the Department of Defense, Phase IIB is mainly for R&D proposals that need a long time and more significant funds to get from theory to prototype.

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  1. What is the Difference between STTR and SBIR Phase II?

The significant difference between the SBIR and STTR Phase II is that the STTR requires the small business to forge a partnership with a nonprofit research institution to collaborate on R&D in Phase II.

In both SBIR and STTR, the award goes to the small business, which is the primary contractor or awardee, while the nonprofit research institution takes on the role of a subcontractor.

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  1. Can I switch from the SBIR or the STTR Programs after Receiving Phase I Funding?

Yes! SBIR and STTR applicants can switch programs when they arrive at Phase II or Phase IIB to any active and open SBIR or STTR solicitation.

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  1. How Do You Apply for SBIR Phase II?

Small businesses can submit an SBIR Phase II proposal anytime between six months and two years after the start date of their Phase I award.

If you don’t know the start date of your Phase I award, it can be found on your Phase I award letter.

Your team’s principal investigator must remain in contact with the appropriate government agency to stay up-to-date, as well as to inform the agency of any potential roadblocks.

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  1. Can I Change the Title of my Proposal Between SBIR Phase I and Phase?

Yes! You can submit an SBIR Phase II proposal with a different title than Phase I. Just be sure to include the Phase I award number on all documents you submit for review.

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  1. Who Decides SBIR Phase II Proposal Submission Dates?

Awardees must establish proposal submission dates for Phase II. However, federal agencies may negotiate mutually acceptable Phase II proposal submission dates with each awardee.

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  1. What is the SBIR’s Federal And State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program?

The FAST Partnership Program funds organizations with the expressed purpose of increasing the number of SBIR and STTR awards from women, socially/economically disadvantaged individuals, and small businesses in underrepresented areas (typically, rural states). 

This is accomplished through outreach, technical and business assistance, and financial support.  

Go to the FAST Partnership Program web portal to learn more about funding and check out a state-by-state listing of current FAST awardees.

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  1. What are the SBIR Phase II Accounting Requirements?

Once a small business is awarded an SBIR Phase II contract or grant, the federal government has much higher expectations regarding tracking time, costs, and the overall accounting system. 

Simply put: There’s a lot of money on the line during Phase II, so the government will scrutinize every dollar and cent. What’s more, many SBIR/STTR Phase II awards are cost-plus-fixed-fee (CPFF) instead of a firm-fixed-price (FFP)—this designation presents a greater risk to the federal government.

Along every step of the way in SBIR Phase II, the government must be assured that the small business possesses an accounting system that can calculate indirect rates, separate direct from indirect costs, and isolate unallowable costs from allowable ones. 

And finally, your accounting system must be able to report how much has been billed on a contract and how much is still yet to be billed.

For a small business already stretched thin working on R&D for their innovative idea and starting to think about commercial applications, keeping the accounting side straight and clear can be a formidable task. 

Team 80 steps in as your partner in this accounting process, taking on the workload while staying in constant contact with your team from the start of your journey, all the way to the realization of your goal.

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If you’ve been awarded an SBIR Phase II Grant learn more about Team 80’s SBIR and STTR Accounting Services. 


Sarah Sinicki Photo

Sarah Sinicki


Partner & Director of Business Development at Team 80 LLC

Sarah is a Colorado native and loves everything about our beautiful state. In her free time you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids and her Yorkie named Marley. She also enjoys paddle-boarding, riding her cruiser bike, and just hanging out with friends and family. Sarah is also an avid Colorado Avalanche fan, so if you ever want to talk about hockey, she’s your gal. As one of the Partners of Team 80, she certainly does have a passion for helping small businesses. She is able to apply her 20 years of experience to tailor an accounting solution for a business owner no matter what industry they might be in.

Been with Team 80: May 2008

Education
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Degree Name: BS
Field Of Study Accounting
Graduated: 1998