The Department of Defense’s DARPA—Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—boasts a specific set of SBIR requirements.

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program seeks advanced technology for use within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). DARPA awards funds to small businesses that research and develop operationally ready technology that reaches beyond current military capabilities.

At times, innovation is all that stands between us and unimaginable threats. 

The challenge is cultivating these innovative ideas and funding them into reality. This is where the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) comes into play. 

A research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), DARPA targets emerging technologies for use by the military—developing everything from precision guidance and navigation, to stealth and uncrewed aerial vehicles, to night vision, communications, networking, and so much more.

DARPA utilizes the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) opportunities to inspire innovation among the best and brightest minds to keep pace with the changing face of defense, science, and technology worldwide.

In this blog, we’ll dig into the details of DARPA SBIR, uncovering everything you need to know to find a topic, navigate the phases, and procure the funding you need.

Why is DARPA Important to the Department of Defense?

DARPA catalyzes the development of technologies that maintain and advance the capabilities and technical superiority of the U.S. military. Research funded by DARPA contributes crucial advancements that are applied in real-world situations, from the battlefield to the boardroom. Military and commercial technologies such as precision-guided missiles, stealth, and personal electronics have all been conjured into existence by DARPA DoD.

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What is DARPA SBIR?

As it is in other government agencies, the DARPA SBIR program is the principal, set-aside program for small businesses to participate in federal research and development funding for an array of projects.

DARPA’s SBIR program is unique compared to other government agencies’ SBIR programs. In the name of innovation and defense, there is a culture of risk-taking deeply embedded in the fabric of DARPA. 

Leaders in the agency are willing to cast a wide net searching for science and technology that can be applied for defense purposes. As such, there is a high tolerance for failure. While this might sound like a negative, it actually means that the DARPA SBIR program stands as the model for inspiring innovative minds to flex their creative muscles.

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What are the Phases of DARPA SBIR?

DARPA’s SBIR program consists of three distinct phases.

Phase I kicks off after the Department of Defense announces that the agency is seeking contract proposals to conduct feasibility, experimental, or theoretical research and development projects related to the agency’s mission. These projects, defined by topics in a program announcement, can be narrow or general in scope.

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The object of Phase I is to determine the scientific and technical merit of the proposal while measuring the value and quality of performance of the small business concern. To work in Phase I, the small business is awarded a relatively small agency investment. Proposals are evaluated competitively using the criteria published in the agency’s program announcement.

If your small business achieves its goals in Phase I, you can move on to Phase II. In the second phase of this journey, your small business continues the research and development effort completed in Phase I. All small businesses that win a Phase I award receive a notice describing when to submit their Phase II proposal. The agency bases its decision on the results of the work completed in Phase I, along with the scientific, technical, and commercial potential of the Phase II proposal.

After Phase II is awarded and completed, your small business concern moves on to Phase III, which is typically oriented toward the SBIR-funded research or technology commercialization. Phase III generally refers to work that extends or completes any efforts made under prior SBIR funding agreements but is funded by sources other than the SBIR program, such as private investors.

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Who is Eligible for DARPA SBIR?

To be eligible for the DARPA SBIR program, applicants must follow specific criteria.

Eligible applicants MUST:

  • Be independently owned and operated
  • Organized for-profit
  • Conduct their principal business in the U.S.
  • Be a small business with 500 or fewer employees, including affiliates
  • Meet the benchmark requirements for progress toward commercialization
  • Perform a minimum of two-thirds of the effort in Phase I and half of the effort in Phase II
  • Have the principal investigator spend more than half of the time employed by the proposing firm

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What is the DARPA SBIR/STTR Enhancement Program?

The DARPA SBIR/STTR Enhancement Program is a golden opportunity for any small business that reaches Phase II. Through the Enhancement Program, the DARPA Small Business Programs Office provides small businesses with up to $500,000 of matching funds IF they obtain a commitment of non-SBIR/STTR funding from a DARPA technology office, Department of Defense component, other federal agency, or commercial investor.

Enhancement funding applies to an active Phase II contract, which extends the performance period by up to one year. However, a new Phase II contract may be awarded if appropriate. Applications for the Enhancement Program are reviewed for overall merit, transition potential, commercialization strategy, and the value to the DARPA mission.

Check out this document for more information on the DARPA SBIR/STTR Enhancement Program.

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What are the DARPA SBIR Topics?

Active and archived DARPA SBIR topics can be accessed via the portal found at www.dodsbirsttr.mil/submissions/login, which features a complete listing of potential project topics related to the Department of Defense and, more specifically, to DARPA itself. On that page, click on the DARPA tab to view the active DARPA topics and read the application instructions.

There are currently five active DARPA topics:

  1. Innovative Fabrication Techniques for Millimeter-wave Linear Beam Vacuum Electron Devices
  2. Readout Integrated Circuit Development for 2-micron Cutoff Linear Mode Staircase Avalanche Photodiodes
  3. Hardening Aircraft Systems through Hardware (HASH)
  4. Ontology-Based Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Tools
  5. Advanced Intuitive Interfaces

Closing Dates vary from on June 15, 2022 – July 14, 2022
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What are Some of the DARPA SBIR Winners?

Though some of the agency’s ongoing projects are kept secret for national security reasons, a list of successful DARPA SBIR award winners reads like a collection of plot devices from sci-fi, action-adventure films.

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Nextgen Aeronautics, Inc. was awarded funding in 2014 to develop a sonar-based miniature navigation sensor system for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). With a Phase II award of more than $1.4 million, the solution combined advanced sonar technology with software modules capable of learning positioning and velocity in real-time. 

SecondWave Systems, Inc. developed the SecondWave MINI™, a noninvasive device that can reduce chronic and acute inflammation using focused ultrasound energy for its SBIR award. According to the company’s research, military veterans suffer from the onset of inflammatory diseases at twice the rate of the civilian population. 

The SecondWave MINI™ uses a phased array ultrasonic system with advanced steering and focusing and intelligent, adaptive targeting. Worn on a patient’s torso, it delivers targeted ultrasound that modulates the spleen, causing an anti-inflammatory effect to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. 

And finally, Firefly Aerospace launched its SBIR project through DARPA to enable the next generation of space access. The small business developed a simple, efficient, and streamlined pump-fed engine system explicitly designed to provide cost-feasible access to space for small payload vehicles—taking full advantage of the newfound fascination with low-Earth orbit space travel.

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What are the Six Technology Offices That Manage DARPA’s Research Portfolio?

DARPA’s research programs are conducted under the oversight of six technical offices, each charged with developing breakthrough technologies in the name of defense.

The six offices under the DARPA umbrella include:

  1. Defense Sciences Office (DSO). Identifies and pursues high-risk, high-payoff research initiatives across a broad spectrum of science and engineering disciplines. DSO themes include math, computation, sensing and sensors, complex social systems, and anticipating surprise. 
  2. Information Innovation Office (I2O). Technical core work ranges from artificial intelligence and data analysis to secure engineering and formal methods. The office endeavors to address network security, cyber-, and multi-domain operations, human-system interaction, and assured autonomy. 
  3. Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). Develops high-performance intelligent microsystems and next-generation technological components in a vast array of defense concerns, including command, control, communications, computing, surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence. 
  4. Strategic Technology Office (STO). Focuses on technologies that enable fighting as a network to increase military effectiveness, cost leverage, and adaptability. Using a strategy called “Mosaic Warfare,” STO seeks to develop fast, scalable, and adaptive joint multi-domain fighting techniques. 
  5. Tactical Technology Office (TTO). Another high-risk, high-payoff research office, TTO, works to provide or prevent strategic and tactical surprises. The office develops and demonstrates revolutionary new platforms in-ground, maritime, air, and space systems. 
  6. Biological Technologies Office (BTO). Embracing the properties of biology—adaptation, replication, and complexity—BTO revolutionizes how the U.S. defends itself and protects soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. 

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Accounting Requirements of the DARPA SBIR Program

Much like other federal agencies, DARPA SBIR solicitations must be led by an acceptable accounting system and cost data, including procedures for pricing prototyping requirements and time record keeping. Anything less than stellar will not net DARPA SBIR awards. 

Team 80’s accounting experts are well versed in the many crucial details involved in both SBIR and STTR project efforts. So as you work on perfecting your project proposal, we’ll deploy our accounting tools and ensure your team can defend against any scrutiny of your numbers.

 

Team 80 Director of Governmental Accounting Ben Smith

Ben Smith

Director of Governmental Accounting

Ben has worked in and around small businesses for most of his career. But surprisingly, his professional path started in food service as a chef, not accounting. 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! 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 and their Miniature Pinscher Milo or pursuing his other passions, which include skiing, windsurfing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing guitar, and riding dirt bikes.

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