Small businesses can positively impact the nation’s security through the Department of Homeland Security’s SBIR program.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program encourages the research and development (R&D) of advanced technologies through government funds. In addition, the federally funded program helps startups achieve commercialization with their product or service. 

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It’s easy to hear “homeland security” and only think of counter-terrorism defense systems.

But while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2002 as a direct result of September 11, its responsibilities blanket a broad range of disciplines to protect national interests.

According to the DHS homepage, the department is responsible for counterterrorism but also “cybersecurity, aviation security, border security, port security, maritime security, administration and enforcement of our immigration laws, protection of our national leaders, protection of critical infrastructure, detection of and protection against chemical, biological and nuclear threats to the homeland, and response to disasters.”

It’s a lot, which is why the department’s participation in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is crucial to deploying new technologies across a spectrum of concerns.

What does DHS SBIR Stand for?

DHS SBIR stands for Department of Homeland Security Small Business Innovation Research.

It’s a federal program that funds small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups to perform research and development (R&D) on an array of innovative technologies, with the ultimate goal of commercializing these technologies.

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How is the DHS Science and Technology Directorate involved with SBIR?

The budget for the DHS SBIR program is associated with two smaller organizations: The Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CSMD) office. 

DHS SBIR solicitations contain topics relevant to both of these organizations.

The mission of the Science and Technology Directorate is “to deliver effective and innovative insight, methods and solutions for the critical needs of the Homeland Security Enterprise.”

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The Directorate States Five Visionary Goals:

  1. Screen at speed so that security matches the pace of life
  2. Provide a trusted “Cyber Future,” protecting privacy, commerce, and community
  3. Help decision-makers receive actionable information at the speed of thought
  4. Assure the “Responder of the Future” is protected, connected, and fully aware
  5. Disaster-proof society and create resilient communities

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How is DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction involved with SBIR?

The DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) is the result of consolidating various offices within the DHS. 

For example, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), a jointly staffed national office established in 2005 to improve the nation’s capability to detect and report unauthorized attempts to import, possess, store, develop or transport nuclear or radiological material for use against the country and to further enhance this capability over time.

Today, the CWMD (established in December 2017) coordinates with domestic and international partners to safeguard the country against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN), and health security threats. 

Mainly, the CWMD works to:

  • Anticipate, identify, and assess current and emerging WMD threats
  • Strengthen detection and disruption of CBRN threats to the homeland
  • Synchronize homeland counter-WMD and health security planning and execution
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The CWMD at the DHS has an SBIR program office that focuses on their specific needs and collaborates with S&T to conduct outreach, explore new initiatives, and coordinate schedules so that all DHS SBIR topics are published in one annual solicitation.

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What are DHS SBIR Program Priorities? 

DHS SBIR Program Priorities constitute topics found in the department’s annual solicitations, covering DHS mission areas. 

DHS SBIR topics are solicited by the S&T and CWMD offices and address the needs in areas that include the

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
  • Transportation Security Administration
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • U.S. Secret Service

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What are the DHS SBIR Topics?

The solicitations found in DHS SBIR typically consist of topics relevant to the following organization focus areas:


What are the DHS SBIR Eligibility Requirements?

The eligibility requirements for DHS SBIR follow the same track as other government agencies. 

The requirements necessary to apply for—and receive—SBIR funding include:

  • Must be a for-profit business
  • Must be based in the U.S.
  • Must have 500 or fewer employees
  • The Principal Investigator must be primarily employed (more than 50 percent) with the small business applicant
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Your SBIR proposal must offer quality research and develop new processes, products, and technologies to support the missions of the DHS and the U.S. government.

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DHS SBIR Program Phases

The DHS SBIR program consists of a three-phase, highly competitive award system that funds qualified small businesses to propose and develop innovative ideas and technologies. 

The overall effort must meet specific homeland security research and development technology needs.

Now, let’s examine each phase more closely.

DHS SBIR Phase I

DHS SBIR Phase I kicks off the program and is referred to as the “Scientific and Technical Feasibility Study.” In this Proof of Concept phase, specific funds are available to cover a set period.

How Much is the DHS SBIR Phase 1 Award?

Phase I typically funds up to $150,000.

How Long is DHS SBIR Phase 1?

Phase I covers five months to determine the proposed effort’s scientific and technical merit and feasibility. Phase I awards are typically made within 45 days after selection.

DHS SBIR Phase II

DHS Phase II continues your efforts and is referred to as “Full Research/R&D.” Known as the Prototype Demonstration phase, Phase II also has a set amount and timeframe. 

How Much is the DHS SBIR Phase II Award?

Phase II typically funds up to $1 million.

How Long is DHS SBIR Phase II?

Phase II covers 24 months to continue the R&D effort from the completed Phase I project and work towards a prototype demonstration.

Only SBIR Phase I awardees are eligible to participate in subsequent phases. However, options for S&T SBIR Phase II projects with firm commitments for follow-on funding may be exercised.

DHS SBIR Phase III

DHS Phase III is the outlier of the three SBIR phases. 

This Commercialization phase is funded with private or non-SBIR dollars with the goal of commercialization or continuing the development and testing that initially kicked off with SBIR funding. 

Since it’s non-SBIR funded, there’s no cap to Phase III dollar amounts and no set timeline for completion.

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How do I Apply for a DHS SBIR Award?

To apply for DHS SBIR, first develop a ground-breaking, innovative research idea that can be commercialized. 

You need to learn about eligibility, your proposal requirements, and more.

For a step-by-step guide through this SBIR application process, follow the federal government’s roadmap for applicants here.

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Who are the DHS SBIR Program Contacts?

The main point of contact for the DHS SBIR program is Dusty Lang, the SBIR Program Director for the DHS. 

To contact the director, email stsbir.program@hq.dhs.gov or call 202-254-7000. For information specifically regarding CWMD’s SBIR program, email cwmd.sbir@hq.dhs.gov.

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Who has Won DHS SBIR Phase II Awards?

Through its many years in operation, the DHS SBIR program has recognized numerous small businesses for stellar achievements, awarding them funds to develop innovative ideas and paradigm-shifting technology.

DHS SBIR success stories highlight small businesses that have made crucial contributions to protecting the country from various threats. 

These examples showcase several small businesses from around the nation that have worked with S&T to develop and support the technology needs of our nation and homeland security end-users.

N5 Sensors Inc.

Total DHS SBIR Investment: $850,000

Maryland-based N5 Sensors Inc. received an SBIR award from the DHS S&T to develop an ultra-small, low-cost hazardous gas and particulate matter detector using novel chip-scale chemical sensor technology that firefighters can use.

“In essence, we are harnessing the power of nanoscale materials and combining that with advanced semiconductor manufacturing techniques,” explains Dr. Abhishek Motayed, Founder & President of N5 Sensors. “The result is a wearable, ultra-low power microscale robust gas sensor that can save lives is easy to manufacture, and can dramatically drive down costs.”

Phase II funding was awarded through the DHS Commercialization Readiness Pilot Program (CRPP), which allowed the company to continue the development of the technology. 

N5 Sensors also received a $1.2 million contract from the Combating Terrorism and Technical Support Office (CTTSO) to advance beyond detecting toxic industrial chemicals.

“The DHS S&T SBIR program was tremendously valuable, and the Program Managers were the reason we could connect and ultimately work with other agencies,” says Motayed. “Not only did it provide valuable next-round funding for the product development, but it gave us a platform to showcase the applicability of this technology.”

Polestar Technologies, Inc.

Total DHS SBIR Investment: $1.1 million

Massachusetts-based Polestar Technologies developed the capability of chemical identification of explosives hidden by a person at a distance. 

Originally designed to assist U.S. troops in conflict zones, the Self-Tracking and Reconnaissance of Explosives (STARE) System detects small amounts of explosive materials concealed beneath clothing, hidden in backpacks, or hand-carried baggage. 

“This is a very novel technology that doesn’t require an operator sitting by the instrument but could, in the future, be scaled up to meet other needs,” says Dr. Ranganathan Shashidhar, Senior Vice President of Research and Technology at Polestar Technologies.  “We’ve had talks with some major companies, including those in the sports and entertainment industry, and several venture capitalists are helping us take this to the commercial sector.”

Polestar partnered with DHS through another SBIR project called Portable Imager for Stand-Off Detection of Homemade Explosives; the project aimed to produce images positively identifying the presence of explosives while being able to detect and identify different types of military explosives and homemade explosives.

“The DHS SBIR program was a critical influx for us to take our product to the next level,” explains Dr. Shashidhar. “It opened up many applications since we automated the product under the DHS SBIR. We are now in talks with United States Special Operations Command, as well as the Army and the Navy.”

Applied Visions

Total DHS SBIR Investment: $2.2 million

In 2014, the DHS S&T released an SBIR topic seeking a hybrid analysis solution that combined  static and dynamic tools to locate vulnerabilities and security weaknesses in software and application code. 

Through its Secure Decisions Division, New York-based Applied Visions won a DHS SBIR Phase I award and subsequent Phase II award to develop Code Ray. This tool combines static and dynamic analyzers to locate more source code weaknesses.

Code Ray was the first tool that helped prioritize vulnerabilities by mapping them to industry standards and regulations. Applied Visions leveraged its developments from the SBIR project and provided customers with a first-of-its-kind technology to prioritize and manage application security risk.

“The SBIR allowed us to integrate the Code Ray technology into our existing Code Dx product line,” explains Ken Prole, CTO of Code Dx, a spinoff of Applied Visions developed under DHS SBIR. “This was a huge advancement in technology. There is more information from the dynamic findings, and now developers know where to focus their efforts to fix the problems.”

You Could Be The Next DHS SBIR Success Story

From the standpoint of protecting national interests—and American citizens—from various threats, the DHS is one of the most crucial federal departments. 

As such, the country’s decision-makers will continue to look to the innovative minds behind small businesses for new technologies geared toward the DHS’s ultimate goal.

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Team 80 CEO Sarah Sinicki

Sarah Sinicki

Team 80 CEO

Sarah is a leader focused on serving small businesses in various industries. She has worked with a multitude of companies over the last 25 years and loves helping business owners find success. Sarah is genuinely committed to unburdening Team 80 clients so that they have the freedom to focus on their business. In her free time, you can find her spending time with her husband, two kids, and her Yorkies, Marley and Ziggy. When she is not helping business owners, you can find her in a Reb3l Groove class dancing it out. Sarah is also an avid Colorado Avalanche fan, so if you ever want to talk about hockey, she’s your gal.

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