Q: What is NIST's SBIR Program?
A: The program consists of three phases: In Phase I, a small business can receive up to $90,000 to establish the scientific or technical merit or feasibility of ideas that appear to have commercial potential. All Phase I awardees are eligible to compete for a Phase II contract for up to $300,000 to continue research in the same technical area. Phase I awardees have 6 months to complete their work; Phase II awardees have up to 2 years. Phase II is the principal R&D effort. Under Phase III, no SBIR funds are available to pursue commercial applications of the technology.
Q: How does a small business apply?
A: An annual program solicitation document is published containing a list of R&D topics. Applicants can choose from the research topics identified in the solicitation and submit a proposal for any topic in which they feel qualified. Proposals must adhere to the guidelines provided in the solicitation; proposals that do not comply will not be considered. Unsolicited proposals are not accepted.
Q: The NIST SBIR subtopic ### in the Solicitation states: "A prototype is expected at the end of Phase I..." Is it reasonable to perform a feasibility study, design and manufacture and test a prototype in 6 months with a budget of $90K without having already done most of the work?
A: The complete development of the functional system that meets all market demanded specifications is not expected to be completed in six months with a $90k budget.
The first phase, as a proving ground, provides the demonstration of a new technology by designing, building and testing a prototype. The resulting prototype from a Phase I effort may not have "bells and whistles." For example, it may not be hand-held, or robust, or whatever other higher-level requirement there may be. However, the Phase I prototype would encapsulate the innovative technologies researched during Phase I that are needed to overcome basic and challenging technological gaps that exist in the state of the art. Phase II would progress to the reduction of the demonstrated technology toward a prototype more comparable to that which would hit the market during the commercialization Phase III.
Q: Is it permissible to re-submit a proposal rejected from the prior year's Solicitaion? One of the subtopics in this year's solicitation is similar to a topic in last year's solicitation. Maybe a resubmission with updated material would be appropriate and responsive to the current subtopic?
A: Provided it is updated to include state-of-the-art technology and addresses deficiencies that were noted in the reviewers' comments, you may resubmit. Please note that if it is essentially the same proposal, it will be returned without review. If it was deemed unacceptable once, it would meet the same fate again and will not pass the screening stage.
Q: My small business was awarded an SBIR grant by an agency other than NIST (eg DoD, NIH, NSF, ...) and I would like to work with NIST on certain aspects on that research because of NIST's unique capabilities. Will NIST provide me with technical assistance that I need?
A: NIST research labs may not be considered as a resource for general product development research in SBIR projects. SBIR funds should be spent in private sector research labs whenever possible. However, NIST research labs could be used under conditions where there is a very special piece of instrumentation/measurement/expertise not available in the private sector which may facilitate the overcoming of significant barriers in SBIR research. In such cases, a clear definition of the measurement required (i.e. what exactly has to be measured) should be identified and if the NIST resources are available, collaborative efforts may be possible. Any use of the NIST research labs should be aligned with the NIST mission of addressing new measurement needs for innovation and industrial competitiveness. In most cases, any research performed at NIST is open to the public.
If SBIR funds are to be used to fund the NIST effort, a waiver from the SBA is required. This waiver is handled through the agency that granted the SBIR funding agreement.
NIST has regular services that are available for small business and SBIR awardees. For example, the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships and Calibrations and Standards may be available.
NIST SBIR Subtopics
Q: How do the subtopics make their way into a particular round of SBIR solicitation topics?
A: NIST SBIR has two different types of subtopics. We refer to subtopics that fall under the original guidelines as "R" or Regular topics. Our new topic categories are referred to as "SBIR-TT" topics.
Q: What are "R" subtopics?
A: "R" subtopics describe research areas that are high priority for NIST Laboratories' missions. These topics support industrially-relevant measurement science, standards, and technology. That is, during the course of their work, NIST researchers may recognize the need for a device, material, or algorithm that is not available off the shelf anywhere. The submission of an "R" subtopic in the annual SBIR solicitation is a way to encourage technology-based small businesses to both bring their innovation capability to the needs of the researchers, as well as present a case for a particular innovation's market opportunity beyond the NIST Labs.
Q: What might serve as grounds for the rejection for a proposal submitted in response to a regular subtopic?
A: "R" subtopics typically describe the end-point functionality required by the NIST research program, and as such give specifications that are needed to integrate the desired SBIR deliverable into the NIST Laboratory setting. The specifications can at times be very detailed, for example if a detector is being solicited, then the dark count, wavelength range, and sensitivity will be provided. It is understood that the solicited research will be a significant improvement on the current state-of-the-art available in the market. We expect it to be a challenge to build the specified deliverable. That's the spirit of "Innovative Research." Companies that submit proposals that offer only incremental changes to an existing fix or propose their own benchmarks of operability will not get funded. We are looking for innovative ideas with a reasonable chance of success. There is risk involved for both NIST and the proposing company: indeed the project may fail (the result does not meet spec.). Our reviewers evaluate proposals with this in mind. But, there is no penalty for failure of a good idea -- other than the fact that the hope of a new product that can be sold for profit is dashed.
Q: What are "SBIR-TT" subtopics?
A: In the SBIR-TT approach, NIST researchers identify work -- that they have published or patented -- which has potential commercial value but still requires further research. For the work to be done under the SBIR award, a company's proposal must specify the innovative research that is needed in order to push the NIST background technology closer to the marketplace.
The "TT" subtopics include: a description of the background technology with appropriate references for more details; the research gap that prevent it from direct market adoption with all the details as would be in the "R" subtopics; and whatever NIST resources would be made available to potential proposers to support their work. This could include consultation time with the NIST researcher(s), materials, equipment, drawings, etc. It is usually the case that the NIST researchers will not engage in that research themselves because the federal government will not compete with private industry.
Q: What happens during the black-out period when companies are prohibited from contacting the topic authors?
A: NIST has a "brown-out" since communication is allowed through the website while the solicitation is open. We institute the communication constraints to keep the competition open and fair. If one company has the opportunity to gain special insight into what the federal agency is seeking, its motivation, or other information that is not otherwise public, they would have an unfair advantage.