The National Science Foundation funds almost ¼ of all Federally supported basic science research done in US colleges and universities. It is also the originating entity of the Small Business Innovation Research program. The NSF’s SBIR and STTR programs today fund the most innovative and impactful technologies across a range of disciplines. With the NSF’s strong ties to academic research, many of the technologies have their foundations in basic science and engineering.
Though the technology may be from anywhere in science and engineering, it must have a potential for broad impact and an identifiable market to be considered for an NSF SBIR or STTR award. The NSF’s main goal is to use the SBIR and STTR funding to commercialize these technologies. It awards around 400 seed-stage, high-risk technology projects per year to conduct research to overcome technical challenges.
NSF grants (the agency does not award contracts) are about $260,000 for Phase I and $1,000,000 for Phase II. Phase I is for testing feasibility and reaching proof of concept, while Phase II is for developing a prototype, scaling up, and further testing.
In determining whether to apply for an NSF SBIR award, founders should consider whether their technology is truly innovative and whether it fills an unmet market need. To get an official evaluation on whether a project is a good fit, founders can submit a 3-page “Project Pitch” on the NSF website. If it meets the criteria, then the company will be invited to submit a proposal.