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Developing an Award Winning Proposal

The purpose of an SBIR/STTR proposal is to provide sufficient information to persuade the review team the proposed technology is a unique and sound solution to the need expressed in the topic. These proposals can be particularly challenging. For instance, each agency has the flexibility to develop its own proposal requirements, but these requirements can and often do change from one solicitation to the next even within the same agency. Therefore, applicants can never count on the same formatting and submission requirements from one agency to the next. In addition, the best proposals are those written at a level suitable for publication; that is, with no typos, poor word usage, editorial errors, etc.

Start Early

Many aspects of the proposal can be planned and even drafted well before the agency ever releases its solicitation. This is done by accessing and reviewing prior solicitations from the agency being targeted. In the tables at SBIR Gateway (, applicants can click into any agency’s website and, with few exceptions, find links to previous solicitations. Becoming familiar with the agency’s program requirements early means the applicant can move much faster once a new solicitation and topics are released.

Preplan the Project

Before anyone starts writing, applicants should meet with an MTIP consultant to define the objectives to be achieved in each phase of the project. MTIP’s consultant will also make sure the proper proposal format is being used and will provide guidance on responding to each section of the proposal. The project should be vetted against any special considerations identified under the targeted topic area, as well as against the agency’s review criteria. Careful thought should be given to any needed consultants/subcontractors, with the understanding that these individuals should be selected in part to strengthen the team’s credentials. Contact these individuals early to discuss the project, secure their buy-in, begin to collect resumes and biographical data, and co-opt their assistance in preparing the proposal.

Read the Detailed Instructions Thoroughly

All SBIR/STTR agencies have specific requirements relating to font size and style, page limits, marking of confidential information, electronic submission of the proposal, and many other issues. Agencies routinely reject proposals that don’t comply with these instructions. One person on the proposal team must be responsible for reading the instructions thoroughly, highlighting all major and minor requirements, and initiating a proposal template. Each solicitation will likely have new requirements. Also, check to see if the agency has posted an instructional webinar on its website, and routinely check the agency's website for any modifications to the solicitation.

Allow Time for an MTIP Review

Regardless of the applicant’s experience with SBIR/STTR, allow time for an MTIP review of the draft proposal. This review helps ensure the proposal is responsive to the instructions. Even the most experienced applicants have a tendency to get “off point” as they’re working through the details of so many sections. The outside review helps catch this drift and ensures the discussion stays focused and “on point.” Invariably, good outside reviews identify meaningful ways in which to enhance both the content and the presentation of the proposal. There is strong evidence that MTIP’s involvement in the proposal-preparation process significantly improves the chance of funding.

Submit Early

In pre-planning the project and proposal, applicants should plan to submit their proposals at least two days prior to the final due date. Early submission avoids the possibility of server overload, which has hampered agencies in the past. It also gives applicants ample time to resolve any problems that arise during the electronic submission process.

Samples / Examples / Templates

SBIR proposals are often comprised of separate sections.  Department of Defense (DoD) proposals include four sections:

  1. Proposal Cover Sheet,
  2. Technical Proposal,
  3. Cost Proposal,
  4. and Company Commercialization report. 

Most SBIR have similar combinations although their not always named the same as these.  Here are a few descriptions of and examples of each kind of document.  IMPORTANT!  Application requirements and solicitation rules frequently change.  Always read the current solicitation guidelines.

Technical Proposal

DoD SBIR Phase I



Commercialization Plan



Cost Proposal

DoD SBIR Phase I


NIST Phase I

Proposal Development Guidelines

Find more detailed information on the specifics of proposal development with our Proposal Development Guidelines.

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