The Project Pitch and F.A.Q.

The Project Pitch and F.A.Q.

The first step in the NSF SBIR program is submitting a project pitch. This three-page submission gives startups and small businesses quick feedback before applying for Phase I NSF funding. Program directors let applicants know within weeks whether or not they are a good fit for the program.

In the pitch, you are asked to describe your technical innovation and how it aligns with NSF, your technical objectives and challenges, the future market opportunity, and a description of what it will take for you and your team to do it.

Feedback comes in three forms:

  1. Provide additional information: Your pitch is incomplete and requires more material. You get another chance to provide additional information addressing NSF’s concerns and from their will either be invited to apply or told that you are not a good fit.
  2. Invited to apply: You receive an official invitation to submit a full proposal within a year during the respective submission windows.
  3. Not a good fit: If you are looking too specifically at market research or fundamental research, the NSF will not support you. The program is looking to take proven scientific results or innovative ideas and bring them to the market with a significant commercial impact.

F.A.Q.

Q: Why does the NSF do this?
A: It helps program directors and applicants save time and energy over work that would be done over projects, innovations, and proposals ultimately of no interest to NSF.

Q: I am a solo founder. How important is team composition?
A: Are you the person with all the skills to make that happen? Probably not. You need to find people who will compliment your skill set. Are you able to execute what you say you will do? Identify what skillset you need in the pitch. Reasonably, you can say you will hire them when you get reward (you don’t have to hire them now).

Q: I have heard that a person with a Ph. D. needs to apply. Is this true?
A: This is false. NSF does not look at that. They focus on your idea and your team. Education qualification will not matter if your plan is very strong.

Q: What happens after you have been invited and submit a proposal?
A: Within six months NSF will respond with a decision to fund you or not.

Q: What if I have multiple topics that I think my team can address?
A: Think it through and really know what aspect has the most technical risk and select a topic that goes with it. Make an effort to really identify what area your idea fits in best.

Q: If I have already formed a company, and NSF is looking for things that are new and innovative, how should I position myself? We could definitely grow with NSF support as opposed to bootstrapping.
A: Find out where would you be 6 months from now and what work you need to do beyond that. Frame it in a way that shows what you would do with the funding. Send a pitch outlining that and they will let you know if you are a good fit.

Q: To what extent does having a collaboration/relationship with a financial institution look good or bad in the eyes of NSF?
A: The review team is looking at three things: 1) intellectual merit and technical risk 2) broad impact, and 3) commercial potential. Having a relationship could speak well to the fact that you are trying to fill a market need. Ask yourself: are you already advanced enough to be commercialized or are you funded just because you have a good team? Regardless, you need to explain that in your pitch. Remember you are a good candidate if there still remains a large amount of risk.

Q: I am a solo founder. How important is team composition?
A: Are you the person with all the skills to make that happen? Probably not. You need to find people who will compliment your skill set. Are you able to execute what you say you will do? Identify what skillset you need in the pitch. Reasonably, you can say you will hire them when you get reward (you don’t have to hire them now).

Q: If the talent I would hire would be a pool of graduate students, is that ok?
A: Remember, you are not just doing a project, you are building a company. Graduate students will eventually leave. It’s ok initially, but the plan would be to keep them. In your pitch, make sure you would offer proper incentives and get a commitment from them.

Q: I submitted a pitch about 6 months ago and I was not recommended for funding in the last round, but they want to see it again. Can I submit the same pitch?
A: Re-write a pitch and mention that you were not successful but have addressed the reviewers feedback. They will look and see if you should be given another opportunity to submit a proposal.

Q: There are two separate components to my product. Should I apply under one application or two?
A: If you have two components, you can ask for funding for one part. You need to explain your plans for second part after you get funding. You can only submit one proposal at a time. Pick the one you want to level up first. State your plans to develop the second.

Q: The current market has two startups looking at the same thing I am. For NSF, is that an advantage or disadvantage that other people are trying to do the same thing?
A: What differentiates you? Why should anyone pick you instead of the other guys? You have to pinpoint. What is so unique about your approach that makes it far superior. Team? Technical? Assess that and explain it in your pitch.

Q: NSF does not pay for commercialization, but I have been working in tandem with a company who helps me with data collection. Can I still apply?
A: When you submit your technical R&D plan, none of your tasks in R&D plan can be commercialization, correct. If you are just sharing technical information then you that is not commercialization. Relationships, marketing or starting a new entity is not considered commercialization.

Q: How many submissions can you make?
A: You are allowed to submit one pitch at a time. There are four windows when you can submit and within each window the limit is two pitches per applicant. You cannot submit another pitch until a decision is made.

Q: What does NSF mean by “technical risk.”
A: Risk is uncertainty in the technical outcome. Imagine you are working on an idea and it is put on a table in front of people who are knowledgeable about the idea. You want these experts to say if it will work or won’t work. Ideally, they would be uncertain about it working, but it is interesting to them because if it does work, there would be a huge impact. Technical risk is subjective based on who the experts are and how they are evaluating.



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