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Simple But Not Easy – How not to get discouraged by tedious SBIR/STTR proposal instructions

Applying for an SBIR or STTR is a lot of work, and according to many applicants, one of the most frustrating things is having to follow detailed instructions perfectly. Crossing every t can feel tedious and unnecessary. The questions and requirements of the application may seem restricting and too rigid to really tell your company’s story, pitch your ideas, and sell your vision. Let’s be honest; applying for an SBIR/STTR can be rather dry, even boring.

But don’t you have to wow the reviewers? How can you stand out in a sea of applicants? There is no need to come up with creative ways that go beyond what the application asks for. In fact, this approach may hurt you more than it will help. While it may go against your gut instincts, following the instructions to the letter is paramount in this process and will be the very thing helping your company stand apart from other applicants. While it can seem patronizing to be told to follow the rules exactly, in this case, you will make the reviewers’ job easier the more closely you follow the guidelines, which in turn gives you a much better chance of success.

Here are some quick tips to help you:

  1. Make sure the instructions are clear before starting to draft your answer. While it may seem overly pedantic, ensuring you understand exactly what is asked of you to provide, will save you time and frustration in the long run. To ensure that your response is structured the same way the question is asked, it can be helpful to mirror the language. This will give you an easy way to confirm whether you have included all the relevant parts for your answer and makes it easier for the SBIR reviewer to do the same. For example, if the question is “What are your goals for the project and which tactics will you use to measure your success?” your answer can include similar language, such as “Our goals for the project are a, b, and c (continue with explanation). To measure successful completion of our goals, we will employ x, y, z tactics (continue with explanation).”
  2. Keep your language simple and follow formatting requirements. Some reviewers will not be experts in your specific technical field. Be wary of using too much industry slang, acronyms, or overly complicated and longwinded explanations. Keep it concise, easy to read, and focused on specifics. Use paragraph breaks when you introduce new sections or ideas. Formatting requirements vary between solicitations and are described in the agency’s application guide, including page limits, and margin and font specifications. 
  3. Work on your application during peak times and take breaks. Also, coffee!! Or anything else that keeps you alert. This sounds like a no-brainer, but most of us are prone to keep going long after being exhausted. These tasks require focused attention to detail, which gets tiring quickly. Trying to white knuckle it will only result in avoidable errors that must be fixed later on, requiring even more of your time overall.
  4. Have a colleague or mentor review your application. If your colleague sees major flaws with your application, reviewers probably will too. Your colleagues can be a great support in pointing out gaps and areas that need to be fleshed out to adequately respond to the application questions. A second set of eyes might also spot embarrassing typos or grammatical errors you missed, which may seem insignificant, but can make your application look less polished compared to others. You may also consider using a copy editing subscription such as Grammarly to clean up your draft.
  5. Leverage available resources. MTIP is here to support you with putting together a compelling SBIR/STTR proposal. We can help you gather the information you need, advise you on the registrations required, help craft, edit, and review your proposal, provide financial support during the application process, and answer questions that come up along the way. Reach out to Ann Peterson at 406.994.7788 or techlinksbir@montana.edu to get started.

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