Detailed instructions on how to apply can be found in the SBIR/STTR Requests for Applications, or RFAs.
Prospective applicants are encouraged to review the Phase I and Phase II RFAs to gain a better understanding of the SBIR/STTR programs.
Note: Although application periods for the RFAs may be closed, the documents are still accessible for viewing and planning purposes.
Phase I RFAs are generally released every year in July with due dates in October.
Phase II RFAs are generally released every year in December with due dates in February.
The Application Review Process
NIFA is committed to ensuring a fair and confidential review process. We evaluate applications using a confidential peer review system during both program phases.
Every year, we hold separate review panels for each of the topic areas listed in the RFA. Reviewers are normally drawn from universities, industry, government and nonprofit research organizations.
For each topic area, a NIFA national program leader (NPL) is appointed as a topic manager. The NPL for each topic area recruits a panel manager, and in consultation with USDA and NIFA leadership, NIFA appoints a review panel.
The panel manager ensures the review panel evaluates applications fairly. Applications are reviewed both by members of the review panel and by ad hoc reviewers with specific expertise appropriate for each application. The panel discusses each application carefully and then ranks the applications. The panel rankings are used in determining which applications are funded.
Applications in Phase II are reviewed using the same review process as Phase I applications. These proposals are reviewed both for technical merit as well as commercialization potential.
As commercialization potential is more important in Phase II and beyond, reviews of the commercialization plan will significantly impact funding decisions.
Considerable effort is made to ensure the review process is confidential.
Reviewers are instructed to handle all applications in complete confidence, and each reviewer is provided written guidelines to follow. All reviewers are obligated to certify they will maintain confidentiality at the time they prepare a review and submit it through NIFA’s agency’s electronic Peer Review System (PRS).
Conflicts of Interest
Every effort is made to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (COI). USDA has rules on COI that are followed during the review process.
If a panel member has a COI on an application, they will not review the application and will be excused from the panel meeting when that particular application is being discussed.
Note: The following list is a representative summary of the criteria the USDA SBIR/STTR programs may use to evaluate an application. For additional information on the specific evaluation criteria, see the USDA SBIR Request for Applications.
- Degree to which Phase I objectives were met and feasibility demonstrated (Phase II only)
- Importance of problem to American agriculture or rural development
- Probability of commercial success
- Adequacy of research objectives
- Adequacy of research plan
- Qualifications of PI and other key personnel
- Adequacy of facilities
- Qualifications of consultants
- Letters from consultants indicating their willingness to work on project are included as part of the proposal
- Adequacy of bibliographies for the PI, other key personnel and consultants
Elements Common to Successful Proposals
- Well written, succinct and logical
- Thorough literature review
- Addresses an important problem
- Innovative approach
- Well designed and detailed experimental plan
- Proper statistical techniques for the research data collected
- If successful, would have good commercial potential
Common Proposal Criticisms
- Poorly written and presented
- PI lacks necessary technical expertise
- Insufficient technical information
- Proposal is overly ambitious for the time frame proposed
- Inadequate bibliographical information
- Lacks letters from consultants
- Research already done by others
- Too vague and unfocused
- Failure to indicate where project would go in Phase II
- Poor commercialization potential
- Doubtful economic prospects
- Inadequate detail in experimental plan and lack of proper statistical techniques
- Too much research done at university
- Need to engage consultants to add expertise in area where PI is deficient