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Review Criteria: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

USDA SBIR evaluates applications using a confidential peer review system.

Review Process for Phase I

USDA SBIR evaluates applications using a confidential peer review system. Separate review panels are held that correspond to each of the topic areas listed in the solicitation issued each year. Reviewers are normally drawn from universities, government and non-profit research organizations. For each topic area, a 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/NIFA leadership, USDA/NIFA appoints a review panel. The Panel Manager ensures that 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.

Considerable effort is made to ensure that 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 that they will maintain confidentiality at the time they prepare a review and submit it through the Agency’s electronic Peer Review System (PRS).

Every effort is made to avoid even the appearance of a conflict-of-interest (COI). The USDA has rules on COI that are followed during the review process. If a panel member has a COI on an application, he/she will not review the application and will be excused from the panel meeting when the particular application is being discussed. USDA/NIFA is committed to ensuring a fair and confidential review process.

Review Process for Phase II

USDA/NIFA uses confidential peer review as the basis for evaluating all Phase II proposals that satisfy the initial screening criteria described in the solicitation. Reviewers are drawn primarily from universities, government, and non-profit research organizations. Each proposal will be reviewed for technical merit as well as commercialization potential.  As commercialization potential is more important in Phase II and beyond, the reviews of the commercialization plan will significantly impact the funding decisions.

Evaluation Criteria

Note: The following list is representative summary of the criteria the USDA SBIR program may use to evaluate an application.  For additional information on the specific evaluation criteria, see section 4.0 of the USDA SBIR Program Solicitation.

  • Scientific/Technical Merit
  • 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 literature review
  • 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
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