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SBIR Application Tips: Top 3 Things to Keep in Mind for Your 1st SBIR Proposal

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

I still remember writing my first SBIR proposal years ago. It was such a difficult, challenging, and overwhelming process with many moving pieces. The amount of paperwork to fill out seemed never ending along with the dozens of revisions we had to go through to get our R&D approach in tip-top shape.

So, to save you the same stress, I want to share a few tips that I have learned from my experience writing and submitting SBIR applications for my own start-up along with many others over the last 10 years.

If you are about to start or are in the middle of drafting your first SBIR application, here are the top three things to keep in mind.

Tip #1 - Complete Your Letters of Support ASAP

Letters of support are a critical component of your Phase I application that show reviewers there is a need and desire in the market for your proposed innovation. These letters also are a key element that helps build credibility for you and your start-up.

These letters can be from key opinion leaders, potential customers, strategic partners, investors, collaborators, consultants, or subcontractors. For example, if a start-up is developing a new therapeutic to treat lung cancer, getting a letter of support from an academic professor or a practicing clinician who has been doing research in the field for over 20 years would be a huge PLUS for your SBIR proposal.

When working with clients, I would advise them to get their letters of support out the door as quickly as possible, very early in the process of preparing an SBIR application.

From my experience, it takes more time than you think to get these letters of support from these really important people from your network. You first have to identify who to reach out to, then you have to ask them to provide the signed letter for your application, and finally wait for them to be returned to you. Sometimes this takes a couple of days. In other cases-- months.

Several times, I have had clients ready to finalize and submit their SBIR application but are still waiting for that one last letter of support to come in right before the deadline. Trust me you do not want to be in that nail-biter of a situation!

From what I have found, the easiest and most efficient way to get letters of support is to actually draft them yourself.

So, first, go ahead and see who you want to ask for support letters. Then, draft the letter for them. Finally, send out these letters for your contacts to review, edit, and sign.

Using this approach, you are able to control and streamline the narrative to be consistent with the details of your SBIR application. You are also saving your contacts time because it is much easier for them to turn over a signed letter that has been pre-drafted rather than coming up with something themselves.

If you are interested in learning more about how to go about drafting letters of support, check out for templates and sample letters.

Tip #2 - It Takes a Long Time to Prepare an SBIR Application

Give yourself more time than you think to prepare an SBIR application. You never want to rush an SBIR application because the outcome is never good when you do.

From my experience working with a lot of first-time SBIR applicants, many founders underestimate how much time and effort it takes to put together a strong SBIR application that will even stand a chance at being awarded. Because of that, make sure you have enough time planned to prepare an SBIR application. I would recommend starting at least 3 months prior to the application deadline.

Why does it take so long? Well, there are a ton of variables that all must come together in order to produce a strong proposal.

For instance, you need to make sure you have the right partnerships and appropriate team members in place, along with the expertise to carry out your project. Also, all of the technical details must be fleshed out properly in your R&D plan. These steps alone can take a very long time. From there, you’ll need additional time to revise and edit your proposal and have other members of your team look at it for input before submission.

Ultimately, when it comes down to it, you have to ensure you have enough time to create the best application you can. SBIR programs are highly competitive, so when you rush your application, not only do you risk missing the deadline altogether, but you are also decreasing your chances of getting awarded.

Tip #3 - Resubmit a Rejected SBIR Application: Don't Give Up!

As I said before, securing SBIR grant money is very competitive. In fact, less than 10% of applications get awarded the first time around.

If you find that your SBIR application gets rejected, whatever you do– don’t give up just yet! In many cases, you can resubmit your application after substantial revisions have been made to address the reviewer’s comments and feedback.

In the case your application is rejected, take some time to review the comments and see what the reviewers have to say. You might even learn something new about your company and startup! After all, some of the SBIR reviewers are also founders and innovators like yourself who can provide a unique and valuable perspective.

However, don’t be surprised if some of the negative comments are a bit harsh. And sometimes, these critiques can offer valuable feedback so it’s important to not, ignore them. They are meant to be helpful even if they sting a little when you read them so try not to get offended or take it personally!

Get Personalized Help with Your SBIR Application

As an SBIR/STTR consultant and an SBIR grant recipient myself, these are the top three considerations I wish someone had told me with my first SBIR application attempt and are also the ones my clients find most helpful in their journey.

I hope it helps you, too! If you want personalized guidance with your SBIR application to improve your chances of getting awarded, our SBIR experts at are ready to help. Contact us today to get started!

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