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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are frequently asked questions about the NSF SBIR/STTR program. If there are any additional questions you would like to see added please let us know at sbir@nsf.gov.

FAQs about Eligibility

Q. What is considered a small business?
A. A small business is an organization that is organized for profit, with a place of business located in the United States or which makes a significant contribution to the United States economy through payment of taxes or use of American products, materials, or labor; is in the legal form of an individual proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, joint venture, association, trust or cooperative, except that where the form is a joint venture there can be no more than 49 percent participation by foreign business entities in the joint venture; is at least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in, the United States; and has, including its affiliates, not more than 500 employees.

Q. I have a small business. However, the company is not yet federal registered (i.e. I don't have an EIN/TIN). Can I still apply to this program?
A. You will need an EIN to submit a proposal to NSF.  Request an EIN here or by phone at 800-829-4933. You must also provide your company's DUNS number when applying for a new award from NSF (http://www.dnb.com/), and register your small business in the System for Award Management (www.sam.gov) database and the Small Business Administration (SBA) Company Registry (http://sbir.gov/registration) prior to submitting your proposal. 

FAQs about Preparing a Proposal

Q. I created the proposal and I am now listed as the PI but this needs to be changed. How can I change who is listed as the PI?
A. You are not able to change the PI on an SBIR/STTR proposal. To correct this, the new PI must log in using his/her login information and create a new SBIR/STTR proposal. Unfortunately, the proposal information must be re-entered into the new proposal.

Q . How do I add a subaward/subcontract budget to my proposal?
A. For step by step instructions, please click on the following link: Adding a Sub-Budget

Q.Can SBIR/STTR use the EXCEL spreadsheet option for creating the proposal budget?
A. The SBIR/STTR program is now supported by the EXCEL spreadsheet option. Most proposers use the FastLane form to input information directly.

Q. I am listed as a subaward/subcontract on this SBIR/STTR proposal. How can I submit the proposal?
A. The small business/lead organization actually submits the proposal, coordinate submission with the small business.

Q. What is a DUNS number?
A. The DUNS number is a nine-digit number assigned by Dun and Bradstreet Information Services. If the proposer does not have a DUNS number, they should contact Dun and Bradstreet by telephone directly at (866) 705-5711 to obtain one. A DUNS number should be provided immediately by telephone at no charge.

Q. I have a DUNS number. How do I enter it on my proposal?
A. The DUNS is added when you submit the proposal. The system will prompt you to enter the DUNS number.

Q. I need to choose the Topic program and Subtopic letters. Where can I find this information?
A. Links to find the Topic and Subtopic letters can be found in the program solicitation or program specifications (found on the SBIR/STTR homepage).

Q. How can I choose more than one topic/subtopic on the cover sheet?
A. Designate one, and only one, of the topics. The topic name and the appropriate subtopic letter MUST be identified on the cover sheet. A firm may submit separate proposals on different topics or different proposals on the same topic under this Solicitation. Proposals found to be non-responsive to the solicitation topics will be returned to the proposer without further consideration.

Q.Is it mandatory to fill out the checklist on the Cover Sheet? What will happen if I do not fill out all of the requested information?
A. The SBIR/STTR checklist MUST be completed; all questions must be answered. If a company fails to do so, the proposal will be returned without review.

Q. I have completed the budget but the requested amount is not showing up on the Cover Sheet. How can we correct this?
A. After budget is complete, you can manually change the requested amount on the cover sheet (if the amount is not showing correctly).

Q. What is the maximum number of pages one can have for the biographical sketch? Is it 2 pages per person (as stated in the GPG)?
A. It is preferred that you try to keep each bio to 2 pages per person, but if you go over this will not disqualify your proposal

Q. Must a biosketch and current and pending support for the consultants/subawards be uploaded to Fastlane?
A. A biosketch is needed for the PI and Key personnel for the company. If you have a consultant or subcontractor associated with the project, a biosketch is required as well for these individuals. Current and pending support is only for the company personnel.

Q. What is the maximum number of pages one can have for the budget justification? Is it up to 3 pages (as stated in the GPG)? If so, are they allowed 3 pages for each budget or 3 pages for all budgets combined?
A. No limit. It is required that ALL budget line items be explained.

Q. The GPG says that the font size can be no smaller than 10 pt. Does this apply to the text for graphics?
A. The font size only pertains to the proposal text. The text for pictures, graphs, etc. can be smaller but must be legible.

Q. Is it mandatory to list Suggested Reviewers? A. Listing suggested reviewers is optional. The suggested reviewers may or may not be considered by NSF. The suggested reviewers are those that the SBIR/STTR applicant knows are qualified and will not have a conflict of interest. There is not a list of reviewers to choose from.

Q. What are "key words?"
A. The key words should associate the project with a specific technology.

Q. I am using an Apple Computer. When I print my document, the margins and fonts are smaller than what we chose.
A. If an Apple user says they printed their document but the margins and fonts are small than what they had chosen in their original document, you can have them check:

  1. The margin size and make sure they followed the GPG.
  2. When they print, the Acrobat executable file pops up. They should choose their File (pop down menu) and choose Page Setup. Have them look at Paper (option within Page Setup). The Apple may have defaulted to US Letter Small instead of US Letter. Change this option to US Letter.

Q. Where do letters of commitment go in a Phase I or Phase II proposal?
A. Letters of commitment go in the Supplementary Documents module of FastLane. They do not count toward the total page count.

Q. Where do consultant letters go in a Phase I or Phase II proposal?
A. Consultant Letters stating the number of days plus the daily rate not to exceed the published amount in the solicitation, must be uploaded as part of the budget justification. They do NOT count toward the total page count. We suggest that you reduce the letters to save space and then email or mail the full size letters to the appropriate Program Officer; note the reduced letters must remain legible. Reminder: The number of consultant days must be stated in the letter as well as the maximum consultant rate (currently the consultant rate is $600 per day).

Q. I am applying to the STTR program (not SBIR). On the cover sheet, I am given the opportunity to add a Co-PI. Is this correct? Must the Co-PI be the Research Investigator?
A. Yes, the STTR Research Investigator is treated as a Co-PI.

Q. How can both the business and the research institution sign the Cover Sheet for an STTR proposal?
A. The proposal should be electronically signed by the small business. For instructions, click on the following link: Electronic Signature

Q. For STTR, the Cooperative Research Agreement must be obtained. Is it correct that it should be filled out entirely and upload it to the supplementary documents section without signatures, because it will be signed after it's awarded?
A. A "signed" cooperative agreement is necessary upon award recommendation. A letter stating that the two parties are working on a cooperative agreement is all that is necessary at the time of submission. However, if you anticipate a long turnaround for completion of the agreement, this should be started as soon as possible to prevent delays in obtaining the award if granted. Once notified by the NSF Program Manager that your proposal is being recommended for award, you have one week to provide a signed cooperative agreement.

FAQs about Submission of Proposals

Q. When can I apply for a Phase II proposal? Is it July or January?
A. The Phase I Award Letter has the dates for the Phase II proposal submission listed. If unsure please check with your SBIR/STTR Program Manager to confirm the due dates. Each Phase I grantee has two opportunities to submit. A Phase I Final Report must be submitted prior to submission of the Phase II proposal and must be uploaded in the Supplementary Documents module of FastLane as part of the Phase II proposal.

Q. Should I print, sign, and mail the cover sheet?
A. Electronic Signature takes care of all requirements. No paper copies (of anything) are needed.

Q. Do I have to mail a copy of the signed budget to NSF?

FAQs about Supplements

Q. What is a grant supplement?
A. The SBIR/STTR program offers a number of opportunities to obtain funds directed at targeted goals of either the NSF as a whole or the SBIR/STTR program specifically. For instance the REU supplement enhances the participation of underrepresented groups in undergraduate research. A full explanation of the supplements available can be found on the SBIR homepage (http://www.nsf.gov/eng/iip/sbir/Supplement/index.jsp).

Q. What is a Phase IB?
A. The Phase IB is a supplement to the Phase I grant first established in 2006. It provides the Phase I grantee an option to obtain supplemental funds during the interim period between Phase I and Phase II if the grantee obtains matching funds from a third party. The supplement deadline is Oct 15 th and April 15 th during an active Phase I.

Q. What is a Phase IIB?
A. The Phase IIB helps bridge the gap in funding between Phase II and Phase III commercialization. The Phase IIB will provide additional funds to Phase II grantees that obtain third party funds. The objective of the Phase IIB Option is to extend the R&D efforts beyond a current grant to meet the product/process/software requirements of a third party investor and to accelerate the Phase II project to the commercialization stage. The Phase IIB Option extends the Phase II grant for one year (if < $250,000) or two years ( > $250,000) such that the combined Phase II and IIB will not typically exceed 3-4 years in duration. The Phase IIB option only applies to active Phase II grants, being in a no-cost extension disqualifies a grantee from the Phase IIB option. Make sure that a Phase IIB is applied for during the original performance period of the Phase II grant (for further information call your Program Officer). Phase IIB proposal must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the original expiration date of the Phase II award. Dialogue with the Program Officer is required prior to submitted the Phase IIB proposal.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.