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Peer Review Guidelines

The fundamental mission of NSF is to promote discoveries and to advance education across the frontiers of knowledge in science and engineering. Consistent with that mission, NSF encourages and supports a wide range of proposals from the research and education community and also from the private small business sector. These proposals are reviewed under the NSF merit review criteria, which covers both the quality of research (intellectual or technical merit) and its potential impact on society (broader impacts).

NSF has formulated broad solicitation topics that conform to the high-technology investment sector's interest. In preparing your review comments, please consult with the Program Director on the topic that is under consideration.
NSF SBIR/STTR Program Goal: The goal of the SBIR/STTR program is to promote the development of intellectual capital at small companies (500 or fewer employees). To this end, the NSF SBIR/STTR Program makes awards to small companies that:

  • Build upon recent discoveries in basic sciences and engineering
  • Lead to development of new scientific, engineering, and education capability through commercialization of advanced instruments, new processes, and innovative software, etc.
  • Promote partnerships among industry, government (state, local, federal), and academia.
Panelist Conflict of Interest (COI)

The NSF Conflict-of-Interests and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists must be read and signed. Please open and review the required COI Form, you will be required to sign this form on the morning of the panel. For Mail Reviewers Only: Prior to receiving access to any proposal in FastLane, mail reviewers must sign the NSF Conflict-of-Interest (COI) and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists. Please print and sign the COI Form and scan/email it to the NSF staff person that invited you to review. If necessary, you can fax the COI form to 703-292-9057. In the field "Panel Name" please clearly indicate the proposal number that you were invited to review.

SBIR/STTR Merit Review Criteria

Criterion 1: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
This criterion addresses the overall quality of the proposed activity to advance science and engineering through research and education.

  • Is the proposed plan a sound approach for establishing technical and commercial feasibility?
  • To what extent does the proposal suggest and explore unique or ingenious concepts or applications?
  • How well qualified is the team (the Principal Investigator, other key staff, consultants, and subawardees) to conduct the proposed activity?
  • Is there sufficient access to resources (materials and supplies, analytical services, equipment, facilities, etc.)?
  • Does the proposal reflect state-of-the-art in the major research activities proposed?(Are advancements in state-of-the-art likely?)
  • For Phase II proposals only: As a result of Phase I, did the firm succeed in providing a solid foundation for the proposed Phase II activity.

Criterion 2: What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
This criterion addresses the overall impact of the proposed activity.

  • What may be the commercial and societal benefits of the proposed activity?
  • Does the proposal lead to enabling technologies (instrumentation, software, etc.) for further discoveries?
  • Does the outcome of the proposed activity lead to a marketable product or process?
  • Evaluate the competitive advantage of this technology vs. alternate technologies that can meet the same market needs.
  • How well is the proposed activity positioned to attract further funding from non-SBIR sources once the SBIR project ends?
  • Can the product or process developed in the project advance NSF´s goals in research and education?
  • Does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geography, etc.)?
  • Has the proposing firm successfully commercialized SBIR/STTR-supported technology where prior awards have been made? Or, has the firm been successful at commercializing technology that has not received SBIR/STTR support?

For Commercial Reviewers

Please see the below links for additional review criterion for commercial reviews:

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.