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The Small Business Innovation Research program was established by Congress in 1982 with the goal of identifying small businesses that could provide a solution to the warfighter in a faster, more efficient manner than was previously available. Fast forward almost 40 years, and the program is reducing barriers and accelerating processes, seeding the future of the U.S. Air Force through innovation and forward-thinking technology. The SBIR/STTR program offers three open solicitations per year. Specific focus areas are determined by the Air Force and posted as focus areas under an Open Topic solicitation where small businesses can submit a proposed solution to the identified area of concern.
AFWERX is the Air Force's team of innovators who encourage and facilitate connections across industry, academia, and military to create transformative opportunities and foster a culture of innovation. Their mission is to help solve problems and enhance the effectiveness of the service by enabling thoughtful, deliberate, ground-up innovation. AFWERX was established in 2017 by the Secretary of the Air Force and reports to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Through the AFWERX open topic solicitations, small businesses are able to submit innovative solutions that have not yet been identified as a need by the warfighter.
In September 2020, AFWERX was adopted as an official Air Force organization under Air Force Research Laboratory. In this transition, the Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR program was moved within AFWERX.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Open Topic program operates on a single solicitation that is an open call for all solutions - this allows businesses the flexibility to bring us tools and technology we didn't think to ask for.
This program is open to for-profit small businesses with 500 or fewer employees that are US majority owned.
The U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR program offers contracts. It does NOT offer grants.
Contracts are more demanding than grants. A contracting agency is looking to procure a good or service that will be of direct benefit to the government. A contract is a binding agreement between a buyer and seller to provide goods or services in return for compensation. The scope of the work is fairly inflexible. There are frequent reporting requirements and payments are based on deliverables and milestones. Classified work is done as contracts, not grants.
Outside of the U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR program, the federal government uses grants to accomplish a public purpose, advance a national objective, address a public problem, or stimulate a particular activity desired by the awarding Agency. Grants are very flexible, allowing considerable latitude to the Principal Investigator, or PI. With grants, the applicant often defines the scope of work. The PI is required to make their best effort and has more freedom to adapt the project and the outcome, since there is no legally binding requirement to achieve results. The payment method is also more flexible, often using a “drawdown” system.
Read more about the differences here: https://www.sbir.gov/tutorials/program-basics/tutorial-6
Air Force SBIR/STTR is a national program that awards funding to qualified small businesses across the nation that demonstrate the potential to deliver innovative technologies to the U.S. warfighter.
Air Force SBIR/STTR’s main mission is to support the U.S. warfighter. The execution of this mission also supports the U.S. economy, the U.S. industrial base, the small business ecosystem, innovative thinkers, and the security of the United States.
Air Force SBIR/STTR is changing the acquisition process to allow innovative technologies to get to the warfighter faster and more efficiently. Air Force SBIR/STTR acts like a venture capital organization by seeding innovative small businesses that successfully demonstrate technologies that are capable of being a benefit to the USAF. This approach to acquisitions helps the Air Force be a more dependable partner for small businesses. It allows the Air Force to do business in such a way that we can respond faster to identified needs and capitalize on the momentum that’s going on in commercial industry, thus encouraging small businesses to work with the Air Force and retaining U.S.-based scientific excellence and innovative technologies.
Air Force SBIR/STTR’s approach to the acquisition process reduces the timeline for topic solicitation to proposal submission to contract award. This is accomplished in the following ways:
• Being less prescriptive when determining problem areas
• Soliciting through “Open Topics” to encourage out-of-the-box thinking
• Reducing proposal length
• Allowing “smart” failure
• Awarding “on-the-spot” contracts during Pitch Day events
• Implementing the STRATFI/TACFI Program, designed to help promising companies bridge the “Valley of Death”
Air Force SBIR/STTR develops innovative technologies at the speed of relevance by:
• Strengthening the small business ecosystem
• Getting small businesses through the acquisition process faster
• Allowing multiple companies to pursue open topic solutions to achieve the best possible outcome and encourage competition
• Being less prescriptive with outcome expectations to allow innovation to flourish in an unconstrained environment
• Taking advantage of existing commercial technologies
The Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program provides a centralized resource for Air Force buyers and the small businesses and research institutions working with or attempting to participate in the DAF SBIR/STTR program.
Awards are made based upon three criteria: Commercialization, Defense Need, and Technology Merit. Defense need can still be demonstrated without having a Focus Area match, so long as the proposal demonstrates where they believe a need may reside. Their Phase I period of performance will then work toward finding that government customer in that relevant space who may not have posted a Focus Area.
Topic solicitations can be tracked at https://www.dodsbirsttr.mil/submissions/login or the Air Force SBIR/STTR Broad Agency Announcement web page. https://www.afsbirsttr.af.mil/About/Broad-Agency-Announcement/
Proposals can be submitted three times a year during an open solicitation time frame. For current solicitation information, go to https://www.dodsbirsttr.mil/submissions/login. All proposals will need to be submitted through the DSIP portal.
Timeframe for notification and award will be communicated in the solicitation instruction.
You may request feedback per the instruction in your non-select notification. Requests should be submitted within 30 days of non-select notification. Any requests received more than 30 days after non-select notification will be honored at the discretion of the contracting officer.
The Air Force recommends that you complete your submission early. With the volume of proposals submitted near the deadline, computer traffic gets heavy and will slow down the system. Do not wait until the last minute. The Air Force will not be responsible for proposals being denied due to DoD servers being down or inaccessible.
Contact DoD SBIR/STTR Program Support at DoDSBIRSupport@reisystems.com for assistance.
The Open Topic submission allows small businesses to present a solution to an unidentified Air Force need. The proposal, contract and award process for these submissions are managed at an accelerated pace. Review the solicitation details carefully for specific instructions.
No. The cover sheet is separate from the Technical Volume page limit, and does not count towards the technical proposal's page count.
Companies are encouraged to apply again if their initial proposal did not receive an award, however, the scope of the proposal and R&D must be different.
Unfortunately, disqualification for a valid error cannot be corrected for that particular solicitation. However, you are welcome to apply again after correcting the error.
Traditional Phase I funds are short-term (typically six months) feasibility studies of proposed innovations. Assuming that a company establishes the scientific and technical merit as well as the commercial potential of its proposed innovation, it can compete for sequential Phase II funding.
Phase I through the AFWERX open topic is a condensed contracted timeframe of 90 days. The award allows the small businesses to conduct research on who their customer is within the Air Force and what solutions they may be able to provide. At the completion of the Phase I contract, the company may compete for Phase II funding.
Traditional Phase II provides continued R&D funding for successful Phase I projects and frequently results in development of a prototype. Phase II awards are typically for a two-year R&D effort.
Phase II through the AFWERX open topic process requires that the company has identified an Air Force customer and they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding identifying their intention to work with the small business.
Instructions and specific dates for Phase II will be provided by your AF awarding site contractor. This usually occurs towards the end of the Phase I technical duration and final reporting stage. Awards will be based on Phase I results and scientific, technical, and commercial merit of the Phase II proposal.
Review the solicitation grading criteria and adjust! The Air Force SBIR/STTR program receives hundreds of submissions per cycle. This is a highly competitive program with approximately 20-30% of companies receiving an award.
Go to https://www.afsbirsttr.af.mil/Program/Phase-I-and-II/
Phase I awardees are offered their own solicitation for Phase II. The RFP released for each solicitation will outline dates and details. If you are an active Phase I, you will receive notification when your Phase II solicitation is released.
As long as the proposing firm/small business is doing the minimum work (2/3 for Phase I, 50% for Phase II), the remaining work may be conducted by a large business/organization.
Download the Direct to Phase II FAQ page here.
A Direct to Phase II (D2P2) allows DoD to make a SBIR Phase II award to a small business concern with respect to a project, without regard to whether the small business concern was provided an award under Phase I of a SBIR program with respect to such project. AF does not guarantee D2P2 opportunities will be offered in all future solicitations, but has been a part of the Open Topic process in the past.
Review each solicitation cycle carefully for D2P2 opportunities. Some Pitch Day solicitations are for D2P2 technologies.
You can submit for a D2P2, but in order to qualify you need to have a government customer and end user identified and supporting your proposal via a customer memorandum. Phase I assists in customer discovery and matchmaking, but a company is also able to conduct their own research and make their own connections.
Only one customer memorandum is allowed, and the template is required. It is best to coordinate with all interested parties and select the best fit for the contract, which can be meeting a combination of customer needs. However, you will need to identify the main customer/end user and designated TPOC for the effort. Letters of Support from other customers are encouraged, but do not fulfill the customer memorandum requirement.
The customer memorandum template will be included in each solicitation. Because there are often changes that result between solicitations, only use the template provided within the solicitation you are responding to.
Strategic Funding Increase, or STRATFI, is a program focused on large-scale, strategic capabilities at the DAF level. Tactical Funding Increase,or TACFI, focuses on transitioning smaller-scale, tactical capabilities at the operational level. They are designed to catalyze relationships between Air Force and Space Force end-users and acquisition professionals, private-sector innovators and inventors.
The program strives to bridge the gap between current SBIR/STTR Phase II and Phase III scaling efforts, facilitating delivery of strategic capabilities for the Department of the Air Force.
Below is a list of requirements to be considered for a STRATFI/TACFI award:
● On an active DAF SBIR/STTR P2 or completed within 3 years
● The subject effort has not already been awarded a “Sequential” P2
● At least 90 days have passed since the beginning of P2 execution
● Not executing a prior STRATFI effort at the time of submission
● Able to achieve the minimum matching/investment requirements
● Able to obtain the required End-User and Customer Memoranda
The STRATFI, or Strategic Funding Increase, program is focused on large-scale, strategic capabilities at the DAF level. STRATFI offers small businesses between $3 million and $15 million in SBIR funds over a four-year period. Given the larger dollar size and strategic nature of the program, the matching requirements are more robust. For every $1 of SBIR/STTR funds, companies must also receive $2 of other government funds OR $1 of other government funds and $2 of private funds.
TACFI, or Tactical Funding Increase, program is focused on transitioning smaller-scale, tactical capabilities at the operational level. Through TACFI, small businesses can receive from $375,000 to $1.8 million in SBIR/STTR funds over a two-year period. For every dollar of SBIR/STTR funds, companies must also receive at least $1 of other government funding (i.e., non-SBIR/STTR) OR $1 of private funding.
No, STRATFI/TACFI is only available for Phase IIs that are active, completed within the last three years, not received a “sequential” Phase II, and at least 90 days since Phase II activation. However, if the small business has a qualifying Phase II and a Phase III, the Phase III may qualify as matching funding towards the STRATFI/TACFI application.
You should work with your AF customer(s) who are contributing to the matching funding for the effort.
The Phase II customer/end user/TPOC will likely be involved in a STRATFI or TACFI effort, however, this is not required. STRATFI's and TACFI's are built off the Phase II effort, but a company could bring a different or additional customers/end users to the table.
Phase III refers to work that derives from, extends, or completes an effort made under prior SBIR/STTR funding agreements, but is funded by sources other than the SBIR/STTR program. It includes any follow-on, non-SBIR/STTR funding for further specialized R&D or transition of technologies developed during the previous phases to government acquisition programs. Some federal agencies provide supplemental funding for further development of promising innovations when they demonstrate strong commercial potential or the capability to meet critical U.S. government technology needs.
The STTR program is similar to the SBIR program, however, the STTR program requires one qualifying research partner to perform 30 – 60% of the award work. (e.g. university, non- profit, or FFRDC)
For STTR, the Principal Investigator (PI) can be from the Research Institute (RI) partner, assuming that at least 40% of the work effort is being performed by the Small Business, and at least 30% by the RI (subcontractor).
A technology effort that starts as a Phase I STTR can change to a SBIR in Phase II, or vice versa. The decision on the type of topic (SBIR or STTR) is a government decision and happens before contracts are awarded. SBIR and STTR are two different funding streams and involve different prime-sub contract percentages for accomplishment of the work. Firms can provide input to the government about changing the type of program (STTR or SBIR) being used if the firm believes the change of research team (and thus the prime and sub relationship) warrants that change and as applies to follow-on Phase II work. Those types of decisions need to be made before any follow on funding and contract action are taken by the government.
Any changes of research team after the contract award, such as a professor involved in the SBIR/STTR moving to another university, would require notifying the Contracting Officer in writing with a request for concurrence.
Selectable, Not Funded Award Decision
Coming out of technical evaluation, proposals are categorized as “Selectable”, “Selectable, Not Funded”, or “Not Selectable.” Proposals may be determined “Not Selectable” based on disqualification for not meeting a solicitation requirement or by being rated “Poor” under one of the three evaluation criteria.
At the completion of technical evaluation, proposed efforts are considered based on their importance to Air Force and DoD Programs. This provides a ranking to which available funding is then applied until exhausted. Those proposals above the funding cut line are “Selectable – Funded”; those below it are “Selectable – Not Funded. While those determined “Selectable – Not Funded” are not typically funded with AF SBIR money committed to the specific topic, they are available for “adoption” by other AF organizations or DoD components for award with their funding by their supporting contracting office.
Yes, however, the “Phase I-like” effort described in the proposal, which is a requirement for all D2P2 proposals, cannot be predominantly based on current or previous Phase I and/or II efforts.
Due to the volume of proposal submissions and the fact the proposal has demonstrated technical merit (for which there was not available funding), “Selectable – Not Funded” proposals are not eligible for feedback. Additionally, based on the number of proposals received under the Phase I open topics, we are unable to provide feedback for “Not Selectable” proposals for Phase I.
In accordance with 15 USC 638(dd)(7), investment by venture capital, private equity firms, or hedge funds shall not be used as an award criterion. Funding commitments related to the effort, whether from Government sources, as documented in the Air Force Customer Memorandum, or private sources, as documented through a letter of commitment, are evidence of commercialization potential.
Evaluation criteria are published in the solicitations. Each set of criteria immediately follows the proposal preparation instructions for each proposal type in the solicitation, e.g., Phase I, Direct to Phase II, “traditional” Phase II, etc.