Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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 are 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.
Traditional Phase I funds are short-term (typically six months) feasibility studies of proposed innovations. These awards usually have a $150,000 cap, depending on the agency, but can be up to $225,000 and even larger with special SBA approval. 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 AFWERX is a condensed contracted timeframe of 90 days. The award is for $50,000 and allows the small business 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 usually have a $1 or $1.5 million cap, and are typically for a two-year R&D effort.
Phase II through AFWERX 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. Small Businesses have the opportunity to be awarded up to $3 million to continue work on a prototype.
If you are an established company with direct customers and commercial sales, and you have a product that could be useful for the warfighter, you may submit a Direct to Phase II proposal.
If you receive a Phase I contract but are not selected for a Phase II contract, during the next solicitation, if modifications are made to the proposal based on feedback from contracting or award of additional matching funds, a company may be able to submit a Direct to Phase II proposal.
A Phase II contract follows the award of a Phase I contract.
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.
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.
Open solicitations will indicate whether or not they will be eligible to participate in a Pitch Day event. Read the solicitation instructions carefully.
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.
To learn more about the AF SBIR/STTR process, visit our website at http://www.afsbirsttr.af.mil.
For more information on AFWERX, visit www.afwerx.af.mil.
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Topic pre-release can be tracked at https://www.dodsbirsttr.mil/submissions/login
Go to www.afsbirsttr.af.mil/Program/Phase-I-and-II/
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.
Time frame for notification and award will be communicated in the solicitation instruction.
You may request a debriefing 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 Program Support directly at 703.214.1333 or DoDSBIRSupport@reisystems.com for assistance.
Open Topic solicitations are now available with each Broad Agency Announcement. 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.
No. The cover sheet is separate from the Technical Volume page limit, and does not count towards the technical proposal's page count.
Air Force SBIR/STTR uses a phased approach to execute its mission.
Air Force SBIR/STTR is a national program that awards funding to qualified small businesses and research institutions 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
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 Air Force SBIR/STTR Center of Excellence provides a centralized resource for Air Force buyers and the small businesses and research institutions working with or attempting to participate in the AF SBIR/STTR program.
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.
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.