Proposal Development


Summary Of Proposal Development Phases

Winning SBIR proposals and grant requests have to provide answers to two primary questions:  

  1. What is so special or unique or useful about what you are proposing?
  2. Why should the reviewer believe that the technology you are proposing  will actually be commercialized if your proposal is approved for funding? This usually requires the proposer to possess good, current technology and market planning data along with results from a patent search and a viable, convincing business plan. Remember that this is an excellent way to show how good a marketer and salesperson you are.

Most Important First Steps: 

  1. Have a clear concept of your innovation or research. For instance, if you are designing a new instrument or a device or a new software program, understand its functions, expected performance capability, a schematic of the device or a flowchart for the program.
  2. Conduct a search for any such or similar existing devices or programs. List the commonalities and differences between your device and the existing ones. Remember, just because it is a good idea does not mean it should be or is going to be funded. See for an example below.
  3. Conduct a literature and patent search for a similar device (see below). Links to lists of registered patent agents and patent attorneys by geographical region can be found at:

Next Steps:

If you are convinced that your idea is innovative: 

  1. Find the federal agency (agencies) that is (are) best suited to your business innovation by checking the list of available topics from the individual solicitations.
  2. Assemble a team that complements your skills and lends credibility to your proposal. The team may consist of your own company personnel and other individuals from an academic or research institution or individual expert consultants.
  3. Develop your proposal according to the layout specified by the funding agency. See below for more details.
  4. Establish at least one Review Team that will assist you in reviewing your proposal to ensure your proposal is compliant in all respects. This Team may also act as the Red Team for conducting a Red Team Review.
  5. Ensure that your proposal is clear and succinct, and is compliant with the agency’s requirements in all respects.

Some of these steps should be carried out simultaneously. Go here for a more detailed process. Statistically, about 1 in 9 proposals actually submitted and about one-in-three properly prepared proposals win an award.

Proposal Format

A proposal is a response to a specific agency solicitation. While a few non-solicited proposals may be considered, most agency solicitation topics are broad enough to encompass varied responses of different innovative applications. A talk or an e-mail exchange with the appropriate program administrator is always a good idea before embarking on developing a proposal. Each agency’s solicitation involves precise structure and format criteria that must be adhered to. Failure to do so may result in proposal rejection without a review. For instance, some agencies may insist on the maximum number of pages to be 25 and hence reject any proposal that has an excess of this number, while other agencies may choose to review only the first 25 pages and reject reviewing those pages which are in excess of this number. When in doubt, follow the agency’s specifications.

SBIR proposals must be 25 pages or fewer, adhere to stringent formats set forth by each agency and address stated agency objectives and missions. An agency will review proposals using either internal technical experts, a peer review recommendation or rating process.

General sections or elements for proposals

  • Cover page
  • Abstract
  • Problem/Opportunity
  • Background
  • Objectives
  • Work Plan
  • Related Research/Work
  • Commercial Applications
  • Key Personnel, Facilities & Equipment
  • Budget

Tips, hints, evaluations, etc. on SBIR proposal development:

Two excellent presentations on SBIR proposal preparation and programs by Bill Tumblin ((864) 271-8218 are available.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Workshop
Preparing a Competitive Proposal

Conducting a Literature Review

Literature search is an important part of the proof that you are aware of the latest research occurring in your field. Collaboration with Prairie View A&M University researchers will provide you with free access to hundreds of journals and printed papers. provides you with access to a free comprehensive resource of over 150,000 publications, including more than 18,000 science and 15,000 medical titles. contains a database of 10 million abstracts and 30,000 scientific, technical, medical and scholarly journals.

Identifying the Competition and the Products They Make

Identifying and sizing your competition is always a good idea when you are preparing your proposal. For initiating an SBIR type effort, it is absolutely imperative that you be able to demonstrate that your idea is indeed innovative. This requires that you do a market research – looking for trends in the industry, identifying similar technologies already being sold, collecting data on how these technologies are being received by consumers, and identifying “gaps” that need to be filled. Besides the usual searches you can conduct with Google and Profusion, the following web sites can help you obtain this information.

Conducting Patent Search

A major requirement of successful participation in the SBIR Program is for the applicant to demonstrate the innovativeness of his/her idea. It is important to understand that a unique idea by itself is not necessarily innovative. (United States Patent & Trademark Office) can provide you with adequate information.


Other Proposal Resources