10 of my “Forty ways to improve your SBIR proposal” (from an experienced proposal reviewer)

10 Ways!

As an experienced Phase I and Phase II SBIR reviewer, I have seen so many silly and unnecessary mistakes kill a proposal, that I started writing them down.  First I got to 10, then 18, then 30, and now I’m up to 40. These are all “real world” mistakes that I have personally seen as a reviewer that have eliminated otherwise quality proposals from consideration!  Let me repeat that, these simple mistakes ELIMINATED a proposal from even being considered for funding.  Bummer for all those teams – don’t be one of them. Read these 10 and then download the entire 40!  Take them seriously.
The NSF says that they award about 10-15% of proposals, see #8 below.  However, in my experience, on a panel reviewing 10 proposals, there is usually 1 or 2 that are “fundable”.  VERY rarely are there 3.  All of the rest of them are unfundable, usually for the reasons below.  Just by avoiding these mistakes, you put yourself in that very top tier of fundability.  And being in that tier makes it nearly 80% chance, by my estimates, that you will be funded!

1. Read the Solicitation.
2. Follow the Instructions in the Solicitation.
4. Create a really detailed research plan/ technical work plan (and if the solicitation says 5 pages, make it 5 pages!) This is what the agency is paying for.
6. Demonstrate your ability to take a product to market (either through revenue or through past successful commercialization efforts).
8. One Program Director put it this way – the NSF Phase I award rate is about 10%, but if you are 1) clear about the Innovation and 2) clear about the market, you are ahead of about 60% of the proposals!
9. Make sure you have GOOD (concrete) letters of support that lend credibility to the team and/or to your concept. If you are like many Pis and you write them “as a starting point”, MAKE THEM UNIQUE (and don’t assume your contacts will customize very far, many will sign and send back). It becomes very obvious if they are all the same.
10. Ask for the maximum amount that is permitted (to the penny!). If it is $150k max, ask for $150k, if it is $225k, then ask for $225k. Leftover money doesn’t help the Program Director.
21. If you have a university or other sub-awardee partner, NEVER give them the maximum allowable amount (i.e.50% in an NSF Phase II) – instead offer them 5% or 10% less than the maximum to give your company someflexibility. Why? Because a University can always fill up whatever budget you offer them! And they’ll get thework done in a smaller amount as well.
24.Don’t assume that your Phase II reviewers have your Phase I proposal, they usually cannot see it and only a few of the reviewers may have been a reviewer on the your Phase I proposal. Pretend you are starting from scratch with every reviewer.
28.Don’t ever make a Program Director say “The PI is not coachable”! Can you say Death Knell?
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