SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants are a way for businesses with fewer than 500 employees to fund development and testing without giving up any equity.
Total amounts granted are generally in the $750,000 to $1,250,000 range, and the two most likely sources for SBIR financing for education technology are the NSF and the US Department of Education. The Department of Education’s latest grant opportunity opens up November 21, 2016.
Most awardees go through a two-phase cycle. Phase I grants are for feasibility, and once a company has received and completed a Phase I grant, they can apply for a Phase II grant to develop and test the product.
A rule of thumb is that about 1 in 10 applications win a Phase I, and, of those who complete Phase I, about half have historically been awarded a Phase II grant. Having been a judge, it’s amazing how many of those applications are incomplete, unclear, or do not show knowledge of education or the education market. For those that are complete, clear, and show domain expertise, the odds are significantly higher.
The application is long, generally 15 to 20 pages; figure on 40 to 80 hours to fully complete the application. Both the NSF and the Department of Ed use independent evaluators to review and rate the applications. If you are considering applying, it is critical that you write with the reviewers in mind.
The reviewers generally look for
- Innovation: revolutionary, not incremental or evolutionary; high risk is a plus
- Broad Impact: addresses important issues with a high value proposition that will be compelling to its audience
- Commercialization Plan: a detailed and reasonable strategy for scaling with a justifiable market analysis showing defendable revenue and cost projections
- Strong team: technically and commercially experienced
- Efficacy: a plan to evaluate the product’s effect that is statistically significant
- Support letters from organizations and individuals who clearly indicate that they would invest in or purchase the product
- UX and UI: demonstration that the user experience and interface are clean, clear, and effective
- Resources: an understanding of the requirement to create a usable product along with milestones and deliverables
- IP: understanding of the competitive advantage and novelty of the product, and what intellectual property can be protected
- Complexity: demonstration that the project leaders understand the technical issues behind creating the innovation and the market issues in commercializing it
The application process is daunting so it is often helpful to work with someone (like Academic Business Advisors) that has been through the process a few times. We would be happy to talk to you.