For 40 years, America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF has helped startups and small businesses transform their ideas into marketable products and services. We focus on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, we award $200 million in funding to entrepreneurs across the country. Our goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in the United States, and companies seed funded by our program have since gone on to tremendous success. We are a congressionally mandated program — Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).
When you join our innovators:
You will receive the funding you need as a startup or small business to commercialize technically risky ideas.
You’ll retain full control of your team, your technical vision and business strategy, and the resulting intellectual property. We take no equity in exchange for funding.
You’ll work with a program director, who will serve as your coach. You’ll also become part of the largest group of technology startups and small businesses in the country.
We support small companies and new entrepreneurs
We work with startups and small businesses, and we welcome proposals from newly formed companies — you don’t need a track record of commercialization to apply for funding. Please note that your company needs to be a legal entity before you apply.
If your company is majority owned by venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private-equity firms, you’re not eligible to apply for funding, although joint ventures and partnerships are eligible. Read more about proposal eligibility in our Eligibility Guide.
We support R&D with lots of technical risk
Our seed funding is for R&D that involves a good amount of technical risk. If you’re already sure that your product is technically feasible, this program isn’t a good fit for you.
In selected cases, we support innovations to existing products and services, but these innovations must dramatically change the products’ commercial prospects. We don’t fund work that simply improves existing products. Check out our portfolio to get a sense of our founders’ work.
Learn more by serving as an NSF reviewer.
Funding for R&D with founder-friendly terms
Up to $2M / 24+ months. Receive up to $256,000 in seed capital to conduct product Research and Development (R&D) over six to 12 months. During this period, your company will be immersed in the NSF network and you’ll receive training and mentorship from seasoned entrepreneurs and innovators. After you complete your Phase I award, you’re welcome to apply for a second-round investment of $1,000,000 over 24 months. During the course of that award, you can apply for supplements that may add up to another $500,000.
Feedback from experts: Every proposal is evaluated by a group of technical and commercial experts, who provide detailed feedback to all reviewed applications; even companies that don’t receive awards get valuable, actionable feedback.
NSF’s Merit Review Process: An NSF award is more than just funding. Being selected by experts out of thousands of applicants signals that your technology and expertise have strong technical and commercial merit.
0% equity: You retain full ownership over your company and intellectual property. And because our awards aren’t loans, there’s nothing to pay back.
Major societal impact: We don’t have the same financial incentives as most investors, so we can make impact investments that may take longer to provide a financial return. Our goal is to invest in a better future for our shareholders: the American public.
Minimal standard reporting: We provide templates for reporting monthly progress and financials. No need to waste time crafting decks and building spreadsheets — we help you focus on building your product or service instead.
Virtual coaching from program staff: Our program directors, who have deep technical expertise and entrepreneurial experience, have been in your shoes And we support startups in all locations. You don’t need to relocate to gain access to our funding.
Freedom to operate: We’re not interested in driving the direction of your company; in fact, our goal is to align your vision with our funding. You can use your funding on employees’ salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, and other R&D costs (though intellectual property, marketing and business development costs aren’t covered).
When you decide to apply for funding, you’ll submit a Project Pitch. You’ll hear back if your idea is a good fit for the program. Once you’re invited, you’ll submit a Phase I proposal for up to $256,000, which will cover at least six (and up to 12) months of work. You’ll find out whether your proposal was accepted or declined within four to six months of the proposal deadline.
If you’re awarded Phase I funding, you’ll be expected to:
- Explore product-market fit
- Determine your technology’s feasibility
- Design and test prototypes
- Identify any relevant legal or regulatory issues
- Develop a plan to scale and market your technology
Applicants often ask whether they can update their research plan during the course of a project, and the answer is yes — with a few stipulations. While it’s OK for you to update your business model or R&D strategy a bit (this is bound to happen), you can’t entirely shift the focus of your work unless you have evidence demonstrating why it makes sense.
If your technology needs more development — and if you’ve met all the Phase I requirements — you can apply for more funding. Phase II awardees receive up to $1,000,000 over two years.
To help current Phase II awardees speed the commercialization of their technology, NSF may match 50 cents on every $1 of qualifying revenues or third-party investment (minimum match $50,000 and maximum $500,000) through a Phase IIB supplement. Learn more about Supplemental funding and visit our awardee resource guide to apply for Phase IIB supplemental funding.
America’s Seed Fund is a program within the National Science Foundation and housed within the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships within the Directorate of Engineering. NSF is a federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, currently with an $8.5 billion budget.
Through the merit review process, NSF funds the most innovative ideas in science and technology. Notable NSF-supported advances include Doppler radar, the Internet, web browsers, bar codes, magnetic resonance imaging, inkjet printers, computer-aided design systems, tissue engineering, and other technology-based innovations that spur economic activity and improve the quality of life for all Americans.