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How to apply

Learn about our Phase I application timeline, how to prepare your Project Pitch, and what to expect once you submit your Project Pitch or full proposal.

  1. anytime
    1. What we look for

      Here’s what we look for when determining which companies to fund:

      • Impact: Your innovation could make a difference to people worldwide or revolutionize an industry.
      • Technological innovation: You need research and development funding to create new products, services, and other scalable solutions based on fundamental science or engineering. NSF does not fund straightforward engineering or incremental product development tasks.
      • Market pull: You have evidence that your product or service could meet an important, unmet need for your customers.
      • Scale: If you successfully bring your product or service to market, it could form the foundation for a scalable business and make a large impact in your target market.


      Check out our portfolio to see what companies we’ve recently funded.

      Technology topic areas

      Review this list of technology topic areas (sectors we fund) to see which best aligns with your company’s work. If none of the technology topic areas quite reflects your work, but you feel your company is otherwise a good fit, you can apply under the Other Topics (OT) category.

      Download a searchable PDF of the full list of technology topic areas that also includes descriptions of the subtopics.

    2. Make sure your company meets these eligibility requirements

      • Your company must be a small business (fewer than 500 employees) located in the United States.
      • At least 50% of your company’s equity must be owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. NSF does not permit companies that are majority-owned by multiple venture capital firms, private equity firms, or hedge funds, to participate in SBIR and STTR.
      • All funded work needs to take place in the United States (including work done by consultants and contractors).
      • The project’s principal investigator (tech lead) must be legally employed at least 20 hours a week by the company seeking funding. The PI doesn’t need any advanced degrees.
      • The principal investigator needs to commit to at least one month (173 hours) of work on a funded project per six months of project duration.

      For more detailed information, check out the Eligibility Guide.

    3. Preview the information we look for in a Project Pitch.

      Startups or entrepreneurs who submit a Project Pitch will know in about one month if they meet the program’s objectives to support innovative technologies that show promise of commercial and/or societal impact and involve a level of technical risk.

    4. Find out if your project is a good fit for the program.

      Submit your Project Pitch

      Each small business can only submit one Project Pitch at a time.

      A small business may only submit one Project Pitch per submission window. A small business is permitted to resubmit its Project Pitch (with revisions to address any deficiencies) in a future submission window. (Please reference the solicitation for submission windows).

      Any small business that has received an invitation to submit a full proposal, or which has a full proposal under review, must wait for a resolution of the full proposal before submitting a new Project Pitch.

      An invitation to submit a full proposal is valid for one year.

  2. prior to the end of
    the submission window
    and upon invitation
    1. If your company hasn’t worked with the government before, you’ll need to register with these systems. You MUST have completed your SAM registration BEFORE you can begin entering your proposal in FastLane. Start as soon as possible!!

      Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS number)

      Processing time: Up to five business days

      A DUNS number is a unique, nine-digit number that identifies each physical location of your company. You’ll need one in order to receive government funding. Because you’re applying for a DUNS number for government funding, processing time should take about five business days.

      System for Award Management (SAM)

      Processing time: Up to three weeks

      You MUST register to do business with the U.S. government through System for Award Management (SAM). When you register, you’ll have to share bank account information of the account where the NSF funds would be deposited. This registration process is free and takes only 10-15 minutes to initiate, but can take up to three weeks to complete. An active registration is needed to create a FastLane account and submit a proposal to NSF. Registration expires after one year. (Online Grant Management for the NSF Community)

      Processing time: Up to 48 hours

      Before applying, you need to register your company with NSF in Only after registering with can you login to FastLane and begin preparing your proposal. (SBIR and STTR proposals are not accepted in We recommend you explore FastLane before submitting your application.

      SBIR Company Registry

      Finally, you need to register with the SBIR Company Registry (operated by the Small Business Administration). Post-registration, you’ll receive a Business Concern Control ID (SBC ID), which you’ll need to include in your FastLane application.

    2. Check out our SBIR solicitation or STTR solicitation to prepare your full proposal.

    3. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with our FastLane guide.

  3. Submission window closes

    There are four submission windows for Phase I proposals in 2021:
    February 12, 2021 - March 4, 2021
    March 5, 2021 - June 3, 2021
    June 4, 2021 - September 2, 2021
    September 3, 2021 - December 2, 2021
  4. 1-3 months after
    the window closes
    Applications undergo merit reviews.
  5. 4-6 months after
    the window closes
    We'll notify you whether your proposal is accepted or declined.
  6. 5-6 months after
    the window closes
    If your proposal is accepted, you'll receive funding of up to $256,000 and begin Phase I research and development.