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.
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.
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.
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.
Find out if your project is a good fit for the program.
Each small business can only submit one Project Pitch at a time.
An invitation to submit a full proposal is valid for one year. A small business with a pending Project Pitch must wait for a response before submitting a second Project Pitch. 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 or revised Project Pitch. A small business submitting a Project Pitch that is not invited to submit a full proposal is permitted to resubmit their Project Pitch (with revisions to address any deficiencies) in a future submission window.
prior to the end of
the submission window
and upon invitation
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!!
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.
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 SAM.gov registration is needed to create a FastLane account and submit a proposal to NSF. Registration expires after one year.
Processing time: Up to 48 hours
Before applying, you need to register your company with NSF in Research.gov. Only after registering with Research.gov can you login to FastLane and begin preparing your proposal. (SBIR and STTR proposals are not accepted in Research.gov). We recommend you explore FastLane before submitting your application.
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.
We encourage you to familiarize yourself with our FastLane guide.
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
1-3 months after
the window closes Applications undergo merit reviews.
4-6 months after
the window closes We'll notify you whether your proposal is accepted or declined.
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.