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Merit Review

NSF’s mission is to promote discoveries and advance education across the frontiers of knowledge in science and engineering. Consistent with that mission, NSF encourages and supports a range of proposals from the research and education communities and the private small business sector. NSF reviews these proposals under the NSF merit review criteria, which cover the quality of research (intellectual or technical merit) and its potential impact on society (broader impacts).

NSF has created broad solicitation topics that reflect the high-technology-investment sector’s interests. Reviewers As you’re preparing your review comments, please consult with the appropriate program director on the topic that is under consideration.

NSF SBIR/STTR program goal: By increasing the incentive and opportunity for small firms to undertake cutting-edge, high-risk, high-quality scientific, engineering, or science and engineering education research, the NSF SBIR/STTR program seeks to transform scientific discovery into social and economic benefit by emphasizing private-sector commercialization.

The NSF SBIR/STTR program makes awards to small companies developing innovations with the following characteristics:

  • Involves a high degree of technical risk
    • Has never been attempted and/or successfully done before
    • Faces technical hurdles that NSF-funded R&D work will help overcome
  • Has the potential for significant commercial impact and/or societal benefit, as evidenced by:
    • The potential to disrupt the targeted market segment
    • Good product-market fit, as validated by customers
    • Demonstrated barriers to entry for competition
    • The potential for societal benefit through commercialization under a sustainable business model

Panelist conflict of interest (COI)

If you’re a panelist, you must read and sign the NSF Conflict of Interests and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists. Please open and review the required COI Form; you will be required to sign this form on the morning of the panel.

For mail reviewers only: Before you can access any proposals in FastLane, you must sign the NSF Conflict of Interest (COI) and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists. Please print and sign the COI Form and scan/email it to the NSF staff person who invited you to review. If necessary, you can fax the COI form to 703-292-9057. In the Panel Name field, please include the number of the proposal you were invited to review.

SBIR/STTR merit review criteria

Criterion 1: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This criterion addresses the overall quality of the proposed activity to advance science and engineering through research and education.

  • Is the proposed plan a sound approach for establishing technical and commercial feasibility?
  • To what extent does the proposal suggest and develop unique or ingenious concepts or applications?
  • How well qualified is the technical team (Principal Investigator, key staff, consultants, and subawardees) to conduct the proposed activity?
  • Does the team have sufficient access to resources (materials and supplies, analytical services, equipment, facilities, and so on)?
  • Does the proposal reflect state-of-the-art in the major research activities proposed? (Are advancements in state-of-the-art likely?)
  • For Phase II proposals only: As a result of Phase I, did the firm succeed in providing a solid foundation for the proposed Phase II activity?

Criterion 2: What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

This criterion addresses the overall impact of the proposed activity.

  • What are the potential commercial and societal benefits of the proposed activity?
  • Does the outcome of the proposed activity lead to a marketable product or process that warrants significant NSF support?
  • Given the stage of the proposed effort, does the team have well-balanced technical and business skills?
  • Has the proposing firm successfully commercialized SBIR- or STTR-supported technology where prior awards have been made? Or, has the firm been successful at commercializing technology that has not received SBIR or STTR support?
  • Has the proposer evaluated the competitive advantage of this technology vs. alternate technologies that can meet the same market needs?
  • Does the proposal lead to enabling technologies (instrumentation, software, and so on) for further innovation?
  • How well is the proposed activity positioned to attract further funding from non-SBIR/STTR sources once the project ends?

For commercial reviewers

Please see the below links for additional review criteria for commercial reviews: