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Peer review guidelines

The fundamental mission of NSF is to promote discoveries and to advance education across the frontiers of knowledge in science and engineering. Consistent with that mission, NSF encourages and supports a wide range of proposals from the research and education community and also from the private small business sector. These proposals are reviewed under the NSF merit review criteria, which covers both the quality of research (intellectual or technical merit) and its potential impact on society (broader impacts).

NSF has formulated broad solicitation topics that conform to the high-technology investment sector’s interest. In preparing your review comments, please consult with the 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 both social and economic benefit by emphasizing private sector commercialization.

The NSF SBIR/STTR Program makes awards to small companies developing innovations that demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Involves a high degree of technical risk - for example:
    • Has never been attempted and/or successfully done before;
    • Is still facing technical hurdles (that the NSF-funded R&D work is intended to overcome).
  • Has the potential for significant commercial impact and/or societal benefit, as evidenced by:
    • Having the potential to disrupt the targeted market segment;
    • Having good product-market fit (as validated by customers);
    • Presenting barriers to entry for competition;
    • Offering potential for societal benefit (through commercialization under a sustainable business model).

Panelist Conflict of Interest (COI)

The NSF Conflict-of-Interests and Confidentiality Statement for NSF Panelists must be read and signed. 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: Prior to receiving access to any proposal in FastLane, mail reviewers 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 that invited you to review. If necessary, you can fax the COI form to 703-292-9057. In the field “Panel Name” please clearly indicate the proposal number that 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?
  • Is there sufficient access to resources (materials and supplies, analytical services, equipment, facilities, etc.)?
  • 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 may be the 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, is the team well-balanced between 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, etc.) for further innovation?
  • How well is the proposed activity positioned to attract further funding from non-SBIR sources once the project ends?

For Commercial Reviewers

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

Phase I: Phase I Commercial Review Form
Phase II: Phase II Commercial Review Form