10 Tips For Winning Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Proposals

In the 27 years Bevilacqua Research Corporation has been in business I must have written over 100 SBIR proposals. I have won 16 (1 was never funded) and have gone to Phase II on 7 and Phase III on five. This may not seem like much but as competitive as the SBIR program is, this is a pretty good record. In fact the DOD Techlink office has written an article on our success that will be published as soon as the DOD public affairs office approves it. Although we are not considered a SBIR company (i.e. a small business that makes its living from responding to and winning SBIR’s) I conservatively estimate that ¾ of all of the revenue that we have made since we opened our doors in 1992 are a direct result of our participation in the SBIR program.  When I mentor small businesses I always give them a free SBIR proposal template and the following advice:

1) The program is very competitive. Don’t expect to win unless the customer knows you. At the very least call the technical POC during the 1-month grace period before the opportunity to call them closes and create as much intimacy as you can by asking questions, and discussing your ideas.

2) If you lose always ask for a debriefing but don’t expect the debriefings to make sense or be helpful. I have literally received 2 debriefings from reviewers at an organization where one said it was the best proposal they had ever seen and the other said I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about.

3) If you know a customer who has a responsibility to generate SBIR topics for his/her organization, send him/her ideas already written up in the correct format complete with references – they really appreciate this help and it gives you an advantage in the competition.

4) Try to research the customer from the name given at the end of the solicitation. If the point of contact has a PH.D. use references in MLA or  APA format and write the proposal like you would a peer-reviewed paper for a research journal. If they are not a Ph.D. do not use references – use footnotes (if you must). Try to write to the person in light of what you know about their background. For example, If they are a Mechanical Engineer be careful about using terms and common acronyms from Physics, or other disciplines that might make them uncomfortable or misunderstand your approach

5) Reviewers get a lot of proposals. Make sure that in section 1.0 (Introduction) and section 3.0 (technical discussion) you speak to the extra things you are offering and why your approach lowers risk. Make it clear why your idea stands out from others that may be proposing. And why your idea should be funded over others.

6) Always spend most or all of the money offered. You don’t get points for a low bid. In fact if you don’t spend most or all of their money, it creates a problem for them.

7) I have never had a reviewer tell me I didn’t have enough information in section 2.0 (the program plan), however many complain that there isn’t enough detail in section 3 (Technical section). If you have to “dumb-down” your proposal to meet the 20-page limit, do it in section 2.0 and not section 3.0.

8) Qualifications of the principal Investigator (PI) and others listed in the resume section are important. Unfortunately sometimes the win goes to whoever lists more PhD’s in this section. If at all possible the PI should be a Ph.D. with at least 25% of his/her time available to put towards the work.

9) Its OK not to know for sure that the research will be successful …after all..its research. Be honest about technical risks and the questions that need to be answered to make the project successful. If you list risks and questions in section 2 (Objectives) Be sure to tell the reviewers clearly how you intend to answer the questions and remove the risks.

10) Don’t be afraid to propose “Far-out” ideas as long as you feel confident you can make them work. I submitted an idea for symbolically encoded communications to the Navy and the Technical point of contact told me in the kickoff meeting that they had enough money for three awards. After choosing 2 that they felt were low risk they decided to choose my proposal because in their words…”It was Wacky”. Today we are going into phase III and the results have been remarkable, creating a new paradigm for digital communications for the DOD.

These 10 tips are only the tip of the iceberg that is the SBIR program. In the coming weeks and months I will give more tips. I always give my protégé’s my current Army SBIR template. (Realize that the format between the services (DOD) is different, it differs between agencies (i.e. DOD, NASA, DOE, Etc.) and it also changes from year to year as agencies continually seek to optimize the program). This template gives small businesses a start and I would be happy to send it to you if you email me but you will always need to read the solicitation instructions carefully and outline your proposal in accordance with them.

Dr. Andy

Bevilacqua Research Corporation CEO and CTO

“Cognitive Psychophysicist with an interest in almost everything”

FOOTNOTE: It was suggested to me by a very astute employee that I add a sentence or two each time I add an article to the blog to highlight one or more of our most pressing current open hiring requisitions. These can be found on the BRC website at www.brc2.com. BRC Employees that refer someone that is hired to fill one of these open positions will receive a minimum referral bonus of $1000 (after tax). Here is today’s featured open position:

Test Engineer (Scientist and Engineer Level 3)

Job Code: 17-PTO-037
Location: Eglin AFB, FL
Clearance Required: Secret

Job Description/Essential Functions:
Bevilacqua Research Corporation (BRC) is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned, Small Business based in Huntsville, Alabama incorporated in 1992. BRC provides “best-value” technical and management solutions to a diverse government and commercial customer base in the following key business areas: test & evaluation, systems analysis & integration, security & intelligence, and R&D.

Works as a member of an integrated product team to develop and test new capabilities for the US Air Force. This position requires an individual with motivation and initiative to support developmental flight testing in a dynamic high tempo environment.


  • Supports the Operational Flight Program (OFP) Combined Test Force (CTF) at Eglin AFB, FL.
  • Provides support during the planning, execution, and reporting phases of each OFP CTF developmental and operational test.
  • Test support includes development of test objectives, development of test methods and detailed test procedures, development of specification data requirements, identification of instrumentation and test support equipment requirements, development of data collection forms and logs, coordination with test support agencies and ranges, and other test and evaluation (T&E) planning tasks.
  • Works with analysts to develop required data products for test reporting.
  • Communicates and coordinates efforts across test planning, execution, and analysis activities.
  • Occasional Travel (Hill AFB, Baltimore, HI, AK)

Minimum Requirements:

  • U.S. Citizenship is required.
  • Active Secret Clearance is required with ability to maintain a Secret Clearance.
  • Technical Bachelor’s degree (e.g. Physics, Engineering, Chemistry, etc.) and 3-10 years of related experience.  Six years of applicable technical experience may be substituted for the BS degree (total 9 years) or four years’ experience with an Associate’s Degree (total 7 years).
    5 years’ experience with either fighter tactical datalinks (LINK16) or Ethernet Standards Interface knowledge
  • Data analysis experience
  • This skill level typically performs all functional duties independently.
    Must be a self-motivated expert able to take responsibility for identifying, organizing, coordinating, executing necessary tasks leading to the successful accomplishment of assigned duties.
  • Must have a demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of an integrated test team. 
  • Proficiency in the use of Microsoft Office applications is required.
  • Must be able to effectively communicate orally and possess technical writing skills.

Other Job Information (if applicable):

  • Technical Masters (Physics, Engineering, Chemistry, etc.)
  • Electrical Engineering/Computer Science Degrees.
  • Flight Test Experience.
  • MIL STD 1553 interface knowledge.
  • Able to author data analysis tools.

To apply for this opportunity or see what other open opportunities are available at Bevilacqua Research Corporation, please visit our careers page at https://portal.brc2.com/careers/.

Bevilacqua Research Corporation. is an equal opportunity employer Minorities/Females/Disabled/Veterans and VEVRAA federal contractor. We recruit, employ, train, compensate, and promote without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin or any other basis protected by applicable federal, state or local law.

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