SBIR v STTR
The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program is similar, but far smaller, than its companion Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. While the amount per award is similar between the programs, the STTR program has far less funding available, with fewer federal agencies taking part. The STTR program fosters collaborations between small businesses and research institutions with the goal of transitioning technologies to the marketplace. Depending on your needs and your company situation, an STTR application may be a better option than SBIR. We’ll go over some of the key differences between these programs here.
The SBIR program, established in 1982, focuses on promoting technological innovation and commercialization. It encourages small businesses to engage in federal research and development projects across various disciplines, such as healthcare, defense, energy, and agriculture. On the other hand, the STTR program was introduced in 1992 to foster collaboration between small businesses and non-profit research institutions.
Both SBIR and STTR funding programs offer opportunities for small businesses to access capital that can help them advance their innovative ideas into marketable products or services. These programs are highly competitive but provide a lifeline for entrepreneurs who may struggle to secure traditional funding sources.
General differences between SBIR and STTR applications
The main differences between SBIR and STTR applications are:
The budget breakdown
Principal investigator employment
SBIRs do not require the small business to partner with any other entity. STTRs require the small business to partner with a research institution. The research institution can be:
Non-profit research institution
Non-profit academic institution
Non-profit medical institution
Federal Laboratory (Federally Funded Research and Development Center)
The Budget Breakdown
SBIRs limit the amount of work and budget that can be outsourced. STTRs are more flexible.
SBIR: a maximum of 1/3 of the budget can be subcontracted out
STTR: 40% of the budget must go to the submitting company and 30% of the budget most go to the partnering research institution
Employment of the Principal Investigator
STTRs provide flexibility when it comes to where the PI on the grant is employed.
SBIR: the PI must be majority employed at the submitting company upon time of award
STTR: the PI can remain employed at a research institution (except for NSF)
Besides the differences between programs (SBIR v STTR), the agencies that take part in the STTR program each manage their programs differently. The agencies that take part in the STTR program are:
Department of Defense (DOD)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Department of Energy (DOE)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Here are the key differences between the agencies regarding their STTR participation:
Department of Defense
The DOD has specific topics for SBIR and for STTR. The topics in the DOD SBIR program will be different than those in the DOD STTR program.
National Institutes of Health
Most NIH topics support both SBIR and STTR mechanisms, however, there are occasional exceptions depending on the solicitation. In the Funding Opportunity published by NIH for the particular grant solicitation, the Companion Funding Opportunity section will show whether both SBIR and STTR are available.
National Science Foundation
You can submit either an SBIR or STTR application to any topic at NSF. The decision between submitting an SBIR or STTR to NSF typically comes down to the needs of your team and the level of participation needed from the partnering research institution (if you have one).
Department of Energy
Not all topics at the DOE allow STTR applications. The Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) from the DOE will indicate which topics allow STTR applications.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Similar to the DOD, NASA has specific topics for SBIR and for STTR. The topics in the NASA SBIR program will be different than those in the NASA STTR program.
Which one is best for you?
The decision to submit either an SBIR or STTR application will depend on your company’s needs. If you are pursuing DOD or NASA funding, then submitting an STTR application will depend upon whether an actual topic exists that supports the STTR mechanism. If you are applying to the DOE, then some topics will allow you to submit either an SBIR or STTR application. For NSF and for NIH (most of the time), you can submit either an SBIR or an STTR application. It’s your choice.
If you are submitting to an agency (NIH, NSF, DOE) that allows you to choose between an SBIR or STTR submission, then you will want to base the decision on your company’s needs. If your team has little research experience, then collaborating with a research institution can strengthen your team and an STTR may be an excellent choice. If you need to outsource a significant amount of work, then an STTR is the more appropriate submission. Finally, if your company has licensed or is licensing in a technology from a research institution, then an STTR proposal is a good way to help fund the transition of the technology to your company.