Proposals are a response to a specific agency solicitation, non-solicited proposals are not considered. Some agency solicitation topics are broad enough to encompass varied responses of different innovative applications and others involve unambiguous specifications. Even so, each agency's solicitation involves precise structure and format criteria that must be adhered to. Failure to do so can result in administrative rejection without review.
Proposals must be 25 pages or less, adhere to stringent formats set forth by each agency and address stated agency objectives and missions. An agency will review proposals using either internal technical experts, a peer review recommendation or rating process.
General Sections or Elements for Proposals
The following are some short generalizations concerning these sections.
- Cover Page: Must contain all agency specified information in a specific format.
- Abstract: A short project summary and must be less than the required number of words. The abstract summary should contain project benefits and use key words. The abstract is the most important part of the proposal!
- Problem or Opportunity: Explains what the feasibility study or prototype development is addressing as a proposed solution. Usually, this is a specific product, process, or service. An opportunity to further scientific knowledge could also be a stated problem thus presents feasibility as a scientific method or means to bridge defined limitations. Likewise, a product that may lead another product to market can also solve a solicitation problem.
- Background: Lists relevant information concerning the problem and should include proposed technical approach justifications.
- Objectives: Precise target steps to solution and outcome goals or individual project aspirations.
- Work Plan: Details what, when, and how exactly stated objectives will be met.
- Related Research/Work: Discuss other applications, relationships, and knowledge of the proposed work with respect to current state-of-the art disciplines and proposed work.
- Commercial Applications: Justify market potential and demonstrate a capital plan with documented resources to bring the work to market. The market can be public or governmental procurement. The commercial outcome can be a product, process, service development or advancement of knowledge to bridge other product developments. Pending or committed capital plans or resources should be clearly identified.
- Key Personnel: Abbreviated resumes of the principle investigators and short summary information for other key support or consultant personnel. A description of facility and equipment resources should also be included. These can be owned by the company or easily accessible from other nearby organizations. Documented (authorized or contracted) access to other research institution or company facilities and equipment is acceptable and often a means to bolster small business credibility and capability.
- Budget: All direct and indirect costs demonstrating a sound financial approach and a general knowledge of related governmental accounting principles.
Some sections do have specific length limitations, but others require only adherence to the total 25 page limit. Proposals and sections shorter than the limits are appropriate and beneficial, so long as required information and content is not sacrificed. The proposal writer should learn what sections have the highest percentage scoring, and insure that valuable space is apportioned for those sections most heavily weighted in review evaluation.
Effective proposals are often a team or networked result, seek help and feedback as required. The Proposal Preparation Handbook (SBA) discussed in the next section below lists noteworthy information concerning proposal format and strategy.
REMEMBER to review specific agency guidelines, format and harvest agency information early to optimize proposal planning and preparation.
Always, insure that you comply with format requirements, specifications, and that all receipt deadlines and procedures are clearly identified and followed. Proposals not precisely compliant will be administratively rejected and not reviewed for funding.
Key Proposal Points
An outline or tabular summary of important perspectives and considerations for SBIR proposals and competition. Chris W. Busch, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized SBIR luminary, has given numerous presentations helping small businesses to access SBIR/STTR, and is the originator of the Montana SBIR Initiative.