August 8, 2017 in ATDC News, Blog, SBIR/STTR News, Startup Advice

With SBIR and STTR applications, details do matter

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Connie Casteel
Connie Casteel runs ATDC’s SBIR/STTR Connect program, which helps entrepreneurs and companies with federal SBIR/STTR research funding. She also is the liaison to the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

by Connie Casteel

It’s all in the details.

I baked a cake last night and it didn’t turn out too well. I didn’t have any butter, so I thought I could just use olive oil. I used baking soda instead of baking powder because I didn’t read the recipe carefully. The “cake” turned out flat, raw in the middle, burnt on top, and tasted horrible. Why didn’t it turn out beautiful, moist, fluffy, and delicious? Because I didn’t follow the directions; I didn’t pay attention to the details.

Just like baking a cake, when you write a proposal for funding from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, you need to pay attention to details and follow directions. SBIR/STTR funding is “free money” because it’s non-dilutive and you don’t have to pay the money back, but that doesn’t mean you have license to be sloppy and disregard the instructions. It still requires effort, and the first thing you need to do is pay attention. SBIR/STTR agencies release detailed instructions in their Solicitations (also known as RFPs, FOIAs) and Application Guides. Federal government agencies don’t spend all the time and ink preparing these instructions for you to ignore them.

For example, some agencies limit you to two or three possible fonts. Others limit the font size. What happens if you don’t use the correct font/font size? You don’t get funded; your proposal is not even read. If the solicitation says proposals are due by 5 p.m, and you submit yours at 5:01 p.m., your proposal is rejected. They don’t give you a pass and let it slide; you should have started earlier. The agency says your proposal is limited to 15 pages, but when you convert it from a Word document to a PDF to upload it, a line bleeds over to the top of page 16. What you should do? Fix it. Because you know what happens if you don’t? It’s rejected. You don’t get read.

You don’t get funded.

As the Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) SBIR/STTR Catalyst and GaMEP Liaison, I’ve seen all of these things happen in with clients wanting insight into why their proposal didn’t make it. While a font size or page count may seem trivial compared with the essence of your proposal, the details matter because these competitive grants can go as high as $1.5 million. These federal agencies want to know that you are paying as much attention to these critical details as you are the big picture regarding your proposal.

When I counsel our SBIR/STTR clients, I tell them, “don’t spend all the time and effort writing a strong technical proposal, only to have it returned without review. If you’re not a ‘details person,’ find someone who is. Have them keep you to task. No one likes rejection.”

It’s even tougher to take when the cause of rejection was preventable.

Just like the beautiful cakes in the glass case at the bakery, we want your proposals to entice reviewers to read and fund your project. Don’t get rejected before reviewers are even able to bite into your content.

Connie helps ATDC clients across Georgia understand and secure federal funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs — highly competitive research awards up to $1.5 million. As an interface with Georgia’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), she also helps connect ATDC startup companies with manufacturers and manufacturing resources.


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