No, I’m not going to talk about the strategic board game of my youth. I’m talking about research risk. Solicitations state that the research you undertake with an SBIR or STTR should be “risky”. So what does this mean? Risk is defined as “the chance that an actual return will be different than expected.”
Phase I awards are for feasibility studies. Yes, you should have a clear understanding of the subject area—enough to make a realistic stab at a hypothesis, but if you already know the outcomes, why do you need research money to determine feasibility?
Preliminary research in the area you are proposing is acceptable (almost expected), but what you are now proposing is new. Remember, you are proposing an innovative approach or innovative technology. Others might have tried, but when you write your proposal, you need to convince the reviewers that you are going out on a limb with your hypothesis. It might work, but it might not.
If it doesn’t work as expected, what are you going to do to overcome these possible deviations from your hypothesis? Let the reviewers know that you are prepared for these possible unexpected outcomes.