Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Open Topics


Solving Air Force problems with small business ingenuity

AFWERX, in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory and National Security Innovation Network, developed the Small Business Innovation Research “Open Topics,” to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and transition rate of the existing SBIR program.

SBIR enables the Air Force to develop and adopt commercially viable innovations as integrated program components or operationally effective commercial off-the-shelf solutions while providing a competitive edge to the U.S. entrepreneur and technology ecosystem.

Using a three-phased approach to partnering with U.S. businesses with less than 500 employees, we’re able to trial and transition potentially game-changing solutions Air Force problems.

  • Phase I - Feasibility Study: Using SBIR funds, small businesses receive fixed price contracts to assess the application of their commercial concepts and technologies to the Air Force’s mission needs.
  • Phase II - Trial with the Air Force: This phase provides a higher dollar contract using SBIR funds to develop a prototype or execute a demonstration according to the Air Force end-user’s needs. Private and program fund-matching options can help drive up the SBIR investment.
  • Phase III - Transition: From the moment a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR contract, companies are eligible for sole source government contracts. Once a company has proven value, unit or program dollars can be used to purchase their product or service, continue technology development or integration, or use it as an independent program of record.

Several barriers to working with the Air Force have been removed or mitigated for this program, to include a shorter application process, an accelerated contract award, and a shorter period of performance.

Since the introduction of the Open Topic in late 2018 through August 2019, we have received more than 2900 submissions, awarded more than 900 contracts worth a combined total of approimately $220 million.

Innovation Stories

Rapid acquisition leads to rapid success for Air Force small business partner

Rapid success in contracting has earned Air Force representatives an invite to the opening of the Nasdaq Stock Market July 3 in New York City.

Airmen, companies tackle mission pain points during AFWERX Spark Collider

Over the span of two days, more than 150 Airmen representing 50 bases and 200 entrepreneurs representing 100 Small Business Innovation Research Phase I companies joined together to see which missions could match up to an associated business product.

Pro Bowl awards 190 SBIR contracts in 10 days

a group of 20 hand-picked contracting officers issued 190 Small Business Innovation Research contracts worth a combined total of approximately $73 million in a little over one week during an event called Pro Bowl at AFWERX Austin

USAF pays first startup using GPC

The Air Force facilitated it’s first transfer of funds to a startup company with a government purchase card following the issue of a $59,994 Small Business Innovation Research contract on Feb. 2, 2019.

Dyess Airman attends AFWERX innovation event, receives $125,000 for project

Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Ward, 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Aerospace Ground Equipment support section NCO in charge, attended an AFWERX inaugural Spark Collider event in Austin, Texas, Aug 14, 2019, where she received $125,000 to work on a project that encompasses building an automated AGE tracking system.

Gunfighter Spark Cell explores new ideas, promotes innovation

Several innovative ideas that support Gunfighter mission execution are closer to becoming a reality thanks to the first Gunfighter Spark Cell problem curation workshop.

Join Our Ecosystem

Learn about upcoming events, innovation challenges, and have the opportunity to submit your tech ideas.

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How it Works

We Gather Air Force Needs and Problems

Airmen submit problems, needs, capability gaps, and technology interests from end-users on our internal ideation platform and they’re published prior to each application period as independent Special Topics or addendums to the Open Topic.

Companies Apply and Government Recruits

Small businesses are encouraged to apply for Phase I of the program while also researching these focus areas to see if there’s already an Air Force customer waiting for their product or service.

To apply, view our Industry Guide to SBIR.

Government teams who would like to partner with small businesses to solve problems are encouraged to connect with industry via social media, government websites, and commercial technology conferences, as well as reach out to your local Public Affairs office for additional channels.

For more, view our Airman Guide to SBIR.

Awards and Customer Discovery

After SBIR Phase I contracts are awarded, small businesses must locate Air Force customers like operators, maintainers, logisticians and technologists to help them understand our problems and develop solutions.

Make Investments

All companies on Phase I contracts are immediately eligible for sole source government awards. These may be executed as a purchase by a base team, executed by a program office for further development or integration, or established as a program of record.

Government teams can get contracting support from our GSA partners.

Get Involved

For Businesses

U.S. Small Businesses with less than 500 employees are welcome to apply to the SBIR Open Topic, held three times a year. Submission requirements for Phase I include 15 slides and a 5-page application and, for Phase II, a 100-second kickstarter-style video, 15 slides and a 15-page application. Phase I companies will receive a contract worth up to $50 thousand and Phase II companies will receive a contract worth $500 thousand for a typical Phase II and up to $1.5 million for RAPID Phase II.

For more information and to apply, view our Industry Guide to SBIR.

For Airmen

The SBIR program is a great opportunity for Airmen to leverage the ingenuity of small business to solve Air Force problems. By partnering with a company in Phase I and signing a memorandum of agreement to work together, the SBIR program will fund the customer discovery phase between your unit and the business you choose to work with.

For more information, view our Airman Guide to SBIR.

For Investors

If you are an investor or other government stakeholder, SBIR may be eligible for 1:1 private investor matching or 2:1 government customer matching.

For organizations interested in offering products or services to SBIR companies

We want to give those companies the greatest possible chances for success. One way we can assist you in doing that in the most ethical way possible is by making them aware of the full suite of both free and paid services and tools that are available to help them on their journey.

For any organization interested in offering up their services, deals, and perks to these companies, please fill out this form.

Learn More

To learn more about AFWERX and the SBIR program, join our weekly webinars or reach us at


  • Dec

    SBIR 20.1 Topic Pre-Release

    Use this time to ask questions of the topic sponsor
  • Jan

    SBIR 20.1 Applications Open

    Submit Proposal Online
  • Feb

    SBIR 20.1 Applications Close

    Award Announcement approx ~30-45 days after close
  • Apr

    SBIR 20.2 Topic Pre-Release

    Use this time to ask questions of the topic sponsor
  • May

    SBIR 20.2 Applications Open

    Submit Proposal Online
  • Jun

    SBIR 20.2 Applications Close

    Award Announcement approx ~30-45 days after close
  • Aug

    SBIR 20.3 Topic Pre-Release

    Use this time to ask questions of the topic sponsor
  • Sept

    SBIR 20.3 Applications Open

    Submit Proposal Online
  • Oct

    SBIR 20.3 Applications Close

    Award Announcement approx ~30-45 days after close