Industry Guide to SBIR


Alternate Submission Web site Instructions: As the Department of Defense (DoD) transitions to a new SBIR/STTR submission portal, issues have been experienced with the new web application. This has caused difficulties for some companies when submitting applications. DoD is endeavoring to reduce these barriers to entry. Therefore, if issues are encountered using the DoD SBIR/STTR application portal which prevent timely submission of complete proposal, submission may be made at Companies will also be asked to email complete proposals to after submitting the form on the Alternate Application Web site (follow the instructions on the last page of the form very closely).

Through a competitive awards-based program, the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) program enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.

AFWERX, in partnership with Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), and the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), developed the SBIR Open Topics to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and transition rate of the SBIR program.

For these topics, companies with existing commercial products or services that may also be useful to the Air Force are invited to apply. 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 approximately $220 million.

Affiliated with a university? Check out our Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) page.

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.

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.

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How to Apply

1. Determine if your company is eligible.

Small Businesses are eligible to apply to SBIR if they have less than 500 employees, are at least 51% U.S.-owned, and have sold your product or service to at least one non-defense commercial customer.

Review the full eligibility guidelines here.

2. Download and review our application toolkit.

Steps 3 through 8 cover the resources included in our application toolkit.

Download here.

3. View Air Force focus areas and user needs.

While the “Open Topic” allows any businesses that meets the SBIR criteria to apply, we encourage applicants to view our current list of focus areas and Air Force user needs to determine if your product or service might be desired by a certain unit.

Review the 20.1 Open Topic Focus Areas here.

4. Review application requirements and prepare to submit required materials.

Start by applying for a Phase I SBIR contract, which requires a 15-slide pitch deck and a 5-page online application.

5. Apply during the application window.

We have three application windows each year. If selected for Phase I, you will receive up to $50 thousand to work with the Air Force for 3 months to see if your solution can be adapted to meet the needs of an Air Force end-user.

Apply during the next application window from Jan. 14 to Feb. 12, 2020.

6. If selected for a Phase I contract, find an Air Force customer.

To be able to move on to Phase II or Phase III, you must locate an Air Force customer and have them sign a memorandum of agreement signifying their intention to work with your company.

To find a customer, browse the focus areas and Air Force user needs for a point of contact or attend AFWERX events like Spark Colliders, and reach out to us at

7. Apply for a Phase II contract.

If you find a match between your product and an Air Force end-user, you can apply to receive up to $3 million for a trial period of your solution with your Air Force user. A notional example of the Phase II 'Other Transaction' is here.

8. Progress to sole-source contract with any U.S. Federal Government Agency.

After the trial, you are given the right to a sole-source (i.e. no-tender competition) contract with any agency in the U.S. Federal Government. Additional resources for each phase are included below.

Questions? Contact Us

If you have any questions, join us for our weekly AFWERX webinars, check out our video resources, or reach out to us at


Phase I Application Resources

View Phase I application requirements here.

Phase II and Direct to Phase II Application Resources

View Phase II application requirements here.

Phase III Resources

As soon as a company has received a Phase I SBIR/STTR contract, they can then transition the solution sole-source to any U.S. Federal Government agency via a SBIR Phase III. This is the end goal for all of our companies that go through the SBIR/STTR process.

While SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II are managed and mostly funded by the SBIR/STTR office, the Phase III is quite different in the fact that is is not funded or managed by the office.

In a sense, "Phase III" is a misnomer and could be better described as “Sole-Source Government Purchase.” In general, Phase IIIs can use nearly any color of money (i.e. R&D, O&M, etc), they have no dollar amount limit, and have no time limit on when they can be enacted, meaning it’s okay if the company received the SBIR award many years ago.

Phase III refers to work that derives from, extends, or completes an effort made under prior SBIR/STTR funding agreements, but is funded by sources other than the SBIR/STTR program. Once a company has received a Phase I or II award, sole-source Phase III awards may be made to the company, since competition requirements were satisfied under Phase I and II.

Additional Resources:

Future Cycle Dates

  • 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