|Volume 1: No. 08|
The SBIR competition is open to for-profit U.S. businesses with no more than 500 employees. (Under U.S. tax law, there is no distinction between an individual and the sole proprietor of a business. You don't have to incorporate, publish a DBA ("doing business as") statement, or add "& Associates" to your name. It is unusual for an individual to submit in any competition, but it can be done.) Businesses owned by women or by "minority and disadvantaged individuals" (Black, Hispanic, Native, Asian- Pacific, and Subcontinent Asian Americans, but not the majority of Asian Americans) must be declared and no doubt have an advantage, although the SBIR office instructs outside panelists and program officers not to consider these factors.
The principal investigator (PI) may not be actively employed by a university during either Phase I or Phase II. No such restrictions apply to investigators other than the PI. Professors or students must submit an institutional statement of conditional release with the proposal. You can teach one course per term as an adjunct professor, however. (NSF's intent is to prevent professors from usurping these funds, especially when there is no intent to follow through with commercial development. The rules have made it very difficult for genuinely interested professors to spin off entrepreneurial ventures. A separate tech-transfer program similar to SBIR is being considered, but professors may have to make do with other sources of venture capital.)
The PI must spend more than half of his or her salaried time at this company throughout the period of research -- including Phase II -- and must budget at least one person month to Phase I. There are rules against subcontracting more than one third of the Phase I work or one half of Phase II. Consultants are limited to $373 per day, usually excluding travel, and all consulting or subcontracting arrangements are considered during proposal evaluation. The government is paranoid about abuse of these grants, probably with good reason. [Is that a contradiction?]
Proposals are evaluated on four criteria, with the first getting double weight: 1) scientific quality of the research and research plan; 2) the degree of innovation; 3) potential for commercial applications; and 4) quality of the investigators and their facilities. (Despite the weighting scheme, a proposal rating zero on any criterion will almost certainly be declined.) The 1991 solicitation mentions that extra consideration may be given to proposals in biotechnology, scientific instrumentation, high performance computing, and manufacturing systems.
If you need help with literature search, publications, or consultant referral, NSF suggests that you contact technical libraries, state organizations, or any of the following:
NTIS (Springfield, VA), (703) 487-4600. Capital Systems Group (Rockville, MD), (301) 251-2730. NERAC (Tolland, CT), (203) 872-7000. NASA/Southern Technology Applications Center (Alachua, FL), (904) 462-3913. USC/NASA Industrial Applications Center (Los Angeles, CA), (213) 743-6132. Aerospace Research Applications Center (Indianapolis, IN), (317) 262-5003. North Carolina Science and Technology Research Center (Research Triangle Park, NC), (919) 549-0671. NASA Industrial Applications Center (Pittsburgh, PA), (412) 648-7000. NASA/UK Technology Applications Programs (Lexington, KY), (606) 257-6322.
(You may be able to get free online searches for SBIR materials.)