NSF announces pilot for startups and small businesses to 'fast-track' successful development of technological innovations

The NSF Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Fast-Track pilot provides eligible teams the opportunity to submit one proposal for more than $2 million over up to three years 

Today, the U.S. National Science Foundation launched a pilot initiative for startups and small businesses to develop new products and services based on prior NSF-funded research. Eligible companies can submit one proposal for more than $2 million for a "Fast-Track" award to support research and development activities that may take up to three years to complete.  

"NSF invests in startups and small businesses that bring the most innovative, cutting-edge technologies to the market and society," said Barry Johnson, division director of Translational Impacts in the NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). "These companies have the potential to become great commercial successes and contribute significantly to economic growth and job creation throughout the nation. With this pilot, we are excited to provide a more rapid and seamless pathway for startups and small businesses to obtain the research and development funding that they need to accelerate product development." 

Unlike NSF's traditional Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs that require multiple proposal submissions to receive an equivalent amount of investment, the NSF SBIR/STTR Fast-Track award provides an immediate pathway to a full funding commitment of more than $2 million over three years. Typically, NSF SBIR/STTR funding is a two-step process: a startup or small business first applies for and receives a Phase I award and, after successful completion of the Phase I award, is eligible to apply for a Phase II award to continue its research and development activities.  

In contrast, the SBIR/STTR Fast-Track pilot operates by requiring periodic reviews that can trigger more than $2 million per project, reducing administrative burden for both small businesses and NSF, and focusing on what matters most: getting innovations from the lab to the market and society. 

Also known as America's Seed Fund powered by NSF, SBIR/STTR programs are congressionally mandated research and development funding programs intended to support startups and small businesses focused on bringing innovative technologies to the market and society. The deep technologies in which NSF invests show promise, but their success requires further validation, derisking and feasibility assessment. Each year, the agency invests about $250 million in research and development funding, benefiting about 400 startups and small businesses across the United States. A portion of these funds will be used for this pilot initiative. 

SBIR/STTR Fast-Track solicitation eligibility criteria 

To be eligible for the SBIR/STTR Fast-Track pilot, startups and small businesses must: 

  • Receive an official invitation via the Project Pitch process to submit a Fast-Track proposal.  
  • Propose research and development stemming from research funded by NSF within five years before the proposal submission date. 
  • Have completed formal customer discovery training not more than two years prior to the Fast-Track proposal submission date — see the solicitation for details. 
  • Have a core team in place at the time of proposal submission; Fast-Track proposals cannot be based on "to be hired" personnel.  

More information about program requirements and submission deadlines can be found in the SBIR/STTR Fast-Track pilot solicitation. 

SBIR/STTR Fast-Track advances TIP's mission  

The SBIR/STTR Fast-Track pilot is housed in the NSF TIP Directorate, which accelerates the translation of research results to practical use through its Lab-to-Market Platform. These programs provide pathways for researchers, startups, small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to move their ideas from the lab to society while gaining access to a range of NSF resources and training.