NASA’s SBIR Program Encourages Small Business Innovation

NASA selects research proposals from American small businesses, and enters contract negotiations through its Small Business Innovation Research Program.

NASA, the US Space Agency has selected 108 research and tech proposals from American small businesses, representing a spend of approximately $87 million across 99 companies in 26 states. NASA has entered contract negotiations through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program for Phase II development. SBIR aims to deliver innovation into NASA’s space exploration programme through engagement with American small businesses. The program focuses on applying innovation to both future NASA missions and high-tech challenges on Earth.


NASA Mars Rover Artists Impression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Projects are broadly aligned across a number of categories including: aviation safety, air traffic management, air vehicle technologies, space transportation, life support systems, lightweight materials and structures, robotic systems, entry, descent and landing technology, high efficiency power systems, communications and navigation, health maintenance, sensors, detectors and instruments and general information technology.

SBIR is a 3-phase programme and its 4 primary goals are to:

  1. Stimulate technological innovation
  2. Meet Federal research and development needs.
  3. Foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by socially and economically disadvantaged persons.
  4. Increase private-sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal research and development funding. 

Space and the American Imagination

NASA Recognises Importance of Small Business Innovation

Selection is based on the feasibility and commercial potential of the innovation and the experience and capabilities of the proposing company. Commercial controls are tight, successful proposals enter a Phase I feasibility assessment limited to 6 months and (previous) budgets ranging from $125,000 to $225,000 (with a typical cap of $150k).

SBIR Phase II projects are typically limited to $1m funding and 2 year contracts. Entry into Phase II is restricted to projects that have successfully passed through Phase I.

SBIR Phase III is a commercialisation phase through which businesses may productise and market inventions arising from the previous research and development. SBIR does not fund Phase III although further investment may in certain cases be obtained through other agencies.

Participation in the Small Business Innovation Research programme is limited to US companies with less than 500 employees. Companies must be ‘for profit’, ensuring that small commercial businesses are the scheme’s beneficiaries.

Launching into Commercial Space: Innovations in Space Travel

Speaking on behalf of NASA, Michael Gazarik (associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington) said “NASA’s future successes depends on the innovative capacity of American small businesses, and their ability to bring new technology to bear on the problems NASA tackles. We see the benefits of small businesses and their SBIR-funded technology working for us every day, whether here on Earth in our air traffic control systems, or on the surface of Mars and the technology behind NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. Small businesses are bringing innovation to the marketplace while creating new products, new jobs, and strengthening our economy.”

Further Reading on Innovation

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

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