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Review Criteria: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

Review Process for Phase I

  • There is a different review panel for each topic area
  • An outstanding research scientist is selected as topic manager for each review panel
  • Each proposal is sent to 4 to 6 ad hoc reviewers who are outstanding research scientists in the subject area of the proposal and who provide written reviews
  • Each proposal is reviewed by two members of the review panel
  • Based on the panel and ad hoc reviews and the panel discussion, each proposal is ranked and the top ranked proposals are recommended for an award
  • The SBIR program follows the panel recommendations very closely and allocates funds to each topic area in proportion to the number of proposals submitted
  • Those proposals recommended for funding undergo an administrative review prior to the grant being awarded
  • A panel summary plus verbatim copies of the reviews, minus the score and name of the reviewer, are sent to the principal investigator for all proposals, funded or not

Review Process for Phase II

  • Each proposal is sent to 6-8 ad hoc reviewers with the appropriate expertise
  • The ad hoc reviews for all proposals in a given topic area are sent to the topic manager who provides a rank order for the proposals based on his/her reading of the ad hoc reviews and of the proposals
  • The SBIR program uses these rankings to determine which proposal should be funded and at what funding level. These decisions are approved by an internal USDA panel. Other factors that are considered at this point include follow-on funding agreements and prior success in commercializing technologies developed with SBIR support


Evaluation Criteria
Note: The following list is representatative of the criteria the USDA SBIR program may use to evaluate an application.  For additional information on the specific evaluation criteria for the FY2008 RFA, see section 4.0, subsection 4.3 “Phase I Evaluation Criteria” the in Program Solicitation guide.

  • Scientific/Technical Merit
  • Degree to which Phase I objectives were met and feasibility demonstrated (Phase II only)
  • Importance of problem to American agriculture or rural development
  • Probability of commercial success
  • Adequacy of research objectives
  • Adequacy of research plan
  • Qualifications of PI and other key personnel
  • Adequacy of facilities
  • Qualifications of consultants
  • Letters from consultants indicating their willingness to work on project are included as part of the proposal
  • Adequacy of bibliographies for the PI, other key personnel and consultants

Elements Common to Successful Proposals

  • Well written, succinct and logical
  • Thorough literature review
  • Addresses an important problem
  • Innovative approach
  • Well designed and detailed experimental plan
  • Proper statistical techniques for the research data collected
  • If successful, would have good commercial potential

Common Proposal Criticisms

  • Poorly written and presented
  • PI lacks necessary technical expertise
  • Insufficient literature review
  • Insufficient technical information
  • Proposal is overly ambitious for the time frame proposed
  • Inadequate bibliographical information
  • Lacks letters from consultants
  • Research already done by others
  • Too vague and unfocused
  • Failure to indicate where project would go in Phase II
  • Poor commercialization potential
  • Doubtful economic prospects
  • Inadequate detail in experimental plan and lack of proper statistical techniques
  • Too much research done at university
  • Need to engage consultants to add expertise in area where PI is deficient


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