The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is a highly competitive award system that provides qualified domestic small businesses with opportunities to pursue research on and develop innovative solutions to our nation’s transportation challenges. To learn more about the program, read our Overview page and visit SBIR.gov for more information.
Below are frequently asked questions regarding eligibility requirements, proposal submission steps, and additional resources for small businesses.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research/research and development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.
In the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), these initiatives are directed towards high-priority transportation research and development needs of the operating administrations.
The U.S Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s purpose is to stimulate technological innovations in Departmental programs utilizing, to the degree possible, the valuable resources and creative capabilities of the small business community in the United States.
Seven agencies within U.S. DOT participate in SBIR projects:
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R)
- Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
Find out more information about these participating USDOT agencies.
According to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), “offer” means a response to a solicitation that, if accepted, would bind the offeror to perform the resultant contract. Responses to requests for proposals (negotiation) are offers called “proposals.” For the purpose of the U.S. DOT SBIR program, Phase I submissions are referred to as “offers,” while Phase II and IIB submissions are referred to as “proposals.”
U.S. DOT SBIR Phase II contracts are available only to small businesses that have successfully completed Phase I.
U.S. DOT will provide Phase I awardees specific details on the due date, content, and submission requirements for Phase II proposals approximately 30 days prior to the end of Phase I efforts.
The objective of Phase II is to continue the R/R&D effort from the completed Phase I. Funding of a Phase II is based upon the results of Phase I, the scientific and technical merit and commercial potential of the Phase II proposal, and the availability of funding.
The timeline varies each year; however, topics are typically prepared beginning in the summer (July/August of each year) for the following year’s solicitation. Topics are selected by each participating agency and align with their respective research needs and Departmental priorities.
You can suggest a topic. U.S. DOT reviews all suggested topics; however, please be aware that topics are limited and chosen according to U.S. DOT research priorities.
All proposals must respond to a specific topic in an open solicitation in order to be considered for an award through U.S.DOT’s SBIR program.
You can suggest a topic for consideration. All ideas submitted will be shared with the U.S. DOT agencies participating in SBIR on a quarterly basis. If any ideas are used for future solicitation topics, they will be shared publicly and will be open to all eligible U.S. small businesses.
In addition, there are other ways to do business with U.S. DOT and the federal government. Visit the U.S. DOT Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization web page and SAM.gov to search for contract opportunities that match your idea and/or your capabilities. SAM.gov is the primary location to learn about U.S. DOT contract opportunities. Information about additional federal government funding opportunities can be found on the U.S. DOT SBIR site’s Additional Resources page.
Contact a small business specialist to learn about other opportunities within agencies.
During a pre-solicitation period, you may submit technical questions to the U.S. DOT topic authors concerning the proposed research topics via the online forum listed in the pre-solicitation notice (please see the FY 2022 Pre-Solicitation Q&A Forum as an example). This forum provides small businesses an opportunity to submit clarifying questions on the topics published in the pre-solicitation. All questions and answers are posted publicly.
During an open solicitation, direct contact with topic authors is not permitted.
A single offer must address one research topic. There is no limit on the number of offers that can be submitted.
A small business may submit multiple offers for the same topic. However, the small business must ensure that the offers are sufficiently differentiated to truly be different approaches.
Research that involves human subjects may be subject to additional regulations found in 49 CFR Part 11 (Part 11) as well as other applicable federal and state laws and regulations. Research will be considered to involve human subjects under Part 11 if the research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with an individual(s), and/or (2) identifiable private information.
Unless exempt under 49 CFR §11.101(b) or §11.101(i), human subject research must adhere to the regulations of Part 11, which includes review and approval of the research by a federally approved Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Due to the short timeframe associated with Phase I of the SBIR process, U.S. DOT does not recommend the submission of Phase I offers that require the use of human subjects testing. For example, the ability to obtain IRB approval for offers that involve human subjects can take 6-12 months, and that lengthy process can be at odds with the Phase I goal for time to award.
Before U.S. DOT makes any award that involves an IRB or similar approval requirement, the offeror must demonstrate compliance with relevant regulatory approval requirements that pertain to offers involving human protocols. It will not impact U.S. DOT’s evaluation, but requiring IRB approval may delay the start time of the Phase I award, and if approvals are not obtained within two months of notification of selection, the decision to award may be rescinded.
Public Law 112-81, Section 5012, requires that a specific percentage of U.S. DOT’s extramural research and development (R&D) budget be allocated for SBIR. In fiscal year 2017 through 2022, each U.S. DOT operating administration must contribute at least 3.2 percent of its extramural R&D budget to the program.
U.S. DOT is required to set aside 3.2 percent of its extramural research budget for the SBIR program annually. The U.S. DOT SBIR program has an overall budget of approximately $9-11 million per year, inclusive of Phase I, II, and IIB awards. The estimated values of Phase I and Phase II awards are listed within each solicitation.
U.S. DOT SBIR awards are contracts, which provide payment after services are rendered or deliverables received. Payments for Phase I contracts will be made upon the acceptance of each of the three required reports, which are submitted bi-monthly and at the end of the contract.
Minority, veteran-owned, woman-owned, and small businesses with other SBA designations are encouraged to submit offers. The SBIR program is a total small business set aside. As such, no preference is given to a particular subset of small businesses.
U.S. DOT’s SBIR program awards contracts in response to recommended proposals for identified research topics. We do not issue grants or loans.
Before an SBIR contract can be awarded, the small business concern must complete an Online Representations and Certifications Application in SAM. Use the code noted in the solicitation (541715) when registering in SAM. Use the code noted in the solicitation (541715) when registering in SAM.