The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are established by the Federal government to strengthen the role of innovative small business concerns in federally-funded research and development. 

SBIR/STTR awards are limited to U.S.-based, for-profit small businesses, a/k/a small business concerns (SBCs).

In general, SBIR Program requirements of participating federal agencies include:

The small business concern (SBC) must submit the proposal. Duke is not eligible to be an applicant for a SBIR grant. 

The Principal Investigator (PI) for the SBC must be employed more than 50% of her/his time by the SBC at the time of award and for the duration of the project.  Therefore, a Duke full-time PI or scholar cannot serve as the PI of the SBIR grant. The only likely mechanism by which a Duke faculty member or scholar may serve as the PI of a Phase I SBIR grant is to take a leave of absence from Duke. 

If the project has multiple PIs, then at least one must meet the primary employment requirement. Occasionally, deviations from this requirement may occur with permission from the funding agency.

During Phase I, a minimum of two-thirds of the effort must be performed by the proposing SBC.  For Phase II, that level is reduced to one half (50%).

Collaboration with a research institution is optional.

Generally, STTR Program requirements of participating federal agencies include:

 SBCs are required to partner with research universities or other non-profit research institutions that have a formal collaborative relationship with the SBC.

The PI for a STTR proposal may be employed with the SBC or the participating non-profit research institution as long as she/he has a formal appointment with or commitment to the applicant SBC at the time award.  This could involve salary or other remuneration. 

 In both Phase I and Phase II, at least 40 % of the work must be performed by the SBC and at least 30% of the work must be performed by the partnering research institution.

Phases in the SBIR/STTR Program

The SBIR and STTR programs are structured in phases, as summarized below:

Phase I:  The “proof of concept” stage is intended to establish the technical merit and feasibility of the proposed research and development and to determine if the small business organization is qualified to conduct quality, promising research in the project area.  The term of Phase I award generally is for 6-12 months, and the funding level is  between $70,000 and $100,000.

Phase II: This phase expands on the results and continues the efforts in Phase I toward prototype development.  The term of a Phase II SBIR and STTR award is 1 to 2 years, and the funding level generally does not exceed $750,000.

Phase III: There is no SBIR/STTR funding in Phase III.  The goal is the commercialization of the work begun in Phases I and II.  The funding is expected to come from private sector or non-SBIR/STTR federal sources.


For both SBIR and STTR programs, the SBC must be at least 51% owned and controlled by individuals who are citizens of, or permanent resident aliens in the United States, and must have fewer than 500 employees.