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Usefully understood as a (largely) private-sector funded version of the long-time, highly effective SBIR program, STEP -- SBIR Talent Engagement Platform - is a Solicitation & Proposal Submission initiative and a key component of the comprehensive, multi-faceted ASSET system.  Similarly grounded as all other ASSET components in the proprietary and exquisitely detailed SBIR Awardee Tracking Systems developed and longtime maintained by ithe Innovation Development Institute LLC, STEP enables the pro-active engagement of the specific and relevant SBIR-STTR talent sought by Tech Seekers to tackle what are effectively, competitively-bid Research Projects and other related efforts.

Three Options:
STEP is structured around THREE categories of offering: SBIR Connect: SBIR Challenge and Future Thinking.  Designed to address very different types of collaborative endeavor, working descriptions of each of these components are discussed below.

Solicitation-based System:
Consistent with lessons learned from some $45B of SBIR-STTR Phase I-Phase II awards activity over now almost 35 years and drawing down on the input and combined experience by hundreds of personnel across the full range of federal agencies, STEP is NOT managed as a year-round sequence of frequently offered Tech Seeker project announcements.   Instead, to ensure focused project exposure, targeted notifications to approporiately qualified and depth-in-quality response(s), STEP is currently offered as a twice-a-year Solicitation-based system

  • with a limited number of Published Topics per solicitation offered by various Tech Seekers
  • not exclusively -- but most commonly and consistent with the long-used SBIR format - offerings and award(s) are structured to a Phase I-Phase II format. 
    • Phase I: shorter duration, smaller dollars exploratory endeavors usually of a less proprietary nature allowing the parties to "get to know each other":  the fly-before-you-buy approach initiated by the originating SBIR effort in NSF.
    • Phase II being of longer duration, involving a larger funding commitment with far more substantive activity, focus and exchange.  By design, the Tech Seeker choose their Phase II candidates from among Phase I Awardees.  Historically, some chose a lesser number of Phase IIs than there had been Phase I awardees, a few continue all their projects and, occasionally, no Phase IIs are awarded

To ensure a quality response by sufficient quality candidates, the initiating solicitation(s) distributed to that population of SBIR-involved judged best qualified to respond includes

  • carefully (Tech Seeker) prepared Topic Descriptions - rationale for conduct of the project - with indication of Evaluation Criteria
  • structured Submission Format requirements
  • specific Due Dates and Decision Announcements
  • and - critically - provision for various forms of useful pre-submission interaction:
    • threaded message postings of clarifying questions in a secured access area by interested respondents among those identified as likely qualified
    • capacity of other pre-qualified invited respondents to see and perhaps even participate in those threads - the equalavent of an online Bidders Meeting
    • and, as appropriate, a by-topic, by-invitation webinar

How STEP works:
With the option by Tech Seekers of full identification or total anonymity - or something between - Phase I Projects Responses to Posted Topics are initiated through non-confidential submissions by SBIR Awardees from among those contacted and interested in the opportunity.  Also made available to participating Tech Seeker in their SMART Office are various data about applicants and other supplementary materials designed to support evaluation and selection of the specific SBIR-involved players with which they wish to interact.


Available only to Tech Seekers having an in-place Corporate Retainer Account, the core concept of SBIR Connect is to enable interested Tech Seekers to have early engagement with, and involvement in, SBIR-STTR Projects of interest and, not trivially for many, subsequent useful access into other (often sole source) federal funding.

Organized and anchored in the federal application and awards process, the Connect Effort pro-actively supports Tech Seekers and those small firms of interest and/or interested in partnering through

  • Timely issuance of Application Support Letters
  • Active project engagement (sub-award) By Tech Seekers: Phases I and/or II or Phase III
  • Provision of appropriate supplementary Project Support by Tech Seekers: Phase II parallel OR Phase III contract dollars;  typically these might include in-kind equipment, advisory status, personnel exchanges etc

Work for Hire:
An important component of SBIR: Connect also is Work-For-Hire - a version of the classic Contract Project Funding. Typically, these engagements are

  • shorter term: a few weeks in duration
  • for smaller dollars:  $2.5K-$25K
  • with developed IP often - but not always - ceded to Tech Seeker involved


Tech Seeker Developed Topics: Open Access
  • By Topic Listing fe(s) payable by those Tech Seekers without an in-place Corporate Retainer
  • By-volume, deeply discounted listing fee(s) for Corporate Account holder

SBIR Challenge is the full embodiment of the now longstanding SBIR solicitation mechanism with the capacity to distinguish between

  • the Contract issuing approach of a Mission agency (DOD, NASA etc) where the end-user is likely some part of the requesting source
  • and something closer to the Grant mode where the funding source e.g. NIH is not itself the likely end-user but that may articulate well areas of common practical application interests of the private sector.

Topic submission is open to any major/mid-sized corporation OR those in the Public Sector interested in systematic, targted access into the SBIR Talent Pool.

An option available ONLY to those Tech Seekers having Corporate Retainer status, the organizing principle of Future Thinking draws down on the DARPA Model of looking well beyond the current and near-term needs of the US Military to anticipate future requirements - the latter perhaps driven by radically changed/ing conditions that may not yet be evident.

The approach is structured to enable and support exploratory projects that are very early-stage and/or even over the longer-haul, transformational. By definition higher-risk, offered projects in this category may have broadscope relevance, potentially offering substantial upstream importance and potential outside the realm of the initial requesting source.

To that end, in addition to Future Thinking projects initiated by a single Tech Seeker, the system is designed to support conduct of projects that may be

  • EITHER purely exploratory overall requiring small-scale support initially perhaps funding several different approaches from the premise that the most promising will emerge over time
  • OR unbundled. employing different teams working on different components of a comlex endeavor, with some designated entity inthe role of systems integrator

        ".....the airplane, tank, radar, jet engine, helicopter, (and) computer did not owe their initial development to .. military request"  Military historian Jon Chambers

To the DARPA achievement list of going beyond initially define military needs, one might add the internet, unmanned systems and GPS.





Both for Tech Seekers relatively new to the SBIR space as well as those having been long-time SBIR involved and connected, the STEP initiative offers useful, project-specific, expedited access into the considerable pool of demonstrated technical talent and capabilities that is SBIR-STTR Awardees.    

Through effective use of powerful precision-focused selection, targeted notifications of opportunity and follow-up techniques, emphasis is on ensuring quality and appropriateness of response.

Properly engaged, this sophisticated expertise sourcing process enables cost- and time-efficient external partnering at its sustainable best.

Open announcement, site-posted
'crowd-sourcing' this most certainly is not

Fall 2019 STEP Solicitation

With the STEP Solicitation currently in preparation, it is anticipated that, based on current levels of Tech Seeker expressed interest and numbers of Topic Listings under consideration, this latest offering of STEP Project Research Funding will be roughly equivalent in size and dollar commitment to one of the smaller SBIR-involved agencies:  $10-12M of available funding. 

Contact information

Innovation Development Institute, LLC

   45 Beach Bluff Avenue, Suite 300
     Swampscott,  MA 01907-1542

  Tel:  (781) 595-2920