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Using the DoD Topic Description to Do Your Homework

September 11th, 2017 | by Becky Aistrup

If you are interested in winning SBIR/STTR proposals from Department of Defense, you probably know the importance of talking to the Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) or Topic Author during the “open period” before you write your proposal*. You will want to ask any questions or details about the topic itself, and use the discussion as an opportunity to enhance your insight about the Component’s’ interest in the technology and how they will deploy it for military use.
Before you contact the TPOC, you can use the topic description to do some homework that will make your conversation (and your proposal) more productive. Topic descriptions can be found at We’ll use Navy topic N173-144 from the 2017.3 SBIR solicitation as an example:

*For those of you who are new to their programs, DoD issues each SBIR and STTR as a PRESOLICITATION with topics listed for each participating component. Potential applicants are given about 30 days to contact the Topic Author directly with any questions or clarifications before the final SOLICITATION is released. From that time until proposals are due, there can be no direct communications with the TPOCs.

(The screen shot above goes on to the Topic Description, Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Dual Use information, which we have not included here.)

Acquisition Program
There will not be an Acquisition Program designated for every topic, but it can be useful information if your topic includes one. A DoD Acquisition Program is a directed, funded effort that provides a new, improved or continuing materiel, weapon or information system in response to an approved need. Note that it is FUNDED and APPROVED. About half of DoD SBIR/STTR topics should have an Acquisition Program identified.
We recommend that if you are not familiar with the Acquisition Program, simply search the term in Google and see what you can learn. For example, a search for “Navy PEO C41 PMW 130” and “Information Assurance and Cybersecurity” and “Navy Insider Threat Cybersecurity” from the Navy topic uncovered the Program description, Strategic Plan, the PMW 130 Program/Project Listing, PowerPoint presentations describing the program, its platforms and engineering strategy, and a host of additional information. This information will allow you to be more informed and aware of the ultimate target application(s) for your technology before you talk to the TPOC.

Obviously you will want to obtain and read all of the references cited in the topic description thoroughly. In addition to important technical information and specifications you’ll need when you write your proposal, you may also glean information about what the component currently uses and what they view as the current state of the art. The Navy topic leads us to a number of DoD Directives and documents necessary to prepare an informed proposal. When technical articles are cited, we recommend using Google Scholar to search for the citations using the title of the article. This will provide not only the article itself, but other articles that cite it. Repeating for the author of the articles located additional related articles, and repeating in standard Google found the author’s LinkedIn information. If the author is employed by a small US business, that company might be a competitor for this topic’s funding.

Key Words
Each topic will list several key words that may help you learn about similar, previously funded projects from DoD. Again, this may be useful information about your competition, applications of your technology and current state of the science. For example, a search done at the DoD SBIR award search site on the keyword “insider threat” from the Navy topic identified 16 awards between 2013 and 2017:

While not all of these awarded projects are likely to be relevant, some may be important sources of information.
In summary, be sure to talk to the Topic Author or TPOC from the appropriate DoD component before you write your SBIR or STTR proposal. Take time to prepare for the discussion using information provided in many of the topics. If you need additional assistance preparing or writing your proposal, feel free to contact BBCetc.


Becky Aistrup is a Managing Partner of BBCetc and our chief DOD SBIR/STTR consultant.

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Writing your NIH SBIR/STTR Specific Aims: Impact is Key!

July 25th, 2017 | by Andrea Johanson

We have found that the best first step in developing an SBIR/STTR proposal is to draft the one-page Specific Aims document. This section is the most important page in your proposal. In it you should state concisely the goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcomes, including the impact that the results of

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Tips on Writing Your Commercialization Plan

June 22nd, 2017 | by Michael Kurek

Martin Zwilling, CEO of Startup Professionals, is one of my favorite bloggers on wide-ranging topics of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. One of his recent articles “13 Red Flags to Avoid in Your Investor Funding Pitch” contains solid advice for your SBIR/STTR commercialization plan, as well as your investor pitch. In addition to

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The Support Provider’s Dilemma: Is this Person Coachable?

May 24th, 2017 | by Jayne Berkaw

If you’re an entrepreneur seeking to improve your chances of winning SBIR/STTR funding for your technology, ask yourself this: Are you coachable? According to author and international consultant, Timothy R. Clark, “Coachability is the willingness to be corrected and to act on that correction. When we are coachable, we are prepared to be wrong. We

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Who Needs SBIR/STTR Training Anyway??

April 20th, 2017 | by Jayne Berkaw

One of the first things we advise our clients or prospective clients to do as they look forward to preparing a competitive SBIR/STTR proposal is to give themselves a leg up by starting off with some training. Lots of people don’t think they need training before they embark on the complex proposal preparation process. Maybe

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Top 10 Brilliant Ideas and Stupid Mistakes: Secrets of Phase II Proposal Success

March 15th, 2017 | by Lisa Kurek

Last month, we outlined our top 10 dos and don’ts for getting your Phase I NIH proposal in shape and ready to submit before the April 5 deadline. This month we continue that theme by presenting what we have determined, over years of reviewing proposals, to be our top 10 brilliant ideas or stupid mistakes

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10 Dos and Don’ts for Your Phase I NIH Proposal

February 2nd, 2017 | by Lisa Kurek

If you’re planning to submit for the April 5 NIH SBIR/STTR deadline, now is the time to start laying out the steps you’ll need to take to get your polished, compelling Phase I proposal submitted before the deadline. Over the years, BBCetc consultants have reviewed a great many NIH proposals and accumulated a long list

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Match Your Product to Agency Mission for SBIR/STTR Success

December 9th, 2016 | by Michael Kurek

Finding the best agency to fund your new product idea can be frustrating. You’ve identified a market need and know exactly how to solve the problem of your preferred target customer. The only catch is that the agency does not share your enthusiasm for the proposed product or its market potential. How to proceed? First

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Post-Award Changes Don’t Have to Be Daunting

November 11th, 2016 | by Kris Bergman

You’ve submitted an SBIR/STTR proposal and have been awarded. Great news, right? But before you receive any money something in your company changes from that portrayed in your proposal. Panic time? Not necessarily. Agencies recognize that the budget presented in your application is somewhat “experimental,” and between the time you submit and receive any money,

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Applying to NSF? Time to Get Cracking!

October 17th, 2016 | by Michael Kurek

The National Science Foundation has released its SBIR 16-599 and STTR 16-600 solicitations. These are two separate solicitations, this cycle with the same deadline of Dec. 6 and now with the same maximum budget of $225,000 for a Phase I award with a duration of 6-12 months. We’ve highlighted some key considerations for this cycle’s

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