A seed fund that takes no equity!

The NSF Mission

The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports a broad range of research and education spanning all areas of science and engineering. NSF has played a key role in the development of numerous advanced technologies including inkjet printers, magnetic resonance imaging, tissue engineering, and the internet! If you have an innovative and transforming idea, then NSF is a good source of funding. As of 2017, NSF had a budget of $7.5 billion. While much of these funds go to basic research at academic institutions, almost $200 million of the NSF budget goes towards small businesses and entrepreneurs through the SBIR program.


NSF funds both SBIR and STTR applications. While the DOD funds military applications and NIH funds clinically-relevant applications, NSF has a broader focus. Successful NSF applications show broad societal impacts and promise to provide transformative solutions to existing industries. NSF is not looking for incremental advances. Innovation is stressed even more at NSF than other agencies.

A key difference between NSF and other SBIR agencies is that NSF limits the number of SBIR proposals that a company can submit. NSF only allows a company to submit one (1) proposal per SBIR cycle. So, it’s quite important to determine the most appropriate topic for your proposed approach.

The Topics

Areas of interest to NSF are quite broad, but technology-focused. The major topics of interest to NSF are:

  • Advanced Manufacturing and Nanotechnology
  • Advanced Materials and Instrumentation
  • Biological Technologies
  • Biomedical Technologies
  • Chemical and Environmental Technologies
  • Educational Technologies and Applications
  • Electronic Hardware, Robotics and Wireless Technologies
  • Information Technologies
  • Internet of Things
  • Semiconductors and Photonics Devices and Materials
  • Smart Health
  • Other Topics (for innovative approaches that do not fit any of the other topics)

Within these topics are several subtopics which further describe the areas of interest to NSF. Click here to go to the NSF website and learn more about each subtopic and to see what technologies have been funded.

The SBIR process at NSF

As with all SBIR agencies, NSF SBIRs are 2-phase efforts made up of a Phase I feasibility study followed by a Phase II commercial-readiness effort. NSF also offers supplemental funding to Phase II awardees to help commercialize their efforts. Prior to submitting an SBIR or STTR application, applicants can run their idea by the Program Director in charge of the topic of interest. It is highly recommended that potential applicants submit an Executive Summary to the Program Director at NSF to receive feedback regarding the proposed effort. Feedback is typically received within 1-2 weeks.

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