SBIR Proposal Writing Basics: Be Consistently Consistent

SBIR Proposal Writing Basics: Be Consistently Consistent

Consistency is something you should strive for in your SBIR or STTR proposal. In this article, we’ll discuss three areas where you need to make an effort to be consistent.

In the Problem Statement

So you start your proposal by saying the problem is that current technologies are too complex and require highly trained experts to operate them. Two pages later you say that current technologies are too energy intensive, and therefore cost too much. Then in the commercialization plan you say that the problem is the lack of precision in current technologies that marginalizes their usability to detect small but important changes. Are you being consistent in your problem statement? No, you are not, and you are frustrating the reviewer who is trying to understand why this project is important and should be funded. To be consistent, you should decide which of these three problems is the primary reason why your innovation is needed and then focus the proposal on it. The other problems should be given lesser attention, not equal billing, with the primary reason for your project.

In the Customer/Market Description

You start by talking about how farmers will want to buy your innovative way to kill flies. You continue to talk about farmers and the many challenges they have with flies. Then suddenly you tell the reviewer that picnickers, campers and hikers hate flies, so you will sell the product to individual consumers on the shelves of Wal-Mart. Three pages later you tell the reviewer that flies are a real problem around horses, so you plan to sell through websites and catalogs that specialize in equestrian products.  Once again, are you being consistent in your definition of the customer? No you are not. You leave the impression with the reviewer that you naively think that “everyone will want one,” that you are indecisive about which market to pursue, or foolishly think you can enter three new markets simultaneously.  We recommend that you decide on the market that has the most potential and is the best fit for your innovation and company, and focus on it CONSISTENTLY throughout the proposal. You can then state late in the proposal that there are some additional markets that you will consider pursuing in the future as opportunities emerge and resources exist to do so.

In the Important Features

Once you’ve decided what market you are focused on, consistently tell the reviewer what is important to those buyers. Don’t tell them in one place that the customer is very price sensitive, and then later say they care about performance, and then say in the final pages of the proposal that the customer is really concerned about safety. Instead, start by telling the reviewer that you have spoken with a number of potential customers, that they have indicated these are the three issues of greatest concern to them, and that the majority (or the ones with the biggest wallets) said the largest concern is safety. You will then write the proposal about meeting the customer’s primary concern, which is safety. And as you are concluding your discussion about how you will determine if you can meet the customer’s expectations regarding safety, indicate how well you also can appeal to them on their areas of secondary concern, which was price and performance. Note that you need to find out from the customer what THEY care about, and don’t just assume that you know what they need.

Inconsistency in an SBIR/STTR proposal frustrates the reviewer who has to try to follow a moving target, and it makes you look like you are scatterbrained, uncertain, unfocused or easily pulled off course. So decide what is most important in terms of a problem, a market, and a feature that is important to that market, and keep your proposal focused on these few important items. It is fine, then, to later in the proposal go on to mention some other problems, customers, or features, and indicate how they will be addressed in a later phase of this SBIR/STTR project, and/or how your innovation also will serve them. But these other items need to be given less attention so that they do not compete with the main points, but instead are clearly of secondary importance.

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