USDA NIFA is Accepting Applications for SBIR Grant Phase I

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) requests Phase I applications for its FY 2021 Small Business Innovation Research grant. Successful applicants may receive up to $100,000 of grant funds or $106,500 with Technical and Business Assistance, as detailed below. There is no cost-sharing requirement.

What is the purpose of USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program? The SBIR program focuses on transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial potential and/or societal benefit. Unlike fundamental research, the SBIR program supports small businesses in the creation of innovative, disruptive technologies, and enables the application of research advancements from conception into the market. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all SBIR topic areas. SBIR's flexible research areas ensure innovative projects consistent with USDA's vision of a healthy and productive nation in harmony with the land, air, and water.

Who is eligible to apply? Applicants must qualify as a Small Business Concern (SBC) in the United States and have fewer than 500 employees to be eligible for grant funds. Applicants must register with the SBIR company registry. Nonprofit organizations are not eligible as the primary applicant. The project director/principal investigator for the project must be primarily employed (at least 51% of time) by the SBC for the project to qualify.

What projects are eligible for Phase I? Phase I of the SBIR program funds projects that demonstrate technical feasibility of a proposed innovation to bring the innovation closer to commercialization. Phase I projects involve a high degree of technical risk as they have never been successfully attempted and face technical hurdles the grant-funded research and development (R&D) work intends to overcome. New and resubmitted applications are allowed, but applicants may submit only one application. Phase II of the SBIR program continues the R&D developed under Phase I to commercialize the innovation and requires a separate application. Only Phase I grant recipients are eligible to submit a Phase II application.

Phase I research projects should fall under one of the following topic areas:

  1. Forests and Related Resources. The Forests and Related Resources topic area aims to address the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations through the development of environmentally sound approaches to increase productivity of forest lands, improve sustainability of forest resources, and develop value-added materials derived from woody resources.
  2. Plant Production and Protection (Biology). The objective of this topic area is to examine novel ways of enhancing crop production and protection by applying biological approaches to develop new methods for plant improvement, apply traditional plant breeding methods and new technologies to develop new food and non-food crop plants, develop plant characteristics that reduce the harmful impact of plant pests and biotic stresses, as well as new genotypes of existing crop plants with characteristics that allow for their use in new commercial applications.
  3. Animal Production and Protection. The Animal Production and Protection topic area aims to develop innovative, marketable technologies that will provide significant benefit to the production and protection of agricultural animals.
  4. Conservation of Natural Resources. This topic area encourages new technologies and innovations that will help improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality, improve nutrient management and conserve and use water more effectively.
  5. Food Science and Nutrition. The Food Science and Nutrition topic area aims to fund projects that support research focusing on developing new and improved processes, technologies, or services that address emerging food safety, food processing and nutrition issues. The program will fund projects to:1) increase the understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of food; 2) improve methods for the processing and packaging of food products to improve the quality, safety and nutritional value of foods, and to reduce food waste; 3) develop technologies for rapid and sensitive detection of pathogens and toxins in foods, and 4) develop programs or products that increase the consumption of healthy foods and reduce obesity, or alleviate urban and rural food deserts. The outcome of a successful project is a proof of concept for a marketable product or patented process.
  6. Rural and Community Development. The objective of this topic area is to improve the quality of life in rural America by creating and commercializing technologies that address important economic and social development issues or challenges in rural America. Projects must explicitly discuss the specific rural problem or opportunity that will be examined and how the proposed science-based technology will successfully address the problem or opportunity.
  7. Aquaculture. The Aquaculture topic area funds research projects with the overall goal of leading to improved production efficiency and increased competitiveness of private sector, commercial aquaculture in the United States. This topic area aims to develop new technologies that will enhance the knowledge and technology base necessary for the expansion of the domestic aquaculture industry.
  8. Biofuels and Biobased Products. The objective of this topic area is to promote the use of non-food biobased products and biofuels by developing new or improved technologies that will lead to increased competitiveness of value-added products from agricultural materials. This research will lead to new opportunities to diversify agriculture and enhance agriculture’s role as a reliable supplier of raw materials to industry.
  9. Small and Mid-Size Farms. The Small and Mid-Size Farms topic area aims to promote and improve the sustainability and profitability of small and mid-size farms and ranches (where annual sales of agricultural products are less than $250,000 for small farms and $500,000 for mid-size farms).
  10. Plant Production and Protection (Engineering). The objective of this topic area is to enhance crop production in both conventional and organic systems by creating and commercializing engineering technologies that enhance system efficiency and profitability and that protect crops from pests and pathogens in economically and environmentally sound ways.

In addition to the areas listed above, USDA NIFA recognizes agriculturally-related Manufacturing Technology and Energy Efficiency and Alternative and Renewable Energy as two cross-cutting priorities with relevance to all areas listed in this program solicitation. The USDA NIFA encourages applicants to address these priorities, as appropriate, within their applications. However, these are not meant to be standalone topic areas.

What is the role of Technical and Business Assistance in the SBIR program? SBIR Phase I awardees may request to enter into agreements with one or more vendors to provide Technical and Business Assistance (TABA). USDA is able to fund up to $6,500 for TABA assistance to all USDA SBIR Phase I grantees. Grant recipients have two options for receiving TABA assistance: (1) utilize services provided by a USDA vendor or (2) identify their own TABA assistance provider.

What is the maximum funding amount? Phase I applications may request a maximum of $100,000 for a period of eight months (special cases may allow up to 20 months). Funding quantity and availability depend on the passage of an appropriations act for FY2020 and 2021. There is no match requirement.

What is the project timeline? Most awarded Phase I projects must be completed within eight months. The expected start and end dates for Phase I are July 1, 2021 to February 28, 2022.

When is the application deadline? For FY2021, Phase I applications are due October 22, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. EST.

The project’s full Request for Applications (RFA) is available here.

For more information on this grant or how to apply with Morrison’s assistance, please contact the Morrison Grants Team by email at  or call us at 530-893-4764.


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