Small Business Innovation Research Program


The intent of NIDILRR’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program is to help support the development of new ideas and projects that are useful to persons with disabilities by inviting the participation of small business firms with strong research capabilities in science, engineering, or educational technology.

Small businesses must meet certain criteria to participate: the company must be American-owned and independently operated, for-profit, employ no more than 500 employees, and the principal researcher must be employed by the business.

During Phase I, NIDILRR funds firms to conduct feasibility studies to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of an idea. During Phase II, NIDILRR-funded firms expand on the results of Phase I to pursue further development.

Additional Information About SBIR

In 1982, the U.S. Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to stimulate technological innovation, use small business to meet federal research and development needs, and increase private sector commercialization.

SBIR is a highly competitive program that encourages small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from the commercialization of their SBIR-generated products. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated and the U.S. gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.

The SBIR program is structured in three phases, the first two of which are supported by SBIR funds:

Phase I: The objective of Phase I is to determine the scientific or technical merit and feasibility of proposed research or research & development (R/R&D) efforts that appear to have commercial potential. This feasibility is a prerequisite for further support in Phase II. Phase I awards are for periods up to six months in amounts as indicated in the Funding Opportunity Announcements.

Phase II: The objective of Phase II is to continue the research or R&D effort initiated in Phase I with approaches that exhibit potential for commercial application. Phase II awards are for periods up to two years in amounts as indicated in the Funding Opportunity Announcements.

Phase III: An objective of the SBIR program is to increase private sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal R/R&D. During Phase III, the small business concern is to pursue commercialization with non-SBIR funds. The Department of Health and Human Services does not provide funding during the Phase III period.

There are 11 federal agencies that participate in SBIR, including: the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. The program is administered similarly by each of these departments.

How to Apply

  • Eligible small businesses are American-owned and independently operated, must be for-profit, employ no more than 500 employees, and the principal researcher must be employed by the business.

  • View a list of NIDILRR funding opportunities and application kits. Program announcements contained in the application kit provide comprehensive information including:

    • Background on the SBIR program

    • Invitational Priority areas (which are not absolute or restrictive)

    • Information sources and Departmental contacts

    • Evaluation criteria

    • Related program information (rights in technical data, copyrights, patents, and equipment)

  • NIDILRR’s SBIR program holds one annual Phase I and one annual Phase II competition. The Phase I program announcement is normally released by early spring, and closes two months later. All awards are made before September 30 of any given year.

  • View the Guide to Applying for some helpful application tips.


  • The SBIR program accounts for approximately 4% of the NIDILRR grant funding in FY 2015.

  • Each year, NIDILRR’s SBIR program funds up to ten Phase I feasibility (or proof-of-concept) projects for a duration of approximately six months (for up to $75,000 each).

  • After completion of the Phase I stage, most of these businesses can compete for Phase II awards. Phase II awards can last up to 24 months for a total of up to $575,000.

Select Accomplishments for FY 2015

Inventors Enhance Communication Options by Converting Digital Data into Audiovisual Form

Charmtech Labs, LLC (Grant #90BI0005 & #90BI0004).

Charmtech Labs, LLC developed the Capti Narrator, a universally accessible technology that helps people listen to digital content in an audiovisual form. The content can be imported to the Capti Playlist in a variety of formats and from multiple sources (e.g., web, One Drive, and Dropbox) and can be narrated by high-quality synthetic voices speaking in different languages and accents.

Capti Narrator can be used as an application in most web browsers, installed on PCs (and soon Macs), and installed as an app on mobile devices. It has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

Capti Narrator was developed as assistive technology for people with vision impairments and proved to be useful for people with illiteracy, as well as disabilities such as dyslexia.

The technology is being adopted by public schools and universities, and this collaboration has helped to further develop additional functionalities needed in educational settings. Charmtech Labs is now exploring how English language learners could acquire the language faster with Capti.

The Capti Narrator received an FCC Chairman’s Award for Advancing Accessibility and the Delegates’ Award in the W4A Accessibility Challenge. Its Principal Investigator, Dr. Yevgen Borodin, was recognized as a MIT Technology Review Innovator under 35 for his work on Capti Narrator and other accessibility research. Capti Narrator can be accessed via

Accommodation-Integrated Technology that Minimizes the Impact of Disability on Students’ Assessment Performance

3-C Institute for Social Development, Inc. (Grant #90BI0007).

3-C Institute for Social Development, Inc. developed Assess2Progress, a Web-based program to assist teachers in creating disability-accessible assessments of any type in any subject area for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The program uses universal design principles to deploy assessments with embedded text-to-speech functions, audio controls, and visual accommodations.

The next phase of this project will develop a fully functioning software system with tailored teacher and student user interfaces through pre-pilot usability testing and field-testing with kindergarten through fifth-grade students and teachers.

The Assess2Progress program eliminates barriers toward fair and adequate testing by giving teachers the tools they need to make appropriate accommodations and offer accessible testing options for students with disabilities.


Contact Brian Bard at NIDILRR if you have questions about the SBIR Program funding mechanism.


Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

If at any time you become aware of fraud, waste, abuse, or any kind of wrongdoing under any SBIR award, please contact the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG Hotline accepts tips from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in HHS programs. The reporting individual should indicate that the fraud, waste, and/or abuse concerns an SBIR grant or contract, if relevant. For more information, visit the OIG website at


Please visit the following NIH page on reporting fraud for examples of fraud, waste and abuse. Prosecuted cases appear halfway down the page:


Please contact Brian Bard by email or phone (202-795-7298) if you have any questions regarding fraud, waste, or abuse in NIDILRR’s SBIR program.


Last modified on 09/20/2017

Back to Top