SBIR & STTR Program Differences

The SBIR and STTR programs have the same goal: to help entrepreneurial researchers launch small businesses, engage in research and development, and commercialize new products that will benefit the public. The programs have two key differences, described below.

Project Leadership

  • SBIR requires the project’s principal investigator to be employed primarily (more than half-time) by the small business during the award period, unless NIH grants a waiver of this requirement.
  • STTR does not define employment criteria for the project’s principal investigator.

Nonprofit Research Institution Partners

  • STTR requires the small business to have a formal collaboration agreement with a nonprofit research institution during Phases I and II. The research institution is responsible for at least 30 percent of the total effort for the project, and the small business is responsible for at least 40 percent.
  • SBIR encourages but does not require nonprofit research institution partnership. A research institution can complete up to 33 percent of the total effort for a Phase I project and up to 50 percent of the total effort for a Phase II project, as applicable.



Principal Investigator

Primary employment (more than half-time) must be with small business

Primary employment may be with small business or research partner; must commit to at least 10 percent effort in project

Research Institution Partner

Permits partnering, but small business must do at least:

  • Phase I: 67 percent
  • Phase II: 50 percent

Requires partnering with U.S. research institution:

  • Small business: at least 40 percent
  • Research partner: at least 30 percent

More details about these differences are available on the NIH SBIR & STTR website.