Review considerations when writing DoD funding applications

When applying for Department of Defense Air Force open topics, it’s most important to consider who you’re writing for. Unlike other agencies, DoD uses a range of graders to score their applications. The three scoring areas include defense need, technical merit, and commercialization. Air Force open topics are scored by up to three different Air Force volunteer reviewers.  

These reviewers are likely not technical experts, they’re military members across a range of career fields and backgrounds. Do not write your application assuming the person reading it has the same background and expertise as you. Your reviewer may be 26-year-old fighter pilot that has no idea what your technical specs mean. If this person can’t understand your product, you’ll automatically be knocked down in scoring. To have a successful application you must explain your product so that anybody from a lawyer to a maintainer, to a civil engineer can understand it. 

In addition to writing for a broad audience, it’s important to follow this Air Force open topics review criteria checklist to get the most out of your application. 

Commercialization: The Air Force wants to know that your product is dual use because it’s U.S. law that these open topics SBIRs fund dual use products.  

-How does your product work now and what adaptations might be required to meet the defense need? 

-How might this award help you not just create a better product, but also help you expand your market opportunity. Prove to the reviewers that you will be a stable business with more than the Air Force as your customer.  

Defense Need: Having a good defense need for Air Force is going to look different from other agencies. Know what is important to the Air Force and how your product’s characteristics help meet mission-specific needs is necessary for a competitive application. For example, currently the U.S. military is concerned with a potential need for defense from China. It would be ideal to discuss specifically how your product would support the China fight. 

Technical merit: A detailed explanation of the IP is less effective for an Air Force open topic. Reviewers likely won’t appreciate the technical scientific details. Instead, they are interested in the merit of the technology. Why are people trying and buying your product over the competition? Who is your competition?  

– Include testimonials that highlight why they bought your product over the competition. 

– Be aware that value may include cost, speed, time, weight, energy reduction, and so on. Additionally, value can include domestic supply chain sourcing. Improving domestic supply is a value the military and Air Force may desire. 

Lastly, always read the solicitation. These SBIRs are contracts and require reviewers to acknowledge if they think applicants can meet the terms of these SBIR contract vehicles. Unfortunately, the instructions change from cycle to cycle so you must be willing to read the full solicitation. What worked last year probably won’t be enough this year. 

Open topics are a good option for existing companies to propose an innovative approach with current products. However, adapting your product to an Air Force need may be a challenge. Check out the following CTC resources to help you evaluate a competitive Air Force submission. 

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