One of the first decisions a company needs to make when deciding to pursue SBIR funding through the DoD is the open topic vs. specific topic track.
- Open topic is a broad solicitation that accepts proposals in any area related to the DoD mission.
- Specific topic is a narrow solicitation that targets a particular problem or need.
At times, the best track will be unique to the company and the solution they have to offer. However, after over five years in the industry, we tend to see much more opportunity for both the companies and the system as a whole with the open topic track.
Why do We Prefer to Operate with Open Topic?
One of the biggest problems that we see in the industry right now is consolidation. If a company is just winning government contracts, the day that they become competitive with the large primes, they get acquired. When they get to be around $50M a year in revenue, they often get bought by the large primes.
However, we have seen many dual-use technologies, and companies that can build hundreds of millions—if not billions of dollars—of revenue in the commercial sector enter the federal market through open-topic opportunities. Time and time again, we see these companies find a lot of success through this, which brings a breath of fresh air to the industry.
We are always thrilled to support companies who are going to bring new capabilities that won’t just get acquired by large primes, because this helps to create a competitive environment again in the field of federal funding.
What are the Key Differences Between Open Topic and Specific Topic?
While we prefer open topic as a whole for the way it can change the landscape of competition, we are certainly not opposed to the specific topic route for unique cases and technologies. This is why it’s important to have an understanding of both arenas.
There are a few key differences between the two topic types to note before designing your federal strategy around one track or the other.
1. How they Function:
An open topic is a broad solicitation that accepts proposals in any area related to the DoD mission. Because of this, SBIR Open Topic allows small businesses to propose any innovative idea that aligns with the agency’s mission. With that said, some are deterred from this path as it may have more competition and less guidance.
A specific topic is a narrow solicitation that targets a particular problem or need. Because of this, SBIR Specific Topic requires small businesses to address a predefined problem or need that the agency has identified. With that said, this path tends to require more requirements and expectations.
- You must be a U.S.-based small business with fewer than 500 employees.
- For Phase III, you need to have an identified DoD customer or end user.
- You can propose any innovative solution that has the potential for commercialization and defense impact.
- You will compete with other applicants across all domains and technologies.
- Has all the same eligibility criteria as for Open Topic.
- You also need to address a specific problem or need that’s defined by the DoD agency that issued the solicitation.
- You should have a clear understanding of the technical requirements, performance metrics, and expected outcomes.
- You will compete with other applicants within the same topic area.
For more information about Phase I and II of open topic, be sure to check out our tools pages: