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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cooper

Solar Topics in Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer-SBIR/STTR

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are competitive funding opportunities that encourage U.S.-based small businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization. The program is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and awards projects in technology areas across the entire department. It is part of the larger SBIR program across the federal government, which is administered by the Small Business Administration.

In the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), funding is awarded to companies that are working to advance the affordability, reliability, and performance of solar technologies on to the grid. Funded projects address a wide variety of solar energy topics such as photovoltaics, grid integration, solar plus energy storage, and community solar, among others. See a full list of projects under the Awardees section below.


The SBIR and STTR programs take a phased approach with two funding levels: feasibility study and proof-of-concept development (Phase I) and prototype development (Phase II). Small businesses that apply for SBIR/STTR funding are expected to address the commercialization challenges of their technology and ensure that it is a profitable business opportunity. DOE performs follow-up surveys to track commercialization outcomes of all SBIR/STTR awards.

Small businesses are the prime recipients both for SBIR and STTR awards. However, there are few differences between the two programs:

  1. Under an SBIR award, the principal investigator is employed by the small business, which conducts the majority of the research and development tasks.

  2. Under an STTR award, the company must collaborate with a nonprofit research institution, like a national laboratory. The principal investigator can be employed by the small business or the research institution, and a minimum of 30% of the research and development tasks have to be conducted by the research institution. Researchers can use these awards to transfer a research project into a new company. 

SETO may also announce one or more Technology Transfer Opportunities (TTO)—a unique subtopic designed to transfer a specific development patented by a DOE national laboratory or university to a small business for commercialization. Only one small business can be awarded for each TTO. In addition to the SBIR/STTR funding, the awardee receives a six-month, non-exclusive licensing agreement for that patent, with the option to continue the licensing agreement upon negotiation with the research institution owning the patent.


Bringing new technologies from conceptualization to the prototype stage, and then into the market has been proven to be challenging, especially in the solar sector. Entrepreneurs developing new hardware or software technologies, or innovating the solar manufacturing processes, face high risks and have difficulties raising the funding needed to fully mature their ideas. The SBIR and STTR programs aim to foster technology transfer to the private sector, support and encourage participation by entrepreneurs, and stimulate innovation through cooperative research and development carried out between small businesses and research institutions.

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