What is the Success Rate?
Success rates are the percentages of all proposals (both scored and non-scored) submitted in a prior year that ultimately received awards. The U.S. Small Business Administration publishes SBIR/STTR program success rates for the participating agencies on its sbir.gov website, and the NIH publishes success rates for its individual institutes and centers (ICs) at https://report.nih.gov/success_rates/. For example, in 2018, the overall success rate for NIH SBIR Phase I applications was 18.4%, while the rate for STTR Phase I applications was 20.9%, but the rates varied widely among ICs (7.4%-43.8% for SBIR Phase I and 0.0-50.0% for STTR Phase I).
Although you might wish to use these success rates as a guide to estimate your own chances of success in the SBIR/STTR program, this is something you should avoid.
How Useful Are Success Rates?
Success rates and their underlying data provide information on the past SBIR/STTR landscape in relation to specific agencies or ICs, and to a certain degree, knowledge of these data can help you to target your proposal to the agency or IC where it might stand the best chance of success. A low success rate coupled with a relatively high number of submissions implies strong competition for funding. An institute that receives relatively few applications but has a relatively high success rate may be a good target if your technology is a good fit for the institute’s mission.
In summary, success rates and related data can provide some useful guidance when considering which agencies or ICs to target, but they should be considered with caution. Ultimately, your chances of success are determined not by past success rates but by the quality of your proposal compared with those of other applicants and by ensuring that your proposal is a good match for the mission of the agency, institute or center.