A member of our VentureWrench Community hit a frustrating wall recently. They were planning to submit a proposal to a government solicitation (on Grants.gov). They had an existing account that they had used before. They had been preparing all the proposal documentation and, on the due date of the proposals, tried to login to begin uploading the proposal.
However, the Grants.gov account required two factor authentication (via cell phone phone authentication) in order to login. Due to some issues with the phone number, the administrator of the account had changed phone numbers, but had not updated their Grants.gov account….
Yep, you guessed it. They were locked out of their account and the submission deadline came and went with no proposal submitted.
Argh, this is SO painful! This type of issue with the electronic upload is not unusual, as I told the team! They aren’t alone, but honestly it doesn’t really help them as many solicitations are issued once per year and this was a difficult blow.
Years ago, I prepared a full SBIR proposal to one of the the “once a year” agencies. The upload process completed minutes after the deadline. They returned it without comment. I appealed, they said no (within their rights!) All that effort, completely wasted.
Another client a few years ago was submitting to NIH under the “old” NIH system. Experienced NIH hands suggested that a team should begin submitting THREE DAYS before the deadline because the system was so fussy and routinely rejected proposals for what seemed like immaterial items. The client didn’t listen, and missed a $300k Phase I (when most phase ones were $150k or less!). Heartbreaking, and unnecessary.
Now, if you are one of a small percentage of people who submit well before the deadline, I salute you! The tips below are still helpful to ease the submission process. BUT, if you are like the vast majority of entrepreneurs who have way too many demands on their time, these tips are just for you!
What to do? Here are my tips to make sure that upload issues don’t kill your chance of success.
As soon as you commit to submitting a proposal, START the online process! Yes, I’m serious. Start writing AND start the online process. What do I mean?
- Make sure you know which online submission portal is being used (it is in the solicitation!) There are quite a few of them and sometimes even the same agency will use a different submission portal depending on the program!
- Log in. This may be a lot harder than it looks. If you’ve never submitted to that portal before, you’ll start a sometimes lengthy account creation process that often includes SAM.gov and Login.gov setup! See my tips on annual housekeeping for more on this! Alternately you may need to update or verify a bunch of stuff in your account. In some cases you may need to add or update two factor authentication (see that phone number issue above!) And do make sure you’ve got more than one authentication mechanism on file AND/OR have more than one administrator on the account!
- Start the new proposal in the system – usually this requires a Proposal Title (which may or may not be editable later, so double check that). I’ll note that some agencies (DOE and NSF come to mind) have either a letter of intent or pre-proposal pitch to submit, so make sure you read the solicitation and rules!
- Explore the upload sections – again these vary dramatically by organization and program. This alerts you to any surprise sections or new requirements. For example, DoD has recently added some required documents (example “These BAAs incorporate MANDATORY foreign disclosure requirements and other important programmatic changes as required by the SBIR and STTR Extension Act of 2022 “). Yes, one company that is part of our community submitted MULTIPLE proposals without these brand new requirements, all rejected without review. SO difficult.
- As soon as you have any part of the proposal completed, UPLOAD IT! Yes, upload it. Even if, in some cases, you have to later upload a changed version. Letters of support, executive summaries, draft budgets, biosketches are all easily uploaded quickly. Why??? Because if you wait until the last minute, you will find those “small” uploads will take a lot of time. First, the portal will likely be managing many, many uploads, and second, you’ll find with dozens of components needed, it’s easy to lose one!
- Keep that online portal up and open as you write and edit. I suggest that you also do “test prints” of the entire proposal when possible. Why, because you can see how it will look to reviewers. And if there’s something obviously missing, it will show up!
- Start uploading the budget as soon as you have a draft! Yes, it’s true. Even if it doesn’t total up, or there are missing numbers. Start entering budget data. Often the numbers are entered individually online into a budget form. Each system either rounds or truncates differently, so you need to see how it all plays together BEFORE the deadline
- When everything is ready, you will be comfortable with uploading, and comfortable with printing off the final uploaded version.
What if you DON’T upload a bit at a time?
Well, exactly what happened to some of our community members (and me!) – you can miss the deadline, miss a required file or not even be able to start the upload because there’s not enough time at the last minute to get government tech support to work!
If you want more in depth help, either a proposal review or help developing your proposal, you can apply for a spot in our one-on-one VentureWrench SBIR Coaching after you’ve gone through the course. Email us at venturewrenchcommunity [at] gmail.com with questions.
And if you need help with any part of your SBIR process – proposal (Phase I or II), TABA, proposal management, or contract finalization, just email us at venturewrenchcommunity [at] gmail.com with questions.
Don’t forget, if you need more help, check out our online course, Develop a Winning SBIR Strategy, and don’t forget your free guide below!