How We Built a $1B Grant Program Website Utilized by 50K Businesses in 3 Weeks

Department of Defense, SBIR/STTR


The Client

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) were established within U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to not only develop the innovation capabilities of the Department, but to also spur innovation and technology amongst small businesses and across the U.S. economy.  The SBIR/STTR program is the only defense program that grants companies with 500 or fewer employees risk-free, non-dilutive seed stage capital in order to encourage and aid the creation and eventual launch of cost-effective innovations; the ultimate goal is to sustain America’s superiority in the technology field. Each year, 600 potential development topics are released and 50,000 small business users submit proposals, 12 agencies are selected to participate, and a total of $1 billion in research funds are awarded.

The Challenge

Since the SBIR program was established by Congress in the early 1980s (STTR was founded around a decade later), SBIR/STTR had only one source for their marketing, branding, and program management needs.  As is inevitable in the ever-changing technology world, this system became outdated because it was no longer functional enough to accomodate user needs. As a result, the Department was missing their target audience: the best inventors, creators, and innovators are difficult to reach with technology and strategies that are obsolete.  The system that they had been using attracted only moderate participation from the small business industry, and many participants were frequent returners. In order to infuse the SBIR/STTR program with more diverse and cutting-edge competitors, something had to change. The DoD’s goal was, simply, to make SBIR/STTR the best innovation programs in the world, and they needed to redesign and redevelop what had been in place for over three decades.  Instead of turning to a government contracting resource with their project, the Department of Defense turned to Fifth Tribe: we had expertise and experience with the software that would be necessary to build a new online portal for the program, and we could provide modern and agile insight that would produce an accessible and attractive website – all within 3 weeks. 

The Project

The solution that Fifth Tribe created for the DoD was twofold: we redeveloped the software used to manage the programs and also rebuilt the SBIR/STTR brand, completely transforming the previously scattered and dull platform that was both difficult and confusing to navigate.  We built out the software and the modules on the SBIR/STTR website, paying particular attention to the areas that were lacking before: comprehensible tools, accessible resources, and overall improved functionality. Not only was the design and layout of the website upgraded significantly, but it became more user-friendly as well.  

It was important to the DoD – and therefore to the Fifth Tribe team – that we incorporated the programs’ unparalleled focus on customer success into the platform, and we accomplished this through an all-in-one portal; all SBIR/STTR information and resources were implemented into one simple and consolidated location, including (but not limited to) the program structures, benefits, and eligibility requirements.  The agile development methodology that Fifth Tribe practices enabled us to build out multiple softwares and modules for the site and to design with optimal performance in mind: examples are a personal account integration system, which allows users to manage their information and proposals through their own accounts, improved security, an integrated SITIS (SBIR/STTR Interactive Topic Information System) platform to seek expert answers to frequently asked technical questions, and a better search engine, which facilitates an easier navigation of the hundreds of topics and solicitations in given fields of expertise.  Amongst all of these advancements, we also created a way for the Department’s administrative team to track the data on the SBIR/STTR program site, a necessity that was not at their disposal prior to their partnership with Fifth Tribe. This capability lends to the DoD’s data analytic potential; they are now able to analyze who is receiving their grants, the amount of grants being given, etc., and they can make decisions about the future of the SBIR/STTR program based on this data.

The Result

The accomplishment of these development goals and the successful creation of a new and improved site for SBIR/STTR were multiplied by the recreation of the program’s brand: the second part of the two-part strategy.  Because the majority of the recruitment, registration, and selection process of the SBIR/STTR grants occurs on their website, the transformation of the online platform had beneficial marketing consequences as well: by redesigning their software in a way that was more functional and user-friendly, their brand gained positive associations with their desired audience.  The site experienced increased traffic and the Department of Defense was able to attract more diverse and competitive participants – specifically, 50,000 businesses. This software and rebranding project conveys the innovative ways by which Fifth Tribe can reinvent brands in the digital space while retaining the organizations’ and companies’ unique identities and empowering them to compete in their sector and accomplish their present and future goals.