Spark Plug

The Office of Research Commercialization in collaboration with the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at NC State, and First Flight Ventures Lift Off Program have established a formalized support process to enable NC State startups who are seeking to leverage SBIR/STTR funding to maximize their chances of success.

The Federal SBIR/STTR programs are a critical mechanism for advancing research commercialization efforts through research-based startup companies to the next phase of technology and business development.

Figure 1. Extracted from March 2020 Overview of SBIR/STTR Programs

Figure 2. SBIR/STTR Tutorials. Extracted from March 2020 Overview of SBIR/STTR Programs

NC State startups have successfully leveraged the Federal SBIR/STTR programs to fund their research commercialization efforts winning 196 SBIR awards and 52 STTR awards totaling $91M in non-dilutive funding to date. The biggest driver of this success has been the persistence and determination of the individual researchers and the companies that they create. The creation of the SBIR/STTR Spark Plug program is a coordinated and formalized strategy to assist researchers in NC State startup companies help write the SBIR/STTR proposals.


Grant funding is a critical source of non-dilutive funding for research-based startups to further technology and business development aimed at reaching inflection points based on research data. Unfortunately, the grant writing and application process can be a frustrating experience (particularly for first time applicants). It requires a specialized skillset to navigate the process and submit competitive grants. First Flight recognized that research-based startups are typically scientists first, that’s why they developed the LiftOff program to help with identifying and securing non-dilutive funding. The ORC seeks to leverage this very successful program as a key component of the overall SBIR/STTR SparkPlug program.

LiftOff Success Track Record

The Office of Research Commercialization in collaboration with the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at NC State, and First Flight Ventures Lift Off Program have established a formalized support process to enable NC State startups who are seeking to leverage SBIR/STTR funding to maximize their chances of success. 

Here is the SBIR/STTR SparkPlug program strategy:

  • NC State startups apply to the SBIR/STTR SparkPlug program, this is a competitive process detailed below.
  • If accepted into the SBIR/STTR SparkPlug program, the startup can then apply to the First Flight Ventures Lift Off program.
  • If accepted into LiftOff, the SBIR/STTR Spark Plug program will provide the funding to enable NC State startups to enroll in the First Flight Ventures Lift Off Program.
  • Additionally, ORC will convene and conduct quarterly roundtable meetings to discuss best practices, tips and tricks, gotchas, and highlight successes from the participants of the SBIR/STTR Spark Plug Program as well as other experienced teams that have won SBIR/STTR awards. Lunch will be provided.

Application will be reviewed by experts in the field of commercialization and entrepreneurship with experience in judging SBIR/STTR applications.

Notifications of award will be within 45 days of submission of the application by the startup to ORC.

The program is managed by Zach Williams, a New Ventures Program Manager for the Office of Research Commercialization.

  • NCSU Startup that has licensed NCSU Intellectual Property (IP)
  • Startup company must have been formed within the last 5 years
  • Startup company Is not a previous SBIR/STTR Spark Plug winner

If the NCSU Startup company gets selected by both the First Flight LiftOff Program and the SBIR/STTR Spark Plug Program – $10,000 will be provided to FFV to cover the costs of the LiftOff program. The LiftOff program continues to work with the startup company on multiple submissions until they reach a successfully funded proposal.

How to Apply

You will need to apply through the website and we accept applications anytime as this is a rolling application process.