DARPA Highlights 10 Focus Areas for Innovative Small Businesses

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The agency also stood up an in-house startup accelerator to propel the most promising tech to the commercial market.

The Defense Department announced the 10 research areas where it wants innovative small businesses to direct their efforts in 2019.

The agency’s research office is also standing up an in-house startup accelerator to help companies usher their tech out of the lab and into the real world.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Friday laid out the focus areas for its Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, and Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, programs. Over the next year, DARPA will recruit companies to participate in cutting-edge national security research efforts like advancing “third wave” artificial intelligence, developing miniature satellites, building lethal lasers and upgrading the country’s nuclear arsenal.

“Small businesses are critical for developing technology to support national security,” DARPA officials wrote in the solicitation. “The pace of discovery in both science and technology is accelerating worldwide, resulting in new fields of study and the identification of scientific areas ripe for small business utilization through the SBIR and STTR programs.”

The programs are divided into two phases, with companies first exploring the viability of their idea before building a final product. Companies that can already prove their tech is feasible are eligible to jump directly into the second phase of the program.

Teams are eligible for up to $251,250 in funding for phase one of the program, and $1.65 million in phase two, a DARPA spokesperson told Nextgov. Last year, the agency allocated roughly $101 million for the SBIR and STTR programs, they said.

This year for the first time, selected companies will also have the chance to participate in a new Pentagon-sponsored startup incubator to bring their ideas to fruition faster.

The DARPA Accelerator program will connect the most promising teams with industry and government advisors, as well as the agency’s “extensive” network of investors, who can help commercialize their product. Under the program, groups will also be eligible for up to $250,000 in extra funding for phase two of the program, according to the solicitation.

SBIR and STTR proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis through Feb. 29, 2020.

This year, companies can receive SBIR and STTR funding for research projects in these 10 categories:

Artificial Intelligence

Examples: Improve algorithms, enhance data quality, optimize human-machine interactions and disrupt adversaries’ efforts to corrupt systems.


Examples: Address the teaming of autonomous systems, enhance machine perception, improve reasoning and intelligence, build trust between humans and autonomous systems.


Examples: Address high-performance, low power embedded processing and develop algorithms for resource allocation, self-configuring and self-healing networks.


Examples: Fix behavioral issues, develop self-securing networks and create strategies to assess cyber effects and consequences.

Directed Energy (read: lasers)

Examples: Address power scaling, jitter reduction, laser size and weight, adaptive optics, beam propagation and target tracking.


Examples: Create high-temperature materials, hypersonic vehicle manufacturing, air-breathing propulsion, and hypersonic guidance and control systems.


Examples: Develop economically competitive domestic manufacturing capabilities, improve radiation hardening, and develop radio frequency technologies for special applications in nuclear, space and electronic warfare.

Quantum Sciences

Examples: Create quantum clocks and sensors, quantum communications technologies and develop enabling technologies for quantum computing in the areas of cryogenics and photon detection.


Examples: Develop low earth orbit nano-satellites for missile warning, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation and communications.

Nuclear Modernization

Examples: Modernize the nuclear triad (bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and ballistic missile submarines) as well as the supporting infrastructure, including the national laboratories and the nuclear command, control, and communications network.