Phase Shift I


Program Description

The Office of SBIR/STTR Programs is offering the Phase Shift I program aimed specifically at DOE SBIR/STTR Phase I awardees. All Phase I awardees are eligible to apply (regardless of previous experience) and are highly encouraged to sign up for this unique opportunity.


The program was originally piloted in October 2020 and has grown to support almost 300 Phase I awardees. DOE SBIR/STTR Phase Shift I is designed to help you craft a viable business model and test key assumptions regarding your first paying customers and, what they value most in their buying decisions, to better prepare you to provide them with a viable solution. The program will prioritize customer development (direct engagement with your customer ecosystem) to evaluate product-market fit and illuminate opportunities and risks. The program pairs participants with world-class innovation coaches to support the company’s ability to draw valuable insights about their proposed business model.

This program is 100% optional and 100% funded by DOE SBIR, with no direct cost to participant companies.

Informational Webinars

Feel free to join us at one of our Informational Webinars for additional Q&A. We’ll have both SBIR Program Directors and program facilitators available to answer any questions you and your team may have.

Wednesday, March 6 @ 4 pm ET | ZOOM LINK
Thursday, March 14 @ 4 pm ET | ZOOM LINK 

How to Apply - Applications will open March 4!

Interested applicants should apply at Application Form before the application deadline of Friday, March 15, 2024. The application form requires each application to include the following information:

  • DOE award number
  • DOE program office funding the award (e.g., ASCR, BES, BER, NP, etc.)
  • Personnel that will be participating. Please include the role (e.g., PI, business development manager, . . ) as well as the name of personnel. Travel will only be reimbursed for two participants per team. Personnel must come from the small business awardee or a sub-awardee.
  • Discovery Summary. Briefly summarize your Phase I customer segmentation and value propositions, along with the evidence you established that you felt best supported your commercialization plan.
  • Commitment statement.  In your commitment statement, please state that participants agree to attend all of the scheduled workshops (in-person and virtual) and final presentations (in-person), commit to complete the scheduled assignments, and state why the Phase Shift II program will improve your business scaling efforts. The statement should be 500 words or fewer.

Program Outcomes: Strengthen the Phase II Commercialization Plan

  • Validate initial market applications and customer needs / expectations
  • Identify competitive advantages
  • Expose channels to access your customers
  • Identify how you will make money (i.e. direct sales, services, licensing)
  • Assess alternative approaches to improve viability of your business model
  • Increase your chances for funding
“The methods of the lean startup were really enlightening and an excellent tool for examining and developing our business. The instructors were fantastic, they knew the subject matter very well and were very clear in their communications and very approachable in their methods. Can't say enough good about them.”
“This program gave me confidence to take the leap into relentless cold calling and customer discovery. The outcome was insightful dialogue and proving/disproving our value proposition while learning what is truly important to the customer and what it will take to make a sale.” 

Program Commitment

Selected applicants will participate in an engaging 2-month training program, facilitated by world-class coaches in innovation management. The program includes a series of interactive workshops and webinars focusing on learning and applying the process of customer development. During the program, participants will be asked to conduct a minimum of 30 customer discovery interviews and will interact among each other and the instructors to share lessons learned. The program will end with final pitch presentations by participant teams to an audience of instructors and DOE program managers.

Full engagement from the participating companies includes:

  • In-Person Kick Off & Closing Workshop
  • 4 Virtual Workshops
  • Planning and conducting a minimum of 30 customer discovery interviews
  • 1:1 coaching sessions, with your assigned coach

FY 2024 Phase I Release 1 Program Schedule:

APRIL 29-May 01 : In Person Workshop 1 & 2 | Dallas, TX
MAY 06-10 :
[30 mins each]: Virtual Instructor 1:1
MAY 17 : Virtual Workshop 3
MAY 24 : Virtual Workshop 4
MAY 28-31 :
[30 mins each]: Virtual Instructor 1:1
JUNE 07 : Virtual Workshop 5
JUNE 14 : Virtual Workshop 6
JUNE 17-21 :
[30 mins each]: Virtual Instructor 1:1
JUNE 24 : In Person Workshop 7 |
Bethesda, MD

*In Person Workshops will be full day commitments running approximately 8am - 5pm (in location’s time zone). All Online Workshops will be held from 1pm - 4pm ET / 10am - 1pm PT.

Selected participants are expected to remain open to the process:

  • Open to customer (stakeholder) feedback
  • Open to practice intellectual honesty
  • Open to new uses of your technology – “Pivot”
  • Open to alternative commercialization pathways

Selection Criteria

This cohort will have limited capacity. Participants will be selected based on their commitment statement. In addition, selection officials will aim at obtaining a fair distribution of participants across the funding DOE program offices.

Because sessions are costly and highly sought, we urge awardees to apply only if they can commit the necessary time and effort. Dropping off after the beginning of the program leaves resources unused and prevents others from taking advantage of this opportunity.

Expense Reimbursement

Please note that time spent by the participants for the Energy I-Corps training cannot be directly billed to an SBIR/STTR award because these are not research and development expenses.

Teams will have access to $5,000 to cover travel expenses associated with the program. Travel for teams will be reimbursed for up to two personnel for Workshop #1 & #2, as well as Workshop #7, with a priority on the founding or leadership team to help support building a culture of innovation within your business.

In addition, accepted teams can use the balance of the $5,000 travel allotment as customer discovery funds throughout the program. Discovery plans will be reviewed on a team-by-team basis with an assigned coach based on the team’s focus during the cohort.

References from your peers, and what they’re saying about the program

“Even though I had 15 years of prior (corporate experience spent with marketing / business teams), the I-Corps training helped integrate all the scattered pieces previously learned, blended with the ones I needed but had not learned, all essential for giving commercialization a great shot. I would only say, for startup leaders, this class is a must, make or break. Don’t do a start-up without it!”
“I'd highly encourage SBIR teams to apply if they can commit to the I-Corp schedule and deliverables. Going through the customer discovery process proved invaluable to accelerate our understanding of the potential non-DOE market.”
“It does not matter whether what you build is cool – it matters whether there are sufficient numbers of customers who will pay enough for your product so that you can make sufficient money.”
“When I started the program, I saw a confused mass of possible markets for our technology and a simplistic idea of what the customer needs were and I felt discouraged. By the time we finished, we had built a complex network of information from which a simple - and implementable - business plan emerged... about who we are, who our partners are, and how we were going to reach them, in what order and how we'll stay in business in the meantime. I feel optimistic about our future!”
“I have run a successful 20-person business for 34 years and learned more in six weeks about venturing into a new space than I could ever have imagined.”
“The single best thing you can do for commercialization. My approach to commercialization has completely changed (and for the better).”