America’s Seed Fund provides innovation funding for startups and small businesses across technology areas and markets. To discuss U.S. federal funding opportunities and eligibility, contact us at

America’s Seed Fund is a startup innovation funding program of the U.S. National Science Foundation. Its purpose is to provide financial support to technology startups during the early stages of innovation.

America’s Seed Fund invests up to $2 million in seed funding and takes zero equity. Each year, the Fund awards $200+ million in research and development funding to approximately 400 startups across the United States. Awardees retain 100% control of their intellectual property.

Eligibility. To be eligible for funding, companies must be a small business (less than 500 employees and located in the United States. Most of the startups who have been awarded grants are comprised of five or less employees. At least 50% of the company’s equity must be owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Grants are awarded for the development of deep technologies that show promise but their success has yet to be validated. Grantees are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Impact. The technology has the potential to improve people’s lives worldwide or revolutionize a specific industry.
  • Technological Innovation. Projects that create new products or services or scalable solutions based on fundamental science or engineering are prioritized. Straightforward engineering or incremental improvements are generally not considered.
  • Scale. Applicants must demonstrate how the innovative product or service can be successfully brought to market as well as the ability for it to be a scaleable business. As such, the benefits the innovation can have on a large number of people and the go-to-market strategy must be apparent.
  • Market Pull. The product or service must be shown to meet an important, unmet need for customers.

Program Funding. Funding is awarded over a period of 36 months. Phase I takes place over the first six to twelve months. NSF has one Phase I solicitation: the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). SBIRs do not require that the startup partner with an eligible research institution. In an STTR proposal, the startup must perform a minimum of 40% of the research and a partner research institution must perform a minimum of 30% of the research.

During this period, grantees can receive up to $275,000 in non-dilutive funding for research and development to build a prototype or proof of concept. Grantees will receive guidance from NSF program directors who are experienced in business ventures. Grantees are then invited to apply for Phase II, which can be up to $1,000,000 over the course of twenty-four months. Additional supplements of up to $500,000 may also be granted during this period.

Grants can be used for intellectual property due diligence and protection, including freedom to operate, trade secret protection, patent protection, trademark protection, and copyright protection for eligible works.

Awardees by Technology Sector. America’s Seed Fund grants have been awarded to startups in multiple innovation sectors, including but not limited to the following:

Biomedical technologies

Energy technologies


Environmental technologies

Artificial intelligence

Medical Devices

Learning and cognition technologies


Pharmaceutical technologies

Digital health


Internet of things


Wireless technologies

Instrument and hardware systems

Cloud and high performance computing

Application Process. The Application process begins with the project pitch. Once submitted, Applicants will be informed in approximately one-month thereafter if their innovation meets the criteria for funding. Applicants who meet the initial criteria are then invited to submit a full proposal. After the full proposal is submitted, the Applicant will be informed approximately six months thereafter whether they have been approved for Phase 1 Funding. The Project Pitch includes the following:

  1. Description of Technology Innovation (up to 500 words). A brief discussion ion the origins of the innovation as well as an explanation of why it meets the funding criteria of supporting research and development of unproven, high-impact innovations.
  2. Technical Objectives and Challenges (up to 500 words). Describe the R&D or technical work to be done in a Phase I project. This should include how and why the proposed work will help prove that the product or service is technically feasible. Applicants should also explain how the R&D work could contribute to making the new product, service, or process commercially viable and impactful. The work must meet the definition of research and development, rather than straightforward engineering or incremental product development.
  3. The Market Opportunity. (up to 250 words).   Identify the customer profile and challenges that will be the near-term commercial focus related to the technical project.
  4. The Company and Team. (up to 250 words). Describe the background of key team members that will lead the technical and/or commercial efforts. The Principal Investigator (PI) of the project should also be identified, including their ability to meet all qualifications not addressed here.

Future articles will discuss additional USA federal innovation grant funds as well as state innovation grant funds and their criteria. Further information on America’s Seed Fund may be found here.