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To increase participation of entrepreneurs in its technology portfolio, SMD will award, through a two-round process, up to $90,000 in prize funding to participants who can successfully contribute ideas that advance the state-of-the-art in three, broadly-defined science technology focus areas. Additionally, participants will be exposed to educational opportunities provided by the Agency’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program.

The 2021 Entrepreneurs Challenge technology focus areas are:


SmallSat science technologies
NASA is developing SmallSats to enable transformative science such as detecting and characterizing exo-Earths in their stars’ habitable zones, monitoring gamma ray bursts, and making in situ measurements of solar wind plasma and magnetic field turbulence.

Science-enabling SmallSat technologies include:

  • Sensors incorporating high speed, sensitivity, and precision; high SNR; and huge dynamic range

  • Higher multiplexing fast electronics and readouts

  • Capability to recognize science phenomena of interest and act accordingly -- which may require the coordinated efforts of other SmallSats

The challenge of evolving these technologies from the lab setup to flight-ready and radiation-hardened systems should not be underestimated. 


Metamaterials-based sensors
Metamaterial technologies could enable spaceborne sensors with improved spatial, spectral, and temporal capabilities and dramatically reduced size, weight, power, and cost.  Not only could these more capable sensors revolutionize science measurements, their reduced size and cost would allow NASA to employ them on a variety of missions and platforms (e.g., SmallSats, balloons, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, constellations of small spacecraft, etc.), further expanding the types of measurements that could be collected and the science that could be achieved. 


Biomarker detection
NASA may employ instruments similar to those used on Earth to detect biomarkers and/or to determine evidence of habitability on ocean worlds. However, the concentration of organic material on distant moons may be very low, and so innovative sample handling and processing techniques are needed to perform sample analysis. Maintaining positive and negative controls, ensuring that samples are not destroyed or contaminated, and reading highly dilute and/or small cell samples (0.2 µm or larger in their longest dimension) are some of the incredible challenges NASA faces in this area.

The prize competition will be conducted in two rounds:

Round One:​​​

  • Participants will submit white papers that broadly describe the capability being offered in a topic area, the capability's relevance to a specific technology area and science question, whether the idea represents an existing product or a concept to be matured over time, a brief description of the technology, and the company’s overarching business model. A statement regarding the concept's commercial potential is required.

  • White papers are not to exceed 5 pages in length, and must be submitted in PDF format following the challenge guidelines by August 6th, 2021.

  • Judges will review the white papers using the evaluation criteria posted to this website. After review, up to 20 of the top scoring participants will advance to Round Two of the competition and receive $10,000 each in prize funding.

Round Two:​​​

  • Participants will submit a second white paper no later than September 27th that describes their concept in more detail. Evaluation criteria for Round Two will be made publicly available prior to the start of Round Two.

  • Participants will also present information about their companies and concepts at the Entrepreneurs Challenge Live Pitch Event on November 3-4th.

  • Corporate representatives and venture capitalists who may have an interest in the topic areas will be invited to the Live Pitch Event.

  • A panel of judges will evaluate the white papers and oral presentations and select up to 10 top scoring participants as the Round Two winners.

  • Round Two winners will receive an additional $80,000 in prize money and are expected to develop their technologies and flesh out their concepts into more detailed proposals, applicable to future NASA programs and opportunities. Round Two winners may choose to propose to future SBIR solicitations. Winners may also choose to submit a proposal to one of SMD's technology programs. 

  • Participants in Round Two will be invited to virtually attend and present at the Innovation and Opportunity Conference (IOC) in October 2021. The IOC event is open to the public and provides information about NASA support services, including local technology development entrepreneurial support organizations, SBIR road tours, the iCorp program, and others. 

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