How Startups Can Benefit From the R&D Tax Credit

R&D Tax Credit

small business

Deborah Roth, CPA
July 31, 2023


The research and development tax credit has seen significant expansion over the years, opening up opportunities for numerous businesses to claim its benefits. If you're wondering whether your activities make you eligible for the R&D tax credit, here will shed light on the qualifying research activities.

the diverse range of activities that may fall under the R&D tax credit include:

  • Implementing equipment to enhance processes
  • Conducting environmental testing
  • Testing new concepts and technologies
  • Pursuing research for more efficient designs
  • Reducing product time-to-market through research
  • Analyzing system and functional requirements
  • Designing for LEED/green initiatives
  • Exploring product alternatives
  • Developing new software
  • Creating improved products, processes, or formulas
  • Patent development and application
  • Building prototypes and models
  • Refining research methods, formulations, and products
  • HVAC concept and design
  • Outsourcing activities to external consultants or contractors
  • Applying new research findings effectively
  • Optimizing manufacturing processes
  • Utilizing integration analysis

In the realm of scientific innovation, traditional research and development (R&D) work is a well-established practice, particularly evident in pharmaceutical product development. However, it's crucial to recognize that various industries also engage in R&D activities, making them eligible for valuable tax credits. Let's explore the scope of these industries and the potential benefits they can harness.

Industries Embarking on R&D Tax Credit Opportunities

  • Aerospace
  • Apparel
  • Chemical
  • Consumer Products
  • Cosmetics
  • Engineering
  • Food & Beverage
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical Devices
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Software Development
  • Telecommunications

Startups and small businesses often find themselves at the forefront of innovation, and the R&D Tax Credit presents an incredible opportunity to foster growth. Qualified companies may be eligible for up to $1.25 million or $250,000 per year for five years in federal tax credits. These credits can be used to offset the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) portion of their annual payroll taxes.

To be eligible for this enticing tax incentive, a company must meet the following criteria:

  • Have less than $5 million in gross receipts for the credit year.
  • Demonstrate no more than five years of gross receipts.

The Research and Development (R&D) tax credit program presents an incredible opportunity for taxpayers to claim money they've rightfully earned. Despite its benefits, many startups and businesses miss out on this opportunity due to several misconceptions. Let's address these myths and uncover the true potential of the R&D tax credit:


Some entrepreneurs believe that the R&D tax credit program is too good to be true and, as a result, overly complicated. However, the process is more straightforward than it seems. Seeking expert guidance from tax professionals can simplify the application and ensure you maximize the benefits.


One common misunderstanding is that companies need to show significant income or pay income taxes to qualify for the credit. The truth is that qualifying smaller companies and startups with no revenue can still benefit from the R&D tax credit. They can claim up to $250,000 every year as a payroll tax offset, provided they meet certain criteria.


While some think that only businesses with employees can claim credit, it's not entirely true. Although payroll expenses often contribute significantly to the credit calculation, other eligible costs like supply expenses and contractor payments count as well. Even without actual employees, you can carry the credit forward for up to 20 years if you claim it as a payroll tax offset.


One of the greatest misconceptions is that businesses must conduct extensive research to qualify for the R&D tax credit. In reality, the credit is not just for pure research. It applies to companies that design, develop, or improve products, processes, techniques, formulas, or software. Innovation and improvement efforts within the company can also qualify for credit.


Another myth is that R&D must be groundbreaking and entirely new to the industry. In reality, the R&D activities need to be new to your specific company, not necessarily groundbreaking for the entire industry. As long as your activities meet the four-part IRS criteria, you can qualify for the R&D tax credit.

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