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About the Challenge and Accelerator

Individuals from diverse backgrounds can provide unique and valuable contributions in the research and development of life science innovations that prevent disease, prolong life, and promote health. However, certain groups, such as women and individuals from racial/ethnic minoritized groups, remain underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical sciences and in life science entrepreneurship. Women represent just 12% of U.S. innovators and make up an even smaller proportion in STEM programs or among those working as scientists and engineers. An external analysis conducted in 2022 of NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants found persistently low levels of program participation from underrepresented groups. The analysis of NIH SBIR and STTR grants from 2001 to 2019 found that per fiscal year, an average of just 3.1% of grants were awarded to small businesses with an African American, Hispanic, or Latino principal investigator. Unique barriers identified as contributing to the systemic exclusion of underrepresented groups in life science entrepreneurship include a lack of access to funding, entrepreneurial training, mentorship, and connections within key industry networks.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP) has a strong commitment to fostering diversity in aging research-inspired entrepreneurship and in encouraging participation of underrepresented groups (as defined in NOT-OD-20-031) in the NIA SBIR/STTR programs. To support this commitment, NIA OSEP hosts the NIA Start-Up Challenge and Accelerator, in partnership with the NIA Office of Special Populations(OSP). The goal of this Challenge is to stimulate innovation and foster diversity in aging research and development by providing cash prizes and non-cash prizes, such as strategic resources provided through an accelerator program, that will help participants overcome barriers to participating in life science entrepreneurship. The Challenge also aims to enhance equity in the NIA SBIR/STTR programs as a means of furthering the congressional goal of the SBIR/STTR programs to foster and encourage participation by socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses, and by women-owned small businesses, in technological innovation.

This Challenge invites submissions from researchers and entrepreneurs with a demonstrated need for entrepreneurial training and resources, who have innovative ideas for science-driven technologies and products that have the potential to increase the diversity of NIA-funded small business research and development. Proposals may demonstrate a high impact on diversity by addressing a gap in NIA-funded small business research and development, by addressing a unique need of older adults from minority and/or medically underserved areas/populations (as defined by the Health Resources & Services Administration [HRSA]), or by being led by an individual or team of individuals who possess a background or unique life experience that can bring a diverse perspective to aging-related research and development. NIA strongly encourages submissions from researchers and entrepreneurs from groups underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical sciences and in life science entrepreneurship. NIA has a special interest in proposals for tools, technologies, and products aimed to improve the health and quality of life of older adults in minority and underserved populations, as outlined in the NIA Health Disparities Objectives. Submissions that are addressing health disparities should reference the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework to facilitate identifying and proposing tools, technologies, and products that reflect the life course perspective or theory, as well as relevant levels of analysis among the different domains described in the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework.

Important Dates

Next Challenge Launch: expected late 2024

Back to Challenge home

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