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For more information, contact Joy Toliver, M.P.H., NIA, or Joshua Hooks, Ph.D., NIA, via

Frequently Asked Questions About the Start-Up Challenge

Who is eligible to submit an idea?

You may submit an idea as an individual, team (a group of individuals), and an entity (a legally established organization).

In the case of an individual, whether participating singly of in a group, you must be a United States citizen or U.S. permanent resident. In the case of an entity, the entity must be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of residence in the U.S. Non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents can participate as a member of a team that otherwise satisfies the eligibility criteria but are not eligible to win a monetary prize.

Principal investigators of active NIH SBIR or STTR awards and federal or Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees are not eligible to participate.

Review the full eligibility requirements and rules.

How can I submit a competitive idea?

To be competitive, eligible submitter(s) must demonstrate in their submission materials:

  • A strong need for the Challenge prize and resources to accelerate the team and innovation.
  • An innovative idea for a science-driven technology or product with high commercial potential that aligns with NIA’s research priorities. NIA has a special interest in proposals for tools, technologies, and products aimed to improve the health and quality of life older adults in minority and underserved populations
  • A strong impact of the submitter(s) participation on diversifying aging research and development.

NIA strongly encourages submissions from researchers and entrepreneurs who belong to groups underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical sciences (as defined in NOT-OD-20-031) and in life sciences entrepreneurship.

Will my submission be considered if I have previously received SBIR/STTR funding or other NIH funding?

Yes, you are eligible unless you are the principal investigator on an NIH SBIR/STTR award that is active at the time of the Challenge submission deadline (April 20, 2023).

What is NIA looking for in terms of diversity?

NIA encourages submissions that can increase the diversity of the NIA-funded small business research and development portfolio in at least two of the following ways:

  • Technology and products that meet the needs of older adults from minority or underserved populations in alignment with the NIA Health Disparities Objectives and incorporating the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework.
  • Individuals/teams from underrepresented backgrounds that will bring diverse perspectives to aging-related research and development. Diversity includes, but is not limited to, racial/ethnic diversity and/or diverse experiences.
  • Technology or products that address a gap in NIA’s small business research and development portfolio.

How is “demonstrated need” defined?

“Demonstrated need” is defined as the essential support submitter(s) require to launch a company and/or accelerate their technology. This could be access to funding, mentorship, entrepreneurial development workshops, equipment and facilities, collaborators, business expertise, or other resources.

What research priorities is NIA interested in funding?

The NIA Small Business Programs strategically fund science-driven innovations that promote healthy aging; address aging-related diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias; and meet unique needs of older adults, their caregivers, providers, and communities. Please review NIA’s small business research priorities.

For this Challenge, there is special interest in tools, technologies, and products that address health disparities in the older adult population in alignment with the NIA Health Disparities Objectives and incorporating the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework.

Can I apply to the NIH Applicant Assistance Program (AAP) and the Challenge at the same time?

Yes, you can apply to both programs, though each program targets a different need. The goal of the Challenge is to stimulate innovation and foster diversity in aging research and development and help participants overcome barriers to participating in life sciences entrepreneurship. NIA aims to do that by providing mentorship, industry exposure, and in-depth learning and skill-building opportunities to enhance understanding of the life sciences entrepreneurial pathway and how to develop a competitive proposal. Participants will also compete for a cash prize. Typically, Challenge participants are not quite ready to submit a competitive NIH SBIR/STTR application.

If you are ready to submit a NIH Phase I SBIR or STTR application for an upcoming submission deadline, AAP may be a good fit for you. This 10-week coaching program is designed to assist small businesses in preparing an NIH Phase I SBIR or STTR application package. AAP is offered once per funding period, roughly 3 months before standard due dates. The application portal for the next application cycle opens on April 25, 2023. If you are interested in AAP and have questions, reach out to Joshua Hooks, PhD at

What are the key dates for the Challenge? How much time is required if selected?

Review the Important Dates section for more details about key dates. Selected finalists will participate in a 5-month virtual accelerator program which requires a 4-6-hour time commitment per week from July 2023 through December 2023. Participants will also attend a 4-6-day in-person event in Las Vegas. Travel expenses for approved attendees will be paid by NIA.

How many participants will be selected for the Challenge?

NIA anticipates up to 20 submissions will be selected to participate in the Challenge as finalists.

If my company/organization is selected to participate, how many of my team members can join the Challenge?

All team members may participate in the virtual activities and mentoring sessions. NIA will cover the travel expenses of at least one team member to participate in the in-person event in Las Vegas tentatively scheduled for October 6-11, 2023.

What costs are covered to participate in the Challenge?

There is no cost for participating in the accelerator program. NIA will arrange and pay for domestic travel costs for at least one team member to attend the in-person event in Las Vegas tentatively scheduled for October 6-11, 2023.

What is the difference between this program and I-Corps™ at NIH?

I-Corps at NIH is an 8-week program for current NIH SBIR/STTR Phase I awardees. The program has a strong focus on customer discovery. NIA’s Challenge is designed for companies that are not yet SBIR/STTR awardees but have a strong interest in applying for SBIR/STTR funding from NIA. The Challenge is an in-depth, 5-month program that provides 1:1 mentorship, entrepreneurial training, networking opportunities, and industry exposure. Although the Challenge will involve some customer discovery, those activities will not be a primary focus. In the end, the Challenge may provide a foundation for further development through I-Corps after a successful award. Additionally, Challenge participants will deliver a final pitch to compete for one of six $60,000 cash prizes.

Are multiple submissions allowed?

Yes, multiple submissions from each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) or entity are permitted. Each solution must be sufficiently novel and unique and not be a minor modification of a prior submission.

What are the benefits of the Challenge? Will I have a mentor if I participate?

The Challenge will provide resources including entrepreneurial coaching and workshops, mentorship, grant application skill-building, peer-to-peer networking, and access to key industry networks. NIA identified each of these as areas of need to foster success in a diverse research entrepreneur community. Participants will have access to mentors with specific expertise to impart. Review the mentors from the 2022 Challenge here. Additionally, Challenge finalists will compete for one of six $60,000 cash prizes.

If my company/organization is selected to participate, do we receive any special consideration for the NIA SBIR/STTR program application process?

The resources provided through the Challenge can help participants launch or grow their start-up and execute early-stage activities that are critical to a successful NIA SBIR/STTR research proposal. These activities could include developing or improving a prototype, generating preliminary data, and/or building an experienced team. Although NIA hopes the Challenge will encourage more diversity in the NIA SBIR/STTR applicant pool — and that the cash and non-cash prizes will further the development of a successful SBIR/STTR grant application — Challenge participation or selection as a winner does not guarantee that NIA or any other NIH component will award grant funding to support the research proposal. All grant applications, including those that are developed as a result of this Challenge, are still subject to competition, peer review, and all other grant application and award requirements.

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