The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave out three-quarters of a billion dollars this year as part of a long-running federal research program to encourage innovation among small businesses. But for African-American scientists, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program may as well not exist. A new study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine documents their near-invisibility in the NIH program, which each year gives out hundreds of awards to help small businesses translate biomedical discoveries into products. In a survey of principal investigators (PIs) who received a late-stage SBIR award from NIH between 2001 and 2010, just two of the 604 respondents were African-American. Hispanics did only slightly better, accounting for just 2.0% of these phase II awards, and there was one Native American PI. "Levels of participation by underserved groups are low and declining," the new report concludes.
Talitha Hampton, a program manager for AstraZeneca in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and president of the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, is looking even farther upstream to elementary schools. She said a recent hands-on science workshop for minority students in Maryland, called The Crayon CEO, helped install more positive attitudes toward entre preneurship. “That’s where it has to start.”
Exerpt from Science 20 Nov 2015: Vol. 350, Issue 6263, pp. 896 DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6263.896
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