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UAMS gets White House visit as select winner of national grant competition to assist minority owned firms


UAMS gets White House visit as select winner of national grant competition to assist minority owned firms


University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences officials visited the White House in August after learning that the university’s BioVentures LLC was among a select group of organizations across the nation to win a highly competitive grant competition to support socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs and small businesses.

 In August, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that UAMS was among the winners of the $125 million American Rescue Plan-funded competition sponsored by the federal Minority Business Development Agency. Under the program, UAMS secured a nearly $3 million grant from the MBDA’s to support entrepreneurs from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are looking to develop health technology and health care businesses in Arkansas. 

According to MBDA, the U.S. Department of Commerce agency, BioVentures and 42 other recipients were selected from more than 1,000 applicants for four-year grants through the Capital Readiness Program, a $125 million technical assistance program to help underserved entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses.

 The 43 winning organizations – a mix of non-profit and community-based organizations, private sector entities, and institutions of higher education located across the country – are forming partnerships to assist and train underserved entrepreneurs seeking resources, tools, and support to start or scale their businesses in high-growth, high-wage industries such as healthcare, climate resilient technology, asset management, infrastructure, and more.

 “President Biden and I firmly believe that for America’s economy to be strong, America’s small businesses must be strong,” said Harris. “President Biden and I are fighting to ensure that every entrepreneur in America — no matter who they are or where they live — can access the UAMS, the sole Arkansas applicant to receive an award, is providing $750,000 in matching funds, bringing the total funding to $3.75 million. Grant recipients from across the U.S., including BioVentures President Dr. Kevin Sexton were invited to the White House on Aug. 4 to celebrate the new federal program with a roundtable discussion and ceremony that included remarks from Vice President Harris.

 Sexton will lead the groundbreaking initiative called the Arkansas Collaborative for Technological and Innovative Venture Equality (ACTIVE), a statewide, early-stage technical assistance/incubator focused on socially and economically disadvantaged business owners seeking to develop health technology and healthcare businesses in Arkansas. “The Capital Readiness Program grant is a game changer for BioVentures and ACTIVE,” said Sexton, who also holds leadership posts with the UAMS Translational Research Institute and the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. “This initiative could double the number of health technology companies in Arkansas, and those new additions would be from socially and economically disadvantaged businesses.” 

Socially and economically disadvantaged individuals are those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities. This group also includes individuals who are at a disadvantage due to gender, veteran status, disability, residence in a rural area, membership in an underserved community and others. The ACTIVE program aims to provide these entrepreneurs with better access to resources and opportunities. The program will connect them with mentors, coaches and experts offering technical help, funding advice and networking opportunities. 

BioVentures is the state’s only medical university tech transfer office that is also a limited liability corporation and offers both early-stage funding and a full suite of educational programming. BioVentures involves entrepreneurial faculty to assist other faculty, applies for federal grants, serves as an equity partner in startup companies, and facilitates entrepreneurship tasks from ideation to market. 

Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for Research and Innovation, noted that small businesses make up a significant portion of the state’s economy, but they often face funding and support challenges. The grant is vital, she said, especially for rural businesses, and BioVentures is in a strong position to achieve the grant’s goals, she said. capital to start or grow a business, create jobs, and thrive.” 

“BioVentures has unique expertise and a track record of supporting startups and fostering innovation,” Ho said. “By working with our many partners on the grant, we have a great opportunity to accelerate health tech innovation and drive economic growth across Arkansas communities.” 

A network of Arkansas-based partnerships of higher education and institutions that can provide technical and financial assistance will fuel the ACTIVE pipeline for socially and economically disadvantaged business owners. 

With the grant, ACTIVE will serve disadvantaged businesses in health technology and health care. Health technology may include an array of emerging technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, health care tracking apps, information technology systems, software as a service, digital health and telemedicine, medical imaging, gamification, wearable devices, smart devices, and many other emerging ideas. The health care focus is on businesses that deliver organized medical care to individuals or the community and have the potential to utilize health technology to improve care delivery. 

“This initiative represents a significant step towards equality and inclusion,” said Sexton, also an associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Surgery. “This isn’t merely a financial boost; it’s a clarion call for innovation and inclusivity in Arkansas’ health tech domain. With the Capital Readiness Program’s trust, BioVentures and ACTIVE are embarking on an adventure where the talents of our socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs will be the cornerstone of the next generation of health care solutions in the state.”

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