Morgantown business Apis Creative wins $260K NIH grant

Submitted to The Dominion Post

Apis Creative, a small, woman-owned creative services agency in Morgantown, was recently awarded a $259,610 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The funding will be used to develop a digital platform for training research universities and communities to establish and operate youth-development programs in health sciences and medical professions based on West Virginia’s highly successful Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA).

Bethany Hornbeck, Apis Creative’s president and CEO, said, “Shortages in health professions across the board demand our immediate attention, and this grant will help create HSTA-modeled programs that will train and prepare our next generation of physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and others. We have been working on this workforce diversity initiative for almost nine years and, with NIGMS support, our team is prepared to meet and exceed our project goals.”

Hornbeck, a WVU graduate, said the NIGMS SBIR Phase II grants that lie ahead may offer more funding and opportunity for this initiative.

In 2020, Apis Creative entered into a commercialization agreement with WVU to make HSTA-based programs available to young people across the nation. Through its HSTA Hatch initiative, Apis has assisted The University of Alabama (UA) in founding NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award-funded HSTA-Alabama (HSTA-AL), the first full replication of the HSTA program in the nation. Apis has also provided services to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Pathways Academy to evaluate outcomes of its RAMP-UP program for high school students.

“The Apis Creative team jump-started the HSTA-AL initiative by providing online and in-person resources from a nearly 30-year-old successful youth development program,” said Dr. Robin Bartlett, HSTA-AL director, and Associate Dean of Research for the UA Capstone College of Nursing. “It would take us many years to bring this type of program to fruition, but we have done it in less than three. Through our continued partnership with Apis’s HSTA Hatch team, we will be able to make a meaningful difference in recruiting, retaining and graduating diverse nursing and other biomedical professionals in the very near future.”

Now Apis has won federal SBIR funding from NIH/NIGMS to further expand its reach. Led by Hornbeck and her team, the HSTA Joint Governing Board, WVU, and other partners will develop an online training and evaluation platform universities and communities can use to found additional new HSTA programs outside the Mountain State. The platform will reduce capital costs and create a hub for HSTA organizations across the nation to share their knowledge and experience and strengthen their programs over time.

It is anticipated that the training and assessment products resulting from this effort will significantly reduce the time required to establish and refine local programs that realize successes in recruiting and retaining biomedical researchers, healthcare providers, and other STEM professionals comparable to those achieved by WV HSTA.