Is impact the driver for the NIHR i4i programme?

The Yorkshire & Humber Research Design Service  (RDS) hosted an NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme Event at the University of York on 1st November. It was an interesting day that really helped me better understand the i4i programme.

Karen Bloor, Research Theme Champion for Health and Wellbeing, University of York, opened the day, followed by Yvonne Birks, Deputy Director of RDS Yorkshire & Humber (Y&H) who gave an overview of the role of the RDS. Next up was Nicola Heron, who is well placed to talk about i4i as Programme Director for Devices for Dignity (D4D – an NIHR funded initiative that develops technology solutions to enable people with long term conditions to maintain or improve their dignity and independence). Nicola stressed the importance of getting in touch with your local DEC (Diagnostic Evidence Cooperative) and/or HTC (Healthcare Technology Cooperatives – not to be confused with mobile phones!) when developing a new healthcare technology. These products require collaboration between many partners to move from having an idea to making an impact and DECs and HTCs can support and facilitate this. It was during Nicola’s presentation that I really began to get a feeling for what the i4i funding programme are looking for. She summed it up well by emphasising the importance of the potential for any med-tech supported by an i4i grant to have impact and that they are looking for “compelling problems worth solving”.

Martin Hunt, Programme Director for i4i, kicked off the afternoon with an overview of the programme. Martin gave a great insight into where the focus of the programme lies. By now I was very much getting the impression that i4i will support projects that will have real impact in terms of benefit to patients. He explained that a minimum of 2 organisations are required to be involved in an application and there was a clear steer towards the inclusion of a commercial partner. The programme will support Small and Medium Enterprises applicants from the NHS and Higher Education Institutions. The main message that came through was that it is key that projects should demonstrate the potential for translation, adoption by the NHS and future impact.

The practicalities of applying to the i4i programme were covered by Lee Allen. There are two strands: Product Development Awards (call opened on 2nd November with a deadline of 14th December) and Challenge Awards (launching in December with a theme of mental health)


Some really interesting examples of projects that have been supported by i4i were presented at the event, which illustrated the breadth of the programme. Avril McCarthy presented her project that developed a device to predict preterm birth, Heath Reed described the development of a neck support for patients with motor neurone disease, and Heather Elphick talked us through her work in the sleep service team developing a paediatric face mask for non-invasive ventilation for children with sleep apnoea.

Jane Fearnside, the i4i lead for RDS Y&H gave us tips for submitting a successful application (and impact was mentioned again!) and then it was a Q&A session with all the presenters. During this session, and throughout the whole day, there was a lot of discussion of IP (Intellectual Property).The advice was very much to get your TTO (Technology Transfer Office) involved and take their advice to make sure any intellectual property is protected.

I came away from the day then with a sense that the i4i programme values invention and innovation but that the real driver is impact. It was my impression that the importance of demonstrating the potential for impact of any application cannot be overstated. So although the “i”s in i4i stand for “invention” and “innovation” I think they could equally stand for “impact” (or possibly “IP”!)

This is a guest blog post by Louise Hayes, Health Research Methodologist Research Design Service North East




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