The NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme i4i Connect awards are aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in need of a funding boost to reach their next stage in developing their medical technology.
General questions and Stage 1 – Expression of Interest (EoI)
Do I need confirmation that my project is in scope before being allowed to submit an application?
No, you do not need to have confirmation from the i4i team about the scope of your project before applying. However, if you are unsure about the eligibility of your innovation or project, we encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use the Research Management System to submit your i4i Connect application.
Who we fund
Are non-UK partners eligible for i4i Connect?
Collaborators based abroad are allowed, however they must be justified and demonstrate clear patient benefit to the NHS or broader UK-wide Health System.
Can SMEs with a non-UK parent company apply for i4i Connect?
Yes, but the lead applicant must be a UK-based SME which is registered on Companies House prior to submitting an application.
Can we use overseas-based subcontractors or consultants?
Overseas subcontractors and consultants may be used but justifications for their use rather than a subcontractor in the UK must be provided.
Is it necessary to include a collaborating partner for i4i Connect?
There is no requirement to have a formal collaborator for an i4i Connect project although it is allowed. It is recommended that applicants consider involving partners important to the development of the technology. Partners do not need to sign up to the RMS at Stage 1 EoI, but will do at Stage 2. Applicants seeking post-award i4i PDA funding will be expected to include at least one collaborator in their application.
How do you determine who should be a co-applicant?
Co-applicants are your collaborators. A collaborator is someone who will contribute to the generation of IP and who will share the responsibility to deliver the project. Conversely, subcontractors should not be co-applicants. Subcontractors are hired to perform a specific task within the project and often will charge a fee for service; they are not responsible for the delivery of the project.
Is it advantageous to have an NHS partner for i4i Connect?
One of the assessment criteria for i4i Connect is the strength of the project team. It is therefore advisable to include co-applicants, collaborators and subcontractors that will enable you to most effectively deliver your proposed project.
What we fund
Does i4i Connect support projects in the proof of concept phase?
To be eligible for i4i Connect, you will need a proof of concept (TRL3). As part of demonstrating proof of concept, applicants are expected to have already generated experimental data to support the case for further development and illustrate technical feasibility or have concluded a robust review of existing literature.
Connect does not fund proof of concept but will fund feasibility - what is the difference?
The proof of concept demonstrates the functionality of the desired technology and verifies that a certain concept or theory can be achieved in development. Feasibility is about demonstrating that it is probable that the planned project activities will work in the situation intended, so it is de-risking and may not be directly related to the device itself.
Is it acceptable to use the Connect award to fund the creation of the alpha prototype/end-user assessment trial?
Yes. Often proof of concept may be based on a pre-prototype, so building the alpha prototype and getting the end-user/human factors work done is fundable.
Can we use a Connect award to fund a safety and efficacy study for our digital mental health therapy app, which currently relies on anecdotal evidence without published trials?
If your technology can be either classified as a medical device or falls within Tier C of the NICE Evidence standards framework for digital health technologies, this type of product could be eligible for funding. As long as the existing evidence supports the feasibility of the technology concept, that would be sufficient proof of concept. Connect can be used to strengthen the proof of concept in this way, if appropriate.
What costs are eligible to be covered by the i4i Connect award?
The i4i Connect award will cover most costs associated with a project including direct and indirect costs but excluding animal studies and equipment costing in excess of £5,000. Please see the i4i programme finance guidance for further information.
Are there limits to how much funding can be requested for salaries or subcontractor costs?
There are no set limits on what percentage of the amount requested is dedicated to cover salary, subcontractors or other costs.
If a project includes AI, will you fund the development of the algorithm?
This is an eligible activity. You will need to provide a proof of concept that will support the feasibility of this approach.
If your project total cost is under the maximum budget of £150,000 are you still eligible to apply to i4i Connect?
i4i Connect supports projects of between 6-12 months duration and £50,000 - £150,000 project cost. We encourage applicants to consider all eligible activities required for a successful project outcome.
Can i4i Connect funds be used to pay for subcontractors (e.g. market research)?
Funds can be used for subcontractors and business activities listed in the i4i Connect supporting information, which includes market analysis.
Can the SME match-fund to add to the funded project elements/work packages?
Yes. There is no rule against this. However, you will need to clarify what activities are funded by the NIHR and what by the SME, as there can not be duplication of funding. At a later stage, you will also need to explain how the activities supported by the SME will impact the NIHR project directly, as this might need to be taken into account to assess the overall risk of the project, in monitoring meetings and when contracting.
Tips for preparing a strong application
Is it a requirement for the medical technology being developed to be adopted by and sold to the NHS?
The NIHR's mission is to improve the health and wealth of the nation, and applicants to i4i Connect are expected to have an NHS or social care adoption strategy. We understand that companies might additionally intend to commercialise their technology internationally.
Does our product need to have IP protection before submitting to i4i?
Protection of background IP will strengthen your application. It will be advantageous to describe how background and foreground IP will be managed and protected during your project, and its intended ownership. i4i Connect will fund activities associated with protection of newly created IP, freedom to operate, etc.
How crucial is it to get a patient’s voice in terms of the problem we are addressing in our application? How important is patient engagement?
Patient and public involvement is expected in all NIHR funded projects and is part of the NIHR i4i Connect assessment criteria. While it is not a requirement to have engaged patients and members of the public before applying for Connect, it is important that you show consideration by incorporating PPIE activity within your proposal. We believe they can add value to research plans and foster patient-centered innovations. Please note that user engagement is different from patient and public involvement. Please engage with your local Research Support Service who can advise on this.
Does evidence need to be cited and does citation count towards the word count? Can hyperlinks be included in the submission?
At stage 1 it is not possible to submit attachments alongside the Expression of Interest, so all citations will need to be embedded in the document and will be counted towards the word count. However, we still recommend adding key references to make your statements stronger. It is not possible to add hyperlinks to the Expression of Interest application.
Is it expected to upload a Gantt chart/visible project plan in the ‘Project plan and spending plan’ section? Are there any other appendices expected to be uploaded?
No attachments are allowed at the Expression of Interest stage, so you are not expected to attach a Gantt chart. You will need to provide a description of the project plan in the body of the Expression of Interest form. Attachments can be submitted with the Business Plan (stage 2).
How are SMEs paid during their i4i Connect project?
The company submits monthly invoices to the i4i Secretariat throughout the project, which are paid one month in arrears. This is standard for i4i awards where the SME is the Lead Applicant.
Privacy and data protection
Are i4i Connect applications treated as confidential?
All applications submitted to the i4i Scheme are confidential. The title and outcome of your application will be included in minutes on the NIHR website following the Committee meeting(s).
What are the rules about applying for both i4i Connect and other calls in future?
There is no limit to how many applications you can submit to i4i funding streams. Please note any application to a previous call and its outcome within the application form.
Can an SME submit more than one application for EoI?
Yes. However, you do need to consider your capacity to deliver if all are awarded.
If incorporating trials within an i4i Connect, what proof of ethical clearance is required at the application stage?
Applicants are encouraged to discuss ethical approval requirements with their Local Clinical Research Network and the Health Research Authority (HRA). All necessary approvals must be sought during the course of the project or before, and this should be stated and/or planned for within the application.
Questions specific to Stage 2 – Business Plan
The following section provides further information on the Connect Business Plan guidance for applicants (stage 2).
Is there any weighting between the seven assessment criteria listed?
The application is evaluated holistically based on all criteria listed, without any specific allocation of weight to individual criteria.
Who is included on the assessment committee?
Full details of the members of the NIHR i4i Connect assessment committee are available.
Are there any additional suggestions you could offer to enhance the chances of success?
We would advise you to ensure that all the assessment criteria are met, that there is clarity in your business plan and its structure, and that your video complements this in order to send a clear message about the project and its likely outcome. Please ensure that you indicate the 'broader commercial picture' of your company, the likely route to market and the strategy for NHS uptake.
How should the video pitch complement the business plan?
Applicants should treat this exercise like an “Investor Pitch”, where they would be expected to deliver both a live pitch and a written business plan. It is the SME’s choice how the two complement each other, but we would advise that the technology is clearly visualised or described in the video.
Is the video pitch expected to be of professional filming quality?
The video pitch is not expected to be of professional filming quality. Filming on a mobile camera is acceptable and you will not be assessed on the video quality, only on the content!
Does the requested Business Plan need to be the company’s or the project’s Business Plan?
The Business Plan should be focused on the project but should incorporate the overall company’s strategy and forward plans relevant to the technology in the project and its potential for commercialisation and/or adoption.
Should the Business Plan include a project plan, deliverables and project management arrangements and how should these be displayed?
These items should be included in the Business Plan clearly and concisely. Applicants can choose how to summarise these as they wish for maximum impact. The Business Plan is intended to be flexible to allow freedom of expression appropriate to your own company’s situation.
The finance template has a section for costs of dissemination - is there an expectation that a research paper will be produced as part of the project?
There is an expectation that results are published wherever possible. However, we appreciate that this might not always be possible due to IP restrictions. Dissemination activities could consist of numerous other things such as stakeholder engagement, workshops, publicity, conferences, etc. The NIHR expects any publication you produce to be open access. From the 1st of June 2022, all eligible awards contracts will have an Open Access Envelope allocated to them on top of the award value, which is ring-fenced for open access costs of peer reviewed research articles that arise directly from the research funded by the award in question. Further information can be found by reading the Open Access Funding Guidance. Applicants should no longer include open access costs as part of their stage 2 detailed budget Research Costs.
Where should subcontractors be included in the finance template?
Subcontractors should be listed in “other direct costs” on the finance template.