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HeadHealthTECH Challenges


The National Football League (NFL) and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) have partnered with Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI) to create the HeadHealthTECH Challenges, a series of innovation and crowdsourcing initiatives intended to deepen understanding of and advance solutions in the areas of injury prevention, head protection, materials science, head kinematics, among others. The TECH Challenges are structured to stimulate research and innovation, as well as encourage connections with mentors and/or venture capitalists, with a goal of spurring translational developments in engineering, biomechanics, advanced sensors and material science.


As part of its Play Smart. Play Safe. initiative announced in September 2016, the NFL pledged $60 million toward the creation and funding of a five-year plan called the Engineering Roadmap that will be managed by FRI, a nonprofit corporation formed and financially supported by the NFL. The Engineering Roadmap is a dedicated and comprehensive plan to create incentives for sporting goods companies, manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others from around the world to develop new and improved helmets and protective equipment over the next three to five years. 

Click here for an associated startup pitch competition to help improve athlete safety and performance.  Awards include $50,000 USD, (2) tickets to Super Bowl LII and more.  Proposal submission will be open through January 11, 2018.

Click here for an associated opportunity to help advance translational research in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions and related comorbid conditions. Proposal submission will be open through October 31, 2017.

About the Challenge

Up to three HeadHealthTECH Challenges (each, a TECH Challenge) will be offered annually, dedicating funds to those with the most promising ideas. A panel of expert judges selected by Duke CTSI, in collaboration with FRI, will evaluate all proposals. Funding will be awarded by FRI. Duke CTSI will work closely with funding recipients to develop and mature their ideas. All individuals or institutions submitting proposals will retain ownership over their ideas at all times.

TECH Challenge IV, which is open from October 20, 2017 through January 10, 2018, invites proposals focused on helmet technologies and all surfaces that helmets may contact, including turf, grass, other helmets, opponent shoulder pads and other padding. Support for the most promising opportunities will be provided by FRI. The TECH Challenges are renewable annually for up to the next four years.

Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI) and Football Research, Inc. invite proposals for protective equipment and technology that can lead to significant gains in head protection. Specific focus areas for HeadHealthTECH Challenge III include:

  • Helmet technologies
  • Surfaces that helmets may contact, including turf, grass, other helmets, opponent shoulder pads and other padding, etc. 


The HeadHealthTECH Challenges are an annually renewable grant program that will offer up to three challenges a year for up to the next four years. For each year that the program is renewed, an aggregate amount of up to $1 million in direct funding awards will be provided by FRI (or such higher amount as agreed to in FRI’s sole discretion). In addition to, or, in some cases, in lieu of, providing direct funding awards, interesting projects may receive in-kind support including expert biomechanical engineering consultation, completion of experimental studies, benchmarking against existing technology, creation of novel data to demonstrate utility, and access to on-field resources. All funding awards are a one-time offer and there is no offer of licensure, royalty or other financial compensation implied beyond the initial amount funded. Funded projects can and will be encouraged to apply for additional challenges if more than more year of funding is required. 



Success Criteria

Duke CTSI and the Oversight Committee established jointly by Duke CTSI and FRI will assess the proposals using the following assessment criteria:

General Criteria

  • Proposals must include a scope of work that is one year or less. Proposals will be funded for one year and are available for re-application during each year of the HeadHealthTECH Challenges
  • Submitting party must demonstrate the technical feasibility of quarterly milestones that will be achieved during the funding period
  • Proposal must include specific plans or proposals relating to follow-on funding
  • Proposal must lay out a clear financing, licensing or go-to-market plan or proposal or otherwise describe how the funding will be used
  • Proposal must include a description of resources of environment to achieve milestones
  • Proposal must include the relevant background of the team /organization/lab submitting the response
Challenge Moderator
Meet the General Electric Company Sponsors
  • PMP, CSM, Program Officer
  • General Electric Company
  • MD, PhD, MBA, Director of Innovation, Duke CTSI; Coulter Program Director and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University and a consultant to the NFLPA
  • General Electric Company
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Each year, the National Football League (NFL) and its affiliates and other partners receive proposals from institutions, individuals, and corporations interested in promoting safety. These proposals typically range from concepts to enabled ideas to reduced-to-practice technologies to commercially ready products for use by athletes. To appropriately evaluate these ideas, promote academic and industrial safety research, and catalyze product-focused injury prevention and treatment in football, Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI) has been engaged for the purposes of accepting, evaluating, accelerating and potentially assisting in the development of these promising opportunities. The program’s goal will be to provide critically needed “value recognition” of promising proposals by providing monetary investment as well as practical feedback and guidance to support these proposals thereby increasing their likelihood of success while shortening the development time before these products positively affect the game. Support to such promising opportunities will be provided by FRI, a nonprofit corporation that receives its financial support from the NFL.


To continuously stimulate development in academia and the marketplace, FRI has developed an annually renewable grant program that will offer up to three challenges a year for up to the four years. 



See Official Rules for details. TECH Challenge IV opens October 20, 2017.  Applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. (ET) January 10, 2018. Proposals will be accepted from both public and private organizations.  All proposals must be able to articulate a path by which they will successfully impact football player health and safety.