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Stepping Strong Innovator Awards
Stepping Strong Innovator Awards

What is the Stepping Strong Innovator Award?

The Stepping Strong Innovator Award is an endowed program that supports projects addressing well-defined clinical problems in areas including bone, wound, and skin healing; limb transplant and reconstruction; bone and muscle regeneration; advanced stem cell technology; orthopaedic and plastic surgery; bioengineering; emergency preparedness and injury prevention. The center provides three to five awards annually to the best, most creative, and most collaborative research teams.

To date, the Stepping Strong Center has provided $3.8 million to 26 multidisciplinary, multi-institutional Innovator Award research teams. In just six years, researchers have leveraged their Stepping Strong Innovator Awards to secure nearly $20 million in additional outside funding from more traditional sources including private philanthropy, corporations, and federal agencies

What other programs does the Stepping Strong Center support?

  • Stepping Strong Start-Up Grants are available to help launch innovative initiatives that do not require Innovator Award-level funding and that align with the mission of the Stepping Strong Center.
  • The Stepping Strong Breakthrough Awards support previous Innovator Award winners seeking additional funds to advance their research to the next level.
  • The Stepping Strong Research Scholars are engaged in exploring topics to advance bone and skin regeneration in trauma patients.
  • The Stepping Strong Plastic Surgery Trauma Fellowship trains the next generation of plastic surgeons in advanced techniques for treating acute and complex traumatic injury.
  • The Stepping Strong Injury Prevention Fellowship is a unique educational opportunity encourages young investigators to explore social science and public health principles while supporting the Injury Prevention Program’s mission of reducing the number and severity of traumatic injuries.
  • The Stepping Strong Injury Prevention Program works with Mass General Brigham clinicians and community organizations to prevent traumatic injury from occurring by engaging in research, advocacy, and education.

What topics is the Stepping Strong Center interested in funding for the 2021 Innovator Awards?

Stepping Strong Innovator Award applicants are strongly urged to review the Stepping Strong website and read through the Stepping Strong annual reports. Please use them as a guide to learn about the types of projects that have been funded by the Stepping Strong Center. Previously funded projects include smart prosthetics, injury prevention, 3D printing of muscle cells, the prevention of infection in traumatic injury healing, measuring bone healing, and other topics related to traumatic injury in extremities, among other areas. The following areas of are particular interest::

  • Clinical innovations to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of traumatic injury
  • Basic science innovation to develop better materials, drugs, therapeutics, devices, and treatments for traumatic injury
  • Injury prevention programs and efforts to reduce traumatic injury incidence through community engagement, education, advocacy, and research.

Are you open to funding Innovator Award projects outside of the areas you have traditionally funded?

The Stepping Strong Center will accept applications related to any area of traumatic injury, including proposals for topics like spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury where we have not previously provided significant funding. However, given the strong competition for Stepping Strong Innovator Awards, the center may decide to support proposals closer to its areas of expertise.

Applicants who want to submit proposals in areas not traditionally supported by the Stepping Strong Center are welcome to submit a letter of intent in advance to determine the feasibility of their proposal. There is no specific deadline for this. The letter of intent can be emailed to Julie Alperen, senior director, at

What is the deadline for applying for a Stepping Strong Innovator Award?

Applications are due on July 23, 2021 by 12:00pm EST.

Application Questions

Who is eligible to apply for the Innovator Award?

The Stepping Strong Innovator Awards are open to all applicants with a proposal related to the prevention or treatment of traumatic injury. Each proposal must include at least one collaborator with a primary affiliation at a Mass General Brigham hospital as part of the team, but can also include team members from external organizations. Applications can be submitted by clinicians, academic researchers, nurses, allied health professionals, post-doctoral fellows, health care professionals, engineers or leadership at startups.

Is this grant competition open to only Brigham researchers, or anyone at a Mass General Brigham hospital or research center?

Each proposal must have at least one collaborator with a primary affiliation at a Mass General Brigham hospital or research institution.

I am not affiliated with Mass General Brigham but conduct research in one of the areas that the Stepping Strong Center funds? Can I apply for the Innovator Awards?

Yes, the center will accept applications from other institutions as long as there is at least one collaborator on the team with a primary affiliation at a Mass General Brigham hospital or research institution.

Am I required to have research collaborators for my application?

While it is not required, the Stepping Strong Center gives preference to proposals that include a team of researchers, physicians, engineers, and subject matter experts. When applicable, we also prefer proposals that engage multiple institutions. To the extent that research collaborations enhance the application and its goals, they are preferred.

Am I required to have researchers from other institutions as part of my application?

While it is not required, the Stepping Strong Center prefers applications that consist of research teams from across several institutions, including at least one at a Mass General Brigham hospital or research center. The center strives to support collaborative research teams working together to solve an important problem.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to apply?

The applicant must be a citizen or have a visa status that will allow them to complete the research supported by the Stepping Strong Innovator Award.

Can individuals who do not have a Harvard Medical School academic affiliation or appointment apply for an Innovator Award?

Yes, the center accepts applications from anyone seeking to improve the prevention and treatment of traumatic injury. They do not need an academic affiliation or appointment at Harvard Medical School, although at least one member of the team must be an employee of a Mass General Brigham hospital or research center.

My research collaborators are based at private research labs. Can they be part of our application team?

Yes, the center accepts applications that include private-sector researchers as long as the team includes one collaborator with a primary affiliation at a Mass General Brigham hospital or research institute.

Proposal Questions

How much grant funding is provided by a Stepping Strong Innovator Award?

The Innovator Award is a one-time $100,000 grant to the Primary Investigator.

What can the grant funds from a Stepping Strong Innovator Award be used for?

The applicant should submit a budget for $100,000 (inclusive of 15% indirects)that identifies where the funds will be spent. Applicants should use the standard NIH detailed budget template and include a corresponding budget justification. The applicant should identify the research costs associated with their proposal, including personnel, equipment, travel, indirects and other expenses.

Is there an indirect cost associated with the Stepping Strong Innovator Award?

Yes, Mass General Brigham will take 15% indirect costs on the direct cost budget. This should be factored into the applicant’s total budget of $100,000.

For Innovator Awards selected outside of Mass General Brigham hospitals and research centers, the PI and its host institution will work with the Stepping Strong Center and Mass General Brigham to create a research contract. The applicant should be aware that this may lead to certain changes in the budget.

Who is on the judging committee for the Innovator Awards?

The judges will consist of the center’s leadership, the center’s Medical Executive Committee and Advisory Board, Harvard Medical School faculty (both clinicians/researchers), faculty at other institutions, donors, venture capitalists, representatives of the biopharma/device industry, and other friends of the Stepping Strong Center.

Can you explain the selection process for Stepping Strong Innovator Award applicants?

  • Stage 1: After applications are received on July 23, 2021, they will be shared with a group of judges consisting of Stepping Strong Center Medical Executive Committee members. This group will review the applications based on criteria outlined in this RFA, including scientific and programmatic feasibility, the significance of the clinical problem the proposal seeks to solve, the applicant’s connection to the mission of Stepping Strong Center, and the strength of the research team applying.
  • Stage 2: A smaller group of finalists will be selected. Their applications will then be sent to a broader group of judges consisting of faculty at other institutions, donors, venture capitalists, representatives of the biopharma/device industry, and other friends of the Stepping Strong Center. This group will provide insights from an organizational, commercialization, and clinical perspectives.
  • Stage 3: The selected finalists will present to the judging committee on either October 26 or October 28, 2021 (date TBD). Each presentation will consist of five to ten minutes of project overview and Q&A with the judges.
  • Stage 4: Based on the feedback from the judges after the in-person presentations, the Stepping Strong Center leadership will select the 2021 Stepping Strong Innovator Award winners.

When do I find out if I have won a Stepping Strong Innovator Award?

The Stepping Strong Innovator Awards will be announced publicly at the 2021 Stepping Strong Trauma Research and Innovation Symposium, which is currently scheduled for Thursday, November 18, 2021 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Individual applicants will be notified prior to this event.

How does the Stepping Strong Center protect the intellectual property of its applicants?

Applications received from research teams at Mass General Brigham will be reviewed by Partners Innovation to ensure that any intellectual property is withheld from external reviewers.

Applicants from outside Mass General Brigham should check with their technology transfer office before applying.

General Questions

What is The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation?

The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation is multi-institutional research hub based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital with medical co-directors at the Brigham and Massachusetts General Hospital. The mission of the Stepping Strong Center is to catalyze multidisciplinary collaborations that inspire groundbreaking innovation, effective prevention, and compassionate intervention to transform care for civilians and military heroes who endure traumatic injuries and events.

The Stepping Strong Center was established in 2014 by the Reny and Epstein families following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing tragedy. Several members of the Reny family were injured, but none more than Gillian Reny, a high school student who suffered life-threatening injuries. Based on their personal experience, and in gratitude for their lifesaving care at the Brigham, the Renys and Epsteins are devoted to advancing trauma research and care for patients in Boston and beyond.

What medical challenge does the Stepping Strong Center address?

The Stepping Strong Center addresses trauma research and recovery—a severely underfunded, under-represented medical discipline that is one of the most demanding global medical challenges in our nation. In the U.S. alone, traumatic injuries are the third leading cause of death across all age groups and the No.1 cause of death for Americans between 1 and 44 years of age. For those serving in the military, 82 percent of personnel return from battle with at least one wounded limb. Yet, despite these dire statistics, trauma care research receives less than one percent of funding from the National Institutes of Health. The Stepping Strong Center aims to close this gap.

How does the Stepping Strong Center achieve its goals?

Through generous support from donors, expert guidance from multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional medical leaders, and diverse educational initiatives, the Stepping Strong achieves its goals by inspiring out-of-the-box thinking and supporting innovative projects in the following areas:

  • Advancing new approaches to trauma research and clinical care;
  • Training current and future generations of healthcare professionals in the treatment of complex traumatic injuries;
  • Creating programs that educate society about traumatic injury and its prevention; and
  • Furthering advocacy efforts to expand research, raise awareness, and prevent traumatic injuries from occurring.

The Stepping Strong Center’s model—bestowing seed grants to Stepping Strong Innovator Award research teams that show great promise—has a proven track record, having resulted in significant federal funding, leading to better patient outcomes and the potential for commercialization. To date, 37 physician-scientist teams have received grants totaling $6 million. In aggregate, Stepping Strong Center awardees have raised nearly $20 million in outside funding for their research.

To learn more:

  1. Contact Julie Alperen at
    Office: 617.525-8919 | Mobile: 617-592-6636
  2. Visit the Stepping Strong Innovator Awards web page
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