Children benefit from little of the $156 billion annual U.S. market for medical devices, but a “Shark Tank”-inspired partnership between the University of Maryland and Children’s National Health System is looking to change that.

The Food and Drug Administration has awarded $5 million over five years to the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation to push the development of new pediatric devices, from implants to support failing organs to low-cost incubators for preemies in the developing world.

“It’s a challenge with kids,” said William Bentley, Robert E. Fischell Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering, who’s leading UMD’s participation in the consortium. “It can be difficult to conduct clinical trials on children. They’re changing every year; they’re a real moving target.”

To encourage innovations in the market for people younger than 22, the consortium sponsors “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competitions twice yearly, giving away $50,000 seed grants to successful organizations. In its first five years, the consortium awarded nearly $1.5 million in grants.

“They submit their proposals, the proposals get vetted, and then a few get to come in and give a talk to a high-level panel that decides who’s going to get the money,” Bentley said.

The cash is primarily for investigators at other institutions, he said. A recent winning pitch came from Govind Rao, a professor of chemical, biomedical and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who created an incubator constructed of cardboard for the developing world.

The consortium’s lead investigator, Kolaleh Eskandanian, vice president and chief innovation office at Children’s National, said one of the effects of better devices for children’s health now will be healthier adults later.

“That means underwriting and marketing life-saving devices like stents and heart valves, designed with children’s growing bodies in mind, and shepherding such innovations through the challenging path to regulatory approval,” she said.

The consortium, which recently expanded to include BioHealth Innovation and MedTech Innovator, encourages innovative pediatric devices by providing business, regulatory, legal, scientific, engineering and clinical expertise to strengthen pediatric device applications submitted to the FDA.