PN 18/20: Ofwat announces partner for water innovation competitions


Ofwat has announced Nesta, supported by Arup and Isle Utilities, as its partner for its £200 million water innovation competitions – with the first competition opening in January 2021.

Nesta, the lead organisation in the innovation partnership with Ofwat, has significant experience of leading innovation competitions in the UK through the Nesta Challenges team, with a portfolio of over 40 competitions ranging from regulated industries to environmental protection. Partners Arup and Isle also have outstanding expertise, experience, sector knowledge and access to a network of innovators to support Nesta with delivery of these competitions.

Ofwat announced in August 2020 that it was driving forward plans on its innovation fund and competitions during 2020-25 – and was recruiting an innovation fund partner through a competitive tender process to help design, implement, monitor and administer them.

  • The fund can be accessed directly by water and wastewater companies and new entrants. Other parties can access the funding indirectly through collaborative bids.
  • There will be two strands of the competition – the innovation in water challenge, opening in January 2021, and the main competition, expected to open in spring 2021.
  • The innovation in water challenge will be a competition for smaller projects worth up to £250,000. It will particularly interest supply chain businesses who might not always get the opportunity to pitch to big businesses.
  • The main competition will be for larger, strategic projects involving cross-water company collaboration, as well as with other stakeholders in the water sector and beyond. Winning projects will share £40 million.
  • Each of the competitions will run several times during 2020-25.

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat said:

“We are delighted to announce Nesta, supported by Arup and Isle, as our innovation fund partner. Together their expertise will be vital in helping us make the fund a success. We look forward to working with them and running inclusive competitions to encourage transformative changes for water and wastewater services that have real-world impacts and deliver benefit to society, to customers, the environment and the sector.”

“Partnerships and collaboration are at the heart of the competitions. We expect water companies, innovators and other interested parties to be proactive in finding partnerships now. We welcome a full range of participants, including retailers, academia, supply chain, innovators and others to build partnerships with water companies to access the fund”.

Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges said:

“We’re excited to be working with Ofwat and our partners to deliver these ground-breaking innovation competitions. The water sector has a crucial role to play in tackling many of the defining challenges of our era: attaining net zero, adapting to climate change, building long term resilience, protecting and enhancing our environment, accommodating demographic change. These demand bold new approaches to innovation and collaboration in the water sector which we hope to catalyse through these competitions”.

Ian Gray, Director at Arup said

“With climate change, a global pandemic and many other challenges testing the resilience of the water industry, now is the time to challenge current thinking and drive transformational change. We look forward to working with our partners on this competition in search of exciting new technologies, ideas and ways of working to help address the current and future challenges of the water industry”.

Dr Benjamin Tam, Managing Director at Isle said

“We are excited at the opportunity to power the innovation in water competition. The fund has the potential to act as the catalyst for the large scale adoption of new ideas and transformative solutions. This matches perfectly with Isle’s mission to accelerate innovation within the water sector”.

The announcement of the partnership comes at a critical milestone for launching the competitions. In the coming weeks, Ofwat will be working closely with Nesta, Arup and Isle to finalise and share arrangements for the innovation in water challenge. This includes more detail on the timetable for the inaugural challenge, the rules of the competition and what the application and assessment process will look like.

Notes for editors