PN 08/21: £40m Water Breakthrough Challenge to spark transformational change for sector

  • The £40 million Water Breakthrough Challenge will promote innovation and collaboration between the water sector and partner organisations.
  • The competition aims to deliver wide scale, transformational change to benefit customers, society and the environment – now and in the future.
  • Entries open on May 6 2021 with successful partnerships winning up to £10 million to develop and implement their initiatives.
  • The Breakthrough Challenge is run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup and is the second in a series of competitions funded through Ofwat’s Innovation Fund.

25 March 2021A new collaborative competition to encourage innovation for water and wastewater services and drive transformational change for the sector will open on May 6 2021 –with entrants able to win a share of £40 million.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to encourage collaborative innovative initiatives that help tackle the biggest challenges facing the water and wastewater services, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as taking opportunities to use open data and deliver value to society. This fund is for initiatives that water companies would otherwise be unable to invest in or explore – and may exist in other sectors of our economy or worldwide. This might include, for example: trialling new technology, commercial models, ways of working or business practices.

Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales, but they can enter in partnership with organisations within and outside the water sector. This could include universities and institutes, retailers, start-ups, or small businesses in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, health, or financial services.

Successful entries from water companies will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives. Smaller value bids from small water companies may be considered.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is funded through Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund, as part of the regulator’s goal to create an innovative and collaborative water sector that meets the needs of customers, society and the environment in the years to come. It is being delivered by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup.

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat said:

“This competition follows on from the successful Innovation in Water Challenge that we ran earlier this year, when we received dozens of brilliant entries. We now want to build on this momentum by encouraging and developing new partnerships and even bigger innovative projects that could make a real and lasting difference to the environment, society and people’s lives – now and well into the future.”

Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges commented:

“Climate change, extreme weather and ageing infrastructure are among the major challenges facing the water sector. Rising to these challenges demands that the sector goes beyond its business as usual, by seeking out, testing and scaling up new solutions, new ways of working and novel partnerships.

“With this Challenge we hope to pump-prime this process and to uncover and support truly breakthrough innovations that will deliver tangible benefits to water customers, wider society and the environment.”

To find out more in advance of the entry window opening, visit

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Notes to Editor:

For all media enquiries contact:

Robyn Margetts, [email protected]

About Ofwat’s Innovation Fund

Ofwat has established a £200 million Innovation Fund to grow the water sector’s capacity to innovate, enabling it to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment.

From 2021 we will run at least two types of competitions that water companies, in partnership with others, can enter with their innovations.

  • A £2 million Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC) with opportunity to win funding up to £250,000. The first round of the IWC is now closed.
  • A £40 million main competition. The first round will open for entries on 6 May 2021.

We expect different rounds of the competitions to run until 2025, but our goal is that the Innovation Fund’s impact will continue well beyond this. To contact Ofwat’s press office, please call 07458 126271

About Nesta and Nesta Challenges

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society. We’ve spent over 20 years working out the best ways to make change happen through research and experimenting, and we’ve applied that to our work in innovation policy, health, education, government innovation and the creative economy and arts.

Within Nesta, Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions. We shine a spotlight where it matters and incentivise people to solve these issues. We are independent supporters of change to help communities thrive and inspire the best placed, most diverse groups of people around the world to take action.

We support the boldest and bravest ideas to become real, and seed long term change to advance society and build a better future for everyone. We are part of the innovation foundation, Nesta. We are challengers. We are innovators. We are game changers.