PN 23/21 Judges announced for £40m Water Breakthrough Challenge


A judging panel with expertise in a wide range of sectors and disciplines, from open data to sustainability, has been announced for a £40 million competition designed to unleash a wave of innovation across the water sector to deliver transformative benefits for customers, society and the environment.

The inaugural Water Breakthrough Challenge encourages collaboration with other water companies and organisations, including universities, start-ups, local authorities and other utilities, to tackle challenging issues facing the sector.

Led by the water regulator Ofwat, the Water Breakthrough Challenge is being run in partnership with Nesta Challenges and Arup. It is the second challenge to be delivered through the Ofwat Innovation Fund, following the £2 million Innovation in Water Challenge which ran earlier this year.

The eight-member judging panel has a wealth of experience across industry, academia, policy development and research, consumer representation and engineering – bringing insights from both within and outside the sector. The judges are:

  • Paul Connell – Founder, Open Data Institute Leeds
  • Tony Conway – Visiting Professor, University of Sheffield and Director, British Water
  • Sharon Darcy – Director, Sustainability First
  • Paul O’Callaghan – Founder & CEO, BlueTech Research
  • Niki Roach – President, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and Director of AxiaOrigin
  • Frank Rogalla – Director of innovation and technology, Aqualia (Spain)
  • Anusha Shah – Director (Resilient Cities), Arcadis
  • Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, International Water Association

John Russell, Senior Director of Strategy, Finance and Infrastructure at Ofwat, said:

“The high-calibre judging panel we’re announcing today has the expertise and experience to ensure that the boldest and most exciting projects rise to the surface and get the support they need to make a tangible difference to customers, society and the environment.

“Our judges, who have a wealth of valuable experience across multiple sectors and industries, are all committed to identifying the ambitious innovations that the Water Breakthrough Challenge is designed to accelerate. We’re delighted to have them on board.”

Chair of the judging panel, Anusha Shah, Director (Resilient Cities) at Arcadis, added:

“It’s an honour to be chairing the judging panel. Speaking on behalf of my fellow judges, we are all looking forward to reviewing and assessing the entries.

“Complex dilemmas such as how to respond to the climate and nature emergency and ensuring customer voices are heard mean that the water sector has decisions to make: the sector can make a positive decision to drive bold solutions by thinking outside the box, driving behavioural change and embracing cross-sector collaboration.

“The Water Breakthrough Challenge typifies this positive approach and I am thrilled to be involved.”

The winners of the Water Breakthrough Challenge will be announced in September 2021. Successful entries will receive up to £10 million.

To find out more about the Water Breakthrough Challenge, visit


Notes to Editor:

For all media enquiries contact:

Mike Youds, [email protected] or 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 have been running 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 winners of the first round were announced in April.
  • A £40 million Water Breakthrough Challenge – closed for entries on 3 June. Winners will be revealed in September 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.

About Arup

Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, working across every aspect of today’s built environment. Together we help our clients solve their most complex challenges – turning exciting ideas into tangible reality as we strive to find a better way and shape a better world. With a community of over 1700 water professionals, Arup is leading global thinking across key areas like innovation, resilience, net zero carbon and sustainable water management.