PN 31/21: Entries open for second Water Breakthrough Challenge to continue transformation of sector

  • Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to drive wide scale, transformational change to benefit customers, society and the environment – now and in the future.
  • The second round opens for entries today with successful partnerships able to win a share of the approximately £39m prize pot.
  • The winners of the first Water Breakthrough Challenge were announced last month, including a project to slash greenhouse gas emission and energy demand of used water processing while creating a new source of hydrogen energy, as well as a project to support the restoration of the country’s rivers in partnership with the Rivers Trust.
  • The Water Breakthrough Challenge forms part of Ofwat’s £200m Innovation Fund, which is being delivered collaboratively by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup and Isle Utilities.

Monday 11 October 2021 Entries have opened for Ofwat’s second Water Breakthrough Challenge, calling for initiatives to drive innovation and collaboration within the water sector and beyond – with the winning partnerships able to win a share of approximately £39 million. Following the successful partnerships formed in the first Water Breakthrough Challenge between water companies and the likes of conservation charities, technology giants and academia, the second challenge is encouraging even more creative partnerships, focused on all kinds of innovation – from cutting-edge technologies, to new ways for the water sector to collaborate and engage with customers.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of the water regulator’s pioneering £200m fund to unleash a wave of innovation in the water sector and deliver transformative benefits for consumers, society and the environment. It aims to encourage radical start up and scale up partnerships from both within and outside the water sector, tackling major issues 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 specially for initiatives to drive the long-term transformation in the services water companies provide– drawing in new perspectives and fresh ideas from across the globe, and across the worlds of academia and business.

The winners of the first round of the competition were announced last month with water companies partnering with the likes of Airbus, Microsoft, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the Rivers Trust.

£9 million was awarded to projects that tackle the health of rivers and waterways, while a further £12.8 million was awarded to projects that will target the need to drastically reduce the emission of CO2 and other pollutants from the water treatment process. An additional £14.2 million was awarded to projects that aim to resolve challenges facing communities and vulnerable water users, as well as prevent leakages to reduce bills.

For this round of the competition, there are two streams of funding:

  • Catalyst Stream – Approximately £5 million is available for entries seeking funding of between £100,000 – £1 million. The Catalyst Stream will close for entries at 12pm on 8th December 2021.
  • Transform Stream – Approximately £34 million is available for entries seeking funding of between £1 million – £10 million. Stage 1 of the Transform Stream will close for entries at 12pm on 16th November 2021. Stage 2 entries will open on 15 December 2021 and close at 12pm on 8th February 2022.

Both streams are open to initiatives aligned with one or more of Ofwat’s five strategic innovation themes. Initiatives in the Catalyst stream should, at a minimum, reach the stage of prototyping and testing some components of their solution with real users; while initiatives in the Transform stream should go beyond this and deliver tangible benefits for customers, society and the environment.

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said:

“Through our Innovation Fund we want to bring in fresh thinking and inject new ideas and ways of working into the water sector to tackle the major challenges we face. Promoting the formation of new partnerships within the water sector and beyond, the Water Breakthrough Challenge encourages a start-up like approach to overcoming challenges with the potential to scale the solutions for long-term impact.

“Our goal is to create a more open, collaborative, progressive and outward-facing sector – supporting water companies to tap into new opportunities to learn from other industries and transform practices to make a lasting difference to the environment, society and people’s lives. The innovation we’ve seen in the two previous competitions have exceeded our expectations in their ambition and imagination and we’re excited to see what entrants come up with in this round.”

Holly Jamieson, New Frontiers Director, Nesta Challenges, commented:

“The water sector, like many others, continues to confront the challenge of climate change, while at the same time needing to support customers and deal with an ageing infrastructure. By collaborating with others in the sector, as well as other industries, we can ensure the water sector is well armed with breakthrough solutions to help them overcome these pressing challenges and benefit water customers, wider society and the environment – long into the future.”

New innovation challenges will be announced through to 2025, however Ofwat’s goal is that the Innovation Fund’s impact will be felt well beyond this.

To find out more about the second Water Breakthrough Challenge from Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, visit:

– ENDS –

Notes to Editor:

For all media enquiries contact:

Robyn Margetts, [email protected] or Andrew McKay, [email protected]

Additional Quotes

 Arlene Goode, Associate, Arup said:

“We were thoroughly impressed with the winning entries to the first round of the Water Breakthrough Challenge and this round is set to be equally full of innovative ideas to transform the sector. We’re looking forward to seeing how the water sector continues to step up to the challenge, with even more partnerships formed, to deliver revolutionary solutions that benefit both consumers and the environment.”

 Caroline Wadsworth, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Isle Utilities Said:

“The commitment shown by the water companies to increasing the rate of innovation in the sector has been inspiring. The ideas developed, or in development, show the key role the water sector has in securing a resilient and sustainable future for all of us. As we enter the next round of funding, we are excited to be part of the process, and wait with baited breath to see the ideas, partnerships and innovations that come forwards.”

About Ofwat’s innovation fund and the Water Breakthrough Challenge competition

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.

The second Water Breakthrough Challenge is run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges in partnership with Arup and part of series of competitions funded through the Fund following the Innovation in Water Challenge and first Water Breakthrough Challenge earlier this year.

Entries open on 11 October 2021 to provide funding for further innovative water sector initiatives. Approximately £39 million will be available to be shared between entries that deliver benefits for water customers, society and the environment.

Water companies in England and Wales, as well as partnerships with organisations in the water sector supply chain and beyond, are encouraged to apply. Approximately £5 million is available through the ‘Catalyst Stream’ for entries that bid for between £100,000 and £1 million. Approximately £34 million is available through the ‘Transform Stream’ for entries that bid between £1 million and £10 million. To contact Ofwat’s press office, please call 07458 126271 

Key dates for Breakthrough 2

  • Entries open: 9am (BST) on 11 October 2021
  • Programme webinar: 1.30pm (BST) 13 October 2021 (Anyone interested in hearing more about the programme can register here)
  • ‘Writing a strong entry’ workshop: 10.30am (BST) 22 October 2021 (water companies and their partners can register here)
  • Key dates for the Catalyst stream:
    The Catalyst stream of the Water Breakthrough Challenge uses a streamlined, single-stage entry process, proportional to the risk and value of the entries being submitted.

    • Catalyst stream entries close: 12 noon (GMT) on 8 December 2021
    • Catalyst stream winners announced: By mid-March 2022
  • Key dates for the Transform stream:
    The Transform stream of the Water Breakthrough Challenge uses a two-stage entry process to ensure entrants invest their time developing proposals that have the greatest chance of being awarded funding, while still providing Ofwat and the judging panel sufficient information.

    • Transform Stage 1 entries close: 12 noon (GMT) on 16 November 2021
    • Transform Stage 2 entries open: 9am (GMT) on 15 December 2021
    • Transform Stage 2 entries close: 12 noon (GMT) on 8 February 2022
    • Transform Winners announced: By late-April 2022

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 act.

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.