Water innovation competitions

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We have 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 are delivering a series of competitions that water companies, in partnerships with others, can enter.

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.

Competitions will be focused on funding initiatives in line with the aims of the Fund, that deliver innovation aligned with our five strategic innovation themes.

Led by us, the Innovation Fund is being delivered by Nesta Challenges, in partnership with Arup and Isle Utilities.

Visit the innovation competitions website to enter

The water innovation competitions now have their own website.

Visit waterinnovation.challenges.org to get details on previous winners, the competitions and how to enter.

Background to the water innovation competitions

Below you can find some background about the competitions.

  • Previous winners of our competitions
  • The latest innovation competition
  • Our five strategic innovation themes
  • How we’re building the sector’s capacity to innovate
  • How to find a water company to partner with
  • How to get more information about the fund and competitions
  • Further reading and resources

If you want general advice about your innovation, visit our ‘Innovation one stop shop‘ page.

Previous winners of our competitions

In September 2021 we announced the nine winners of our Water Breakthrough Challenge 1 competition , who win a share of £36 million to develop innovations that benefit customers, society and the environment. Before that in April 2021, we announced the 11 winners of our Innovation in Water Challenge.

The next competition opened on 11 October 2021. There will be further rounds up to 2025.

You can read about previous rounds and winners of our competitions on the ‘Past Competitions’ page the competitions website

The latest innovation competition

Our latest competition is the Water Breakthrough Challenge 2 (‘Breakthrough 2’)

  • There are two streams of funding available for innovative initiatives which deliver benefits for customers, society and the environment.
    • Through the Catalyst Streamup to £5 million is available for entries seeking funding between £100,000 – £1 million.
    • Through the Transform Streamup to £30 million is available for entries seeking funding of between £1 million – £10 million per entry.
  • Both streams of the Water Breakthrough Challenge will be open to entries from water companies in England & Wales, including New Appointments and Variations (NAVs), but they can partner or form a group with any organisation to enter.
  • Entries opened on 11 October 2021 calling for innovative initiatives which deliver benefits for customers, society and the environment. Closing dates are different for each Stream.

More information is available on  waterinnovation.challenges.org.

Our five strategic innovation themes

There are five key areas that we have identified that are big challenges for the sector, which would benefit from additional innovation.

Through the competitions, the Innovation Fund will support initiatives that can deliver significant value for customers, society and the environment aligned with one or more of these themes.

  1. Responding and adapting to climate change, including how to meet the sector’s ambition of net-zero emissions.
  2. Restoring and improving the ecological status of our water environments, protecting current and future customers from the impacts of extreme weather and pollution.
  3. Understanding long-term operational resilience and infrastructure risks to customers and the environment, finding solutions to mitigate these in sustainable and efficient ways.
  4. Testing new ways of conducting core activities to deliver wider public value.
  5. Exploring the opportunities associated with open data, stimulating innovation and collaboration, for example, encouraging new business models and service offerings that benefit customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances.

How we’re building the sector’s capacity to innovate

The five strategic innovation themes highlight some of the needs of customers, society and the environment. The Innovation Fund has been established to help the England and Wales water sector grow its capacity to innovate and meet these needs, and the needs of future generations.

The Innovation Fund aims to achieve this by supporting ambitious water company initiatives that demonstrate bold new approaches to innovation. Through the innovation competitions, it will support initiatives going beyond the sector’s business-as-usual innovation practices that can create significant value for customers, society and the environment.

We have identified some innovation enablers that we believe are, and will continue to be, critical to growing our sector’s capacity to innovate.  Across the competitions, the Fund will support initiatives that demonstrate and strengthen these enablers, including:

  • Collaboration: building and strengthening collaboration and partnerships across companies, the supply chain and outside the water sector.
  • Openness: to sharing data, insights and ideas within the water sector and with other sectors.
  • Adaptability: flexibility and openness to trying out new ways of working.
  • Innovation risk management: delivering value from all innovation projects, particularly more experimental projects, even if they fail.
  • Scalability and Deployability: improving the ease of scaling up and rolling out of proven innovations within the sector.
  • Long-term view: taking both a longer-term and broader perspective to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society, and the environment.

How to find a water company to partner with 

If you work at a water company, now is the time to explore opportunities for new partnerships and consortia. You can partner with anyone you wish – including supply chain partners, new start-ups, SMEs, academia and water companies in and outside of England and Wales, water retailers and many more. Please note that it’s your responsibility to carry out any checks and due diligence on partners.

If you are not a water company, you may wish to reach out to one or more water companies to explore the possibility of working together on an entry. Visit Find a Partner – Ofwat Water Innovation Fund (challenges.org) to get more information on how.

How to get more information about the fund and competitions

You can find out about the Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC) and Water Breakthrough Challenge on the dedicated website run by Nesta Challenges, with the latest details on each of the competitions

You can subscribe or unsubscribe to receive updates about the water innovation competitions using Nesta’s (our innovation fund partner) mailing list.

If you have any questions, please email Nesta Challenges at [email protected]

For media regarding the competitions, please contact [email protected]. For anything else please contact [email protected].

Get the latest information and updates

You can subscribe or unsubscribe to receive updates about the water innovation competitions using Nesta’s (our innovation fund partner) mailing list. This is also available from the innovation competitions website

If you know anyone that may be interested in either competition (particularly those outside the water sector) please share this link.

Our Privacy Policy was updated on 18 January 2021 and interactions with Ofwat will be subject to our updated Privacy Policy. The changes are to reflect the way we will work with our innovation fund partner, Nesta.

Further reading and resources

About the water sector in England and Wales

Water sector overview, webpage An overview of the water sector in England and Wales, the organisations involved and some history
Innovation in the water sector Our main webpage about encouraging innovation in the sector
Time to act, together Ofwat’s strategy for regulating the water and wastewater sector in England and Wales

Innovation by water companies

UK water company priority areas for innovation An alliance of 19 UK water companies and their stakeholders (‘UK Water 2050’) have produced their list of priority areas where innovation is needed in the sector.
Spring The water sector’s innovation centre of excellence. Expected to launch in December 2021.
UK 2050 Water innovation strategy The strategy from an alliance of 19 UK water companies and their stakeholders (‘UK Water 2050’). The strategy seeks to guide innovation investment across the sector and will provide insight for Ofwat in rolling out the £200m innovation fund. It also signals new opportunities for partners and suppliers of all sizes to innovate and collaborate more easily and efficiently across the whole sector.

More on our themes

Net Zero 2030 routemap UK Water companies’ plan to deliver a net zero water supply for customers by 2030.
Resilience webpages Ofwat’s approach and view on resilience
Public value in the water sector: a supporting set of principles Our position on public value – and our principles
Open data in the water industry Our position on open data in the water industry

Key documents about the fund

‘Innovation funding and competition: decision on design and implementation’ Our decisions on the design and implementation of the fund, which we published in August 2020
Innovation in Water Challenge round 1 decisions This document sets out the process we followed to select the winners of round 1 of our ‘Innovation in Water Challenge’ innovation competition – and the reasons for our decisions.
Innovation fund: Decision on intellectual property rights policy amendment for Breakthrough 2 Our decision on changing our intellectual property rights (‘IPR’) policy for part of the catalyst stream within the Water Breakthrough Challenge 2 competition. This change will enable owners of background IPR to charge a licence fee at a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory rate for the use of the background IPR solely to the extent necessary for water companies to receive the benefit of the foreground IPR.
Water Breakthrough Challenge 1 Decision Document This document sets out the process we followed to select the winners of round 1 of our ‘Water Breakthrough Challenge’ innovation competition – and the reasons for our decisions.
Settlement agreement This document sets out the payments between water companies to pay the funds awarded through the competitions

Water company maps

Ofwat produces a digital representation of the water and sewerage undertaker boundary as GIS shapefiles. The shapefiles are designed for geospatial analysis only. The definitive legal record of water supply and sewerage services areas remains the maps and other information set out in the appointments of companies as water and/or sewerage undertakers and subsequent area variations. The GIS shapefiles have been digitised from the legal records by Ofwat with support from Ordnance Survey. They are published under the Open Government Licence.

You can download the shapefiles from the  House of Commons Library website. You can also access a map that shows which water companies serve different UK Parliament constituencies across England and Wales.