Water innovation competitions

Photo for illustrative purposes only showing a small child building a tower with blocks with an older man helping them

Visit the innovation competitions website

The water innovation competitions now have their own website. Visit waterinnovation.challenges.org to get details on the competitions and how to enter.

Below you can find some background about the competitions.

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.

About the innovation competitions

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

  • Our next competition will be the second round of the Water Breakthrough Challenge (‘Breakthrough 2’)
  • There will be 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 will open on 11 October 2021 calling for innovative initiatives which deliver benefits for customers, society and the environment.

More information is available on  waterinnovation.challenges.org. You can read about previous rounds and winners of our competitions on the ‘Past Competitions’ page.

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 the five strategic innovation themes.

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

Five strategic innovation themes

There are five key areas that Ofwat have identified that are big challenges for the sector, which would benefit from additional innovation, expressed in the five strategic innovation themes. 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.

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Image recapping the 5 strategic innovation themes. The first image shows hot air balloons above a river with text stating: 1 Responding and adapting to climate change, including how to meet the sector’s ambition of net-zero emissions. The second image shows a man teaching a child to surf on a beach with text stating: 2 Restoring and improving ecological status of our water environments, protecting current and future customers from the impacts of extreme weather and pollution. The third image shows a small child planting a strawberry plant with help from an older person with text stating: 3 Understanding long-term operational resilience and infrastructure risks to customers and the environment, finding solutions to mitigate these in sustainable and efficient ways. The fourth image shows a small child building a tower of blocks with an older man helping them with text stating: 4 Testing new ways of delivering core activities to deliver wider public value. The final fifth image shows 4 small children playing musical instruments with a teacher and text stating: 5 Exploring the opportunities associated with open data, stimulating innovation and collaboration, encouraging new business models and service offerings that benefit customers, including those in vulnerable circumstances.

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 beyond.
  • Openness: To sharing data, insights and ideas within the water sector and with other sectors.
  • Adaptability: Flexibility and openness to exploring new ways of working.
  • Innovation Risk Management: including through greater use of experimentation.
  • Scalability and Deployability: Improving the ease of scaling proven innovations within the sector.
  • Long-term View: Taking both a longer-term and broader perspective on value creation.

Form your partnership today

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 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. We have compiled a list of companies that you can contact today to explore new partnership opportunities:

Anglian Water Dŵr Cymru Hafren Dyfrdwy
Northumbrian Water (including Essex and Suffolk Water) Severn Trent Water South West Water (including Bournemouth Water)
Southern Water Thames Water United Utilities
Wessex Water Yorkshire Water Affinity Water
Bristol Water Portsmouth Water South East Water
South Staffs Water (including Cambridge Water) SES Water Albion Eco
Albion Water County Water Icosa Water
Independent Water Networks Leep Water Networks Severn Trent Services
Veolia Water Projects

If you’re new to the water sector, you may wish to email [email protected] to get in contact with a water company about your innovative idea or solution. This central inbox is managed by an alliance of 19 UK water companies.

The sector is currently developing supportive materials to highlight areas of interest and which companies to contact, this should be made available soon.

Part of the exciting thing about these competitions is forming new partnerships. We know that it’s not always easy for innovators to find collaboration partners in the sector but both Ofwat and companies will work to improve this through what we learn from successive rounds of the competitions and as new collaborations are developed.

Head over to the dedicated website to find out more about partnership brokerage events.

We also hope other developments, such as the launch of the sector’s centre for excellence (Spring) in December 2021, will play an important role here. Find out more about Spring at: www.spring-innovation.co.uk 

More information

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].

Further reading and resources

Water sector overview, webpage An overview of the water sector in England and Wales, the organisations involved and some history
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.
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
Ofwat discussion paper on public value in the water sector, December 2020 Our discussion paper on public value – this consultation has now closed
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 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: Consultation on amendment to intellectual property right policy for the second Breakthrough Challenge competition A consultation on our proposal to test a change to Ofwat’s intellectual property rights (‘IPR’) policy for part of the catalyst stream within Breakthrough 2. 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. Closes on 6 September 2021.

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.