Fintech and retail banking firms urged to get involved in Water Breakthrough Challenge


·        The £40 million Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to spark ambitious innovation and enable new approaches and ways of working to address the big challenges facing the water sector. 

·        Entries are now open until Thursday 3 June 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.  

·        The winners of Ofwat’s first competition – the Innovation in Water Challenge – include projects that turn ammonia in wastewater into green energy and use artificial intelligence (AI) and unexploited telecoms cables to detect leaks in the water network. 

A £40 million innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge – launches today (Thursday 6 May) to spark ambitious innovation and new ways of working in the water sector – and companies in the fintech and retail banking space are being urged to get involved.   

The Water Breakthrough Challenge aims to equip the water sector to address the big challenges facing the sector, driving far-reaching and long-lasting benefits to customers, society and the environment across England and Wales now and into the future.  It encourages collaborative entries from other sectors and worldwide partners, and aims to fund initiatives which water companies would otherwise have been unable to invest in or explore. 

Entries must demonstrate how solutions help the water sector deliver for customers, society and the environment, such as by achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing the impact of extreme weather, or using open data to improve customer service. 

The winners of Ofwat’s first innovation competition – the £2m Innovation in Water Challenge – were revealed last month and include green initiatives such as planting and restoring seagrass meadows on the Essex and Suffolk coastlines, a scheme to turn ammonia in wastewater into green hydrogen gas, and software that can monitor the degradation of wildlife habitats.

 Other ideas focus on the prevention of leaks in the water network through the use of AI, CCTV, and unexploited optical fiber strands in telecoms networks, as well as using behavioral science to better support vulnerable customers.  

John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said: “Our innovation competitions are now in full swing and we are beginning to see a wave of innovation across the sector. Within the Breakthrough Challenge we are looking forward to seeing continued collaboration outside of the sector from a wide range of industries, and even more cutting-edge projects that tackle the greatest challenges facing our sector, and society as a whole.” 

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is funded through Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund, as part of the regulator’s goal to drive innovation and collaboration in the water sector, supporting it to meet 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. 

Arlene Goode, Associate from Arup added: “This is a great opportunity for water companies and project partners. We’re excited to see the transformative projects which can move the water sector towards meeting its long-term ambitions”.  

Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales, but they can enter in partnership with organizations outside the water sector – including in the fintech and retail banking space.

Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges, commented: “The winning innovations from the first Innovation in Water Challenge show that the sector is ready to address the major challenges facing the industry, and society. A new approach is needed, including new ways of working and greater collaboration, but we have already seen the sector can rise to the challenge and deliver ground-breaking initiatives that change the status quo. We are very excited to see the trailblazing projects that the water companies, and their partners, put forward for the latest competition.” 

After a first assessment period following entries received by 3 June, selected entrants will be invited to submit more details from 28 June, with the winners announced in September. Winning entries will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives.  


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