Introducing the Water Breakthrough Challenge

  • Catherine Thompson

    Catherine Thompson

    Programme Manager

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  • Elettra Pellanda

    Elettra Pellanda

    Assistant Programme Manager

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25 Mar 2021

Today we’re excited to be officially announcing the Water Breakthrough Challenge to drive innovation and collaboration in the water industry. The Challenge will pump £40 million into the sector to drive wide scale transformational change.

Run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, supported by Arup, the Water Breakthrough Challenge is funded through Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund, as part of the regulator’s goal to create an innovative and collaborative water sector that meets the needs of customers, society and the environment in the years to come.

The Breakthrough Challenge aims to encourage collaborative innovative initiatives that help tackle the biggest challenges facing the water and wastewater services, 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. It’s for initiatives that water companies would otherwise be unable to invest in or explore – and may exist in other sectors of our economy or worldwide. This might include, for example: trialing new technology, commercial models, ways of working or business practices.

“This competition follows on from the successful Innovation in Water Challenge that we ran earlier this year, when we received dozens of brilliant entries, says John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat. “We now want to build on this momentum by encouraging and developing even more partnerships and bigger innovative projects that could make a real and lasting difference to the environment, society and people’s lives – now and well into the future.”


We will open the first stage for entries on 6 May 2021. Entries must be submitted by water companies in England and Wales. Water companies can enter the competition in partnership with organisations within and outside the water sector. This could include universities and institutes, start-ups, or small businesses in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, health, or financial services.

Successful entries from water companies will receive between £1 million and £10 million to support their initiatives. We may consider smaller value bids from small water companies, including NAVs.

“Climate change, extreme weather and ageing infrastructure are among the major challenges facing the water sector,” says Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges. “Rising to these challenges demands that the sector goes beyond its business as usual, by seeking out, testing and scaling up new solutions, new ways of working and novel partnerships. With this Challenge we hope to pump-prime this process and to uncover and support truly breakthrough innovations that will deliver tangible benefits to water customers, wider society and the environment.”

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