What are challenge prizes?

Challenge prizes help solve public problems.

Challenge Prizes

The formula is simple

Offer a reward for the first or best solution to your problem; attract the best innovators, and incorporate elements from a range of innovation tools to provide them with the support they need to compete.

Prizes specify a problem to be solved and incentivise solvers to address the issue in whatever way they decide is best.

Published criteria define what success looks like, without prejudging how it is achieved.

Challenge prizes are suited to help
solve:

  • Problems that are clear and well enough defined
  • Problems that would benefit from the fresh thinking
  • Problems where a prize could actually attract these new
    innovators
  • Problems where additional funding and attention
    would plausibly accelerate progress.
  • Problems where the solution could thrive in the market (or find continued funding).

Latest Challenges

CareerTech Challenge Prize

£1.2m | Jan 2020

Longitude Explorer Prize

£25k | June 2020

Open Up Challenge 2020

£300k | 13 July 2020

Affordable Credit Challenge

£200k | March 2020

Legal Access Challenge

£100k | April 2020

Tech to Connect Prize

£100k | March 2020

Longitude Prize

£8m | 2022

Want to see what we have done in the past?

Check out our completed challenges here

Find out about our flagship prize, the Longitude Prize:

History of Challenge Prizes (click and drag)

1714

The Longitude Prize

In 1714, the British government threw down the gauntlet to solve the greatest scientific challenge of the century – how to pinpoint a ship’s location at sea by knowing its longitude.

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1775

The Alkali Prize

The prize, worth around $10,000 in today’s money, was established by the French Academy of Sciences, to reward anyone who could develop a new, cheaper method of producing sodium carbonate – which is used in manufacturing glass, developing film and as a laundry water softener.

1795

Napoleon's Food Preservation Prize

Napoleon offered 12,000 francs to improve upon the food preservation methods of the time. Not surprisingly, the purpose was to better feed his army “when an invaded country was not able or inclined to sell or provide food”. Fifteen years later, confectioner Nicolas François Appert claimed the prize.

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1819

Cholera Prizes

As cholera continued to sweep across nations during the 19th century, there were many prizes established to try and find a cure. The first was by the Royal Academy of Medicine in Paris, followed by the Russian government in 1830. The most substantial of these prizes was the Breant Prize in 1849, which was for 100,000 francs. The grand prize was never won, but smaller sums were given out to people who advanced the pursuit of a cure.

1823

The Turbine Prize

During the Industrial Era, France needed technological advancements in order to support its growing industries, hence, the French Society for the Encouragement of Industry was born. One of the society’s first ambitions was to find better alternatives for the waterwheel, so in 1823 the Turbine Prize was established. In 1827, a young engineer named Benoit Fourneyron claimed the 6,000 francs prize with his new invention – the water turbine.

1829

Liverpool and Manchester Railway Locomotive Prize

The Rainhill Trials tested George Stephenson’s argument that locomotives would provide the best motive power for the then nearly-completed Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

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1852

Substitute for Guano Prize

In 1852, the agricultural industry was crying out for an alternative manure to the expensive Peruvian Guano, with equal fertilising properties. Despite the £1,000 prize on offer, no such alternative was discovered.

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1869

The Butter Substitute Prize

The demand for butter in nineteenth-century France grew much faster than the supply could, so a cheaper substitute was desperately needed. French pharmacist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries presented Napoleon (the third) with a recipe consisting of skimmed milk made with beef tallow – which we now know as margarine.

1903

The Boll Weevil Eradication Prize

The boll weevil is a beetle that is native to Central America. Sometime during the late 19th century, the weevil made its way from Mexico to the US, where it became one of the most devastating blights on American agriculture. In 1903, Texas Governor Samuel Lanham announced the Boll Weevil Eradication Prize—a $50,000 reward for the invention of a device or remedy to eradicate the pest.

1909

Daily Mail Transatlantic Prize

During the early days of flight, coverage of aviation events was quite popular with the public. In order to garner additional exposure, the Daily Mail created a number of prizes for performing various feats or aviation firsts. Over £58,000 in prize money was handed out between 1906 and 1925, with the amount of each individual prize depending on the task being performed.

1919

The Orteig Prize

Hotelier Raymond Orteig offered $25,000 for the first aviator to cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft from Paris (or the shores of France)  to New York, or vice versa. It wasn’t until 1926 that an attempt was made, but in May 1927 little-known US pilot Charles Lindbergh won the prize.

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1959

The Feynman Prize

The Feynman Prize consists of annual prizes in experimental and theory categories, as well as a one-time challenge award. They are awarded by the Foresight Institute, a nanotechnology advocacy organization. The prizes are named in honor of physicist Richard Feynman, whose 1959 talk There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom is considered by nanotechnology advocates to have inspired and informed the start of the field of nanotechnology

1980

The Fredkin Prize

In 1980, Carnegie Mellon University announced the establishment of a $100,000 prize for the first computer program to become World Chess Champion and the beginning of annual computer versus human competition. It was established by the Fredkin Foundation of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to encourage continued research progress in computer chess.

1996

The Ansari X Prize

In 1996, the X Prize Foundation established the Ansari X Prize – a $10 million prize fund for the development of a craft that could be flown to the edges of space and be recycled to produce an identical flight within the space of two weeks. It was the goal of the foundation to “jump-start the personal spaceflight industry.”

2003

The DARPA Grand Challenge

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) established an $11 million prize for the first and fasted autonomous vehicle capable of finding its own way over a defined course, in less than ten hours. The goal of the challenge was to encourage the development of a robotic vehicle for military operations.

2004

NASA Centennial Challenges

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed a program of NASA Centennial Challenges, with prizes of $250,000 and up for the private sector development of technologies required for America’s space exploration program.

2005

Grainger Challenge Prize

The Grainger Challenge Prize was established in 2005, to deal with national and international concerns around natural resources, the environment and agriculture. The first prize of $1 million was awarded in February 2007,  for the team that found the most innovative solution for removing arsenic from drinking water in developing countries.

2006

Global Cooling Prize

The Global Cooling Prize is rallying a global coalition of leaders to solve the critical climate threat that comes from growing demand for residential air conditioning.

2008

The Big Green Challenge

The Big Green Challenge was a £1m challenge prize designed to encourage and support community-led responses to climate change.

2012

Waste Reduction Challenge Prize

In September 2012, the Waste Reduction Challenge Prize offered a prize for the innovation that achieved the biggest measureable reduction in waste, by providing new opportunities for communities to come together to give time, skills and resources.

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2012

UNDP Renewable Energy Challenge

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a challenge to find a renewable energy solution capable of providing off-grid power to cover the needs of an average war-returnee family in rural Bosnia and Herzegovina.

2013

European Social Innovation Competition

Europeans were invited to develop solutions for creating new opportunities for work, and for better work. As a result over 600 proposals were received out of which three were awarded with a prize of €20,000 at the European Social Innovation Awards Ceremony in Brussels.

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2013

The Open Data Challenge series

A series of seven challenge prizes to support the development of innovative solutions to social challenges using open data. For each challenge, projects competed for a potential £40,000 grand prize.

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2013

Dynamic Demand Challenge Prize

The Dynamic Demand Challenge Prize was designed to stimulate new products, technologies or services using data to achieve reduced carbon emissions by shifting energy demand to off peak times or through excess renewable generation

2014

Longitude Prize

Longitude Prize is a challenge with a £10 million prize fund, with an £8 million payout to the winner, to help solve the global problem of antibiotic resistance.

2014

Inclusive Technology Prize

We ran the Inclusive Technology Prize to inspire technological innovation from individuals and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that would make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.

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2015

Longitude Explorer Prize

The first Longitude Explorer Prize, launched in 2015, focused on geolocation and attracted over 60 entries. The competition was won by an all-girl team from Rendcomb College in Gloucestershire, who took home the first prize for their app, Displaced, designed to help charities to coordinate the logistics of supporting vulnerable people around the world.

Read more about LEP 2020

2017

Data Driven Farming Prize

The prize sought tools and approaches that source, analyze and translate data into actionable, timely and context-specific information for smallholder farmers to improve value from agricultural productivity.

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2017

Mobility Unlimited

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge aims to harness creative thinking from across the world to accelerate innovation and encourage collaboration with end-users, resulting in devices that will integrate seamlessly into users’ lives and environments, enabling greater independence and increased participation in daily life.

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2018

Inventor Prize

The Inventor Prize aimed to support innovation and encourage UK inventors to develop products that will help people across the UK. Launched in August 2017 as a pilot run by Nesta and funded by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Inventor Prize put a call out to inventors to send in their ideas for products that would in some way help people in the UK.

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2018

Open Up Challenge

The first Open Up Challenge ran from 2016 to 2018, to find the next generation of fintech products and apps for UK small businesses. The Challenge awarded equity-free funding to 25 financial technology companies and non-financial support including access to a dataset of millions of customer bank transactions.

Read about Open Up

Read about Open Up 2020

2018

Fall Armyworm Tech Prize

The prize was seeking digital tools and approaches that provide timely, context-specific information that enable smallholder farmers and those who support them to identify, treat, and track incidence of fall armyworm in Africa.

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2018

Smart Ageing Prize

A €50,000 Challenge Prize by the AAL Programme for products and services that use innovative digital technologies to support older people to participate fully in social life.

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2019

European Social Innovation Competition

The 2019 Competition is titled Challenging Plastic Waste and seeks the most innovative projects, products, services, business models and collaborations that tackle plastic waste.

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2019

Million Cool Roofs Challenge

A global challenge to accelerate access to affordable, sustainable cooling through rapid deployment of cool roof materials.

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2019

Legal Access Challenge

2019

Tech to Connect

The Tech to Connect Challenge is looking to help civil society develop their early stage ideas for tech that enables more or better interactions between people.

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2019

Affordable Credit Challenge

The Affordable Credit Challenge supports partnerships between UK community lenders and fintechs developing innovative technological solutions that will increase access to affordable, responsible credit. The Challenge is backed by HM Treasury and delivered by Nesta Challenges.

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Our impact

£12.5 million

has been awarded by Nesta Challenges since 2010

Over 9,000

innovators have applied for our challenge prizes

75%

of prize winners felt they wouldn’t have developed their innovation without the prize

Challenge prizes can make big changes

Prizes can play a role in accelerating progress towards ambitious goals. They do this by shining a powerful light on an issue or opportunity and providing an incentive for lots of different innovators and investors to make meeting the challenge a priority. The US$10 million Ansari X–Prize for the creation of a private re–useable passenger space aircraft (awarded in 2004) was a massive success. It leveraged private investment in multiples of the original reward. Prizes have created new markets and prompted the development of whole new industries.

When Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to fly non–stop from New York to Paris winning the Orteig prize in 1927, his celebrity transformed the aviation industry. The number of US passengers increased thirty–fold in three years, while applications for pilot licenses increased 300 per cent.

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