The formula is simple
Challenge Prizes are competitions that offer a reward for the first or best solution to a problem.
They attract the best innovators, and incorporate elements from a range of innovation tools to provide them with the support they need to compete.
Our criteria define what success looks like, without prejudging how it is achieved.
Some of our work
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
- Problems where additional funding and attention
would plausibly accelerate progress.
- Problems where the solution could thrive in the market (or find continued funding).
Read through our Practice Guide for more info on our processes
Want to run a challenge? Get in touch.
Find out about our flagship prize, the Longitude Prize:
History of Challenge Prizes (click and drag)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Big Green Challenge
The Big Green Challenge was a £1m challenge prize designed to encourage and support community-led responses to climate change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Million Cool Roofs Challenge
A global challenge to accelerate access to affordable, sustainable cooling through rapid deployment of cool roof materials.
Legal Access Challenge
The £500,000 Legal Access Challenge is looking for innovative legal solutions that will help individuals and SMEs to better understand and resolve their legal problems.
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.
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.
has been awarded by Nesta Challenges since 2010
innovators have applied for our challenge prizes
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.