£20m govtech fund challenges set 

The government has announced the first set of challenges to be tackled through its £20m govtech catalyst fund – with the first seeking solutions to the challenge of online photo propaganda created by Daesh.

govtechcatalystThe £20m fund, launched by the chancellor in November, is designed to incentivise emerging tech firms to come up with innovative solutions to public services for citizens that, “once proven can move to scale both to the advantage of markets and society”.

The fund, on stream for three years, is run by the Government Digital Service in partnership with Innovate UK.

Setting out the first challenge, the government said: “The Home Office already has the technology to determine 94% of Daesh videos with 99.995% accuracy. However, 80% of Daesh media is still imagery. These images, tailored for local markets, rarely contain consistent features meaning innovation is needed to have the same success as for video.”

The catalyst initiative challenges tech businesses to find solutions for issues ranging from security, tackling loneliness to reducing plastic waste. The Daesh propaganda competition opened this week and runs for six weeks, with the remaining competitions being launched over the coming months.

Winning companies will be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas. Companies providing the best potential solutions will then be awarded R&D contracts of up to £500,000 to build prototypes. These will then be made available to the public sector to purchase.

There are five initial challenges in the competition (dates and links follow as competitions launch):

  • Identifying Daesh still imagery (open 14 May to 27 June)
  • Tracking waste through the waste chain (opening June)
  • Tackling loneliness and rural isolation (opening July)
  • Cutting traffic congestion (opening August)
  • Deploying smart sensors on council vehicles to improve services (opening September).

Among other problems highlighted in the government’s November announcement were traffic jams, teacher capacity and the experience of patients visiting their GP.

Tech firms bidding to the fund will have free rein to create innovative fixes. Those that are successful will receive funding to cover their research and development costs.

Cabinet officer minister for implementation Oliver Dowden said: “This government is committed to providing more opportunities for tech businesses – including small firms – to access public procurement contracts…through emerging technologies, this fund will elevate UK companies onto a global market while helping to deliver outstanding public services and improving lives for citizens.”

A report by sector specialist PUBLIC estimated that the UK govtech market would be worth £20bn by 2025, with the UK well-placed to be a world leader.

“The breadth of the challenges is remarkable, particularly in demonstrating public officials’ interest in exploring innovative and unconventional solutions for problems across the public sector,” PUBLIC blogged this week.

Companies wanting to pitch a solution to an open challenge competition can submit their entry on the Innovation Funding Service website.