Challenge accepted. How a challenge prize changed our business for the better

Everyday, around the world, innovation helps to solve problems and improve lives. But there are some issues that don’t receive as much attention or interest as others, and where there’s the potential for the right organisations to make a big difference.

The team at Nesta Challenges shines a spotlight where it matters, incentivising innovators to create new solutions, paving the way for further investment.

Our new CareerTech Challenge is one such example. Through a challenge prize and a grant fund, it aims to catalyse the development of cutting-edge digital solutions to support the adults that are most susceptible to changes in work due to automation.

Successful innovators will receive funding and in-kind support to take their ideas from concepts, to investment-ready solutions that empower adults to take control over their futures, expand their skill sets, and find rewarding future careers.

Think you’ve got what it takes to win this challenge? Sam O’Connor from Coconut Banking won our Open Banking Challenge in 2018. We caught up with him on how competing for and winning a challenge prize has helped him and his business thrive.

This is Sam. He won the Nesta Challenges prize and was thrilled.

1.Tell us a little bit about your idea for Coconut.

Whilst the freelance community was booming in 2017, there was a lack of solutions to help people with the basics of independent working. We created Coconut to enable self-employed people to run their businesses more efficiently with an easy to use automated book-keeping tool.

2.What made you apply to the Nesta Open Up Challenge, and what was it like when you found out you won?

We applied because we knew the process, the prize money and the support provided would be instrumental in further developing our product. One of the best things about Nesta prizes is the proprietary access to up and coming tech innovation, data and APIs.

Something I will never forget is when we were mid-crowdfunding, Nesta announced we had won the final, and there was a monumental investment surge, coverage in big newspapers and electric conversations with partners, investors and customers.

3.How did the funding and in-kind support from Nesta help you shape your product?

The application process forces you to interrogate your product, get to the bottom of your value proposition and identify your target audiences. It was incredibly valuable and, I think, healthy for any business.

It was a holistic experience from start to finish and we benefitted deeply from the partners we worked with who gave us a full picture of the market. Nesta have done a great job of pushing the finalists and the winners in the industry – they had a panel session at Money 2020 which was incredible profile building!

4.How do innovation prizes like Nesta Challenges impact on the digital technology and social innovation space in the UK?

If you look at the alumni from Nesta’s prizes, you’ll see how much of an impact Nesta Challenges has had on digital technology and innovation. From gamified tech for stroke rehabilitation, to new diagnostics for bacterial infections it’s a remarkable list of disruptive and space-changing tech for good companies and Nesta has definitely played a role in our successes.

5.What’s your advice to others looking to apply for a Nesta Challenges prize?

Do it! The prize opened so many doors for us and if you’ve got the skills then I’d definitely say to go for it.

The Challenge

One fifth of UK workers are currently in occupations that will be affected by automation over the next 10 to 15 years. It’s time to equip workers with the right tools and technologies to prepare for their futures. Armed with the right information, people can plan for secure and rewarding future careers. But they need to understand the skills which are likely to be most sought-after, and the pathways to get the jobs that require them. Although this information exists, it is not always easily accessed by those who need it most, with most current offerings targeting higher paid workers.

The CareerTech Challenge is a new initiative calling for tech companies or entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to support people through a changing world of work. The proposed solutions must be digitally driven, as digital technology has the power to personalise career support to meet individual needs.

The Challenge is open to any individual, organisation or group based in the UK, or with a lead partner based in the UK, and there are two funding streams available:

  • The Prize, closing on 29 January 2020, seeking digital solutions which improve access to data-driven career information, advice and guidance
  • The Fund, closing on 9 December 2019, seeking innovative tech solutions which improve online learning and motivate people to retrain.

Do you have an idea that could unlock the career potential of adults most affected by automation? If you have the skills, experience and ideas to bridge the gap between career information and applicants, or learning opportunities and learners, Nesta would love to hear from you. Find out more about the opportunity here and be part of the tech for social good revolution.

About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better.

We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.


About Nesta Challenges

Nesta Challenges exists to design challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions. We shine a spotlight where it matters and incentivise people to solve these issues. We are independent supporters of change to help communities thrive. We inspire the best placed, most diverse groups of people around the world to take action. We support the boldest and bravest ideas to become real, and seek long term change to advance society and build a better future for everyone.

Nesta Challenges is part of the global innovation foundation, Nesta. More information is available at challenges.org.