The GovTech Catalyst challenge process

GovTech Catalyst challenges help public sector bodies take advantage of new and emerging technology - find out how to submit a challenge.


The GovTech Catalyst (GTC) supports public sector organisations to find innovative solutions to operational service and policy delivery challenges.

GovTech Catalyst competitions help the public sector identify and work with cutting edge technology firms.

The £20 million GovTech Fund, awarded via competitions, provides support to define, develop, test and access creative solutions to complex public sector problems.

The GTC expects to fund at least 15 phase 1 challenges.

Read more about the GovTech Catalyst’s objectives.

Who can submit challenges

The GovTech Catalyst accepts challenges from public sector bodies, including:

  • UK central government organisations
  • devolved administrations
  • local public sector organisations

Businesses and academic institutions aren’t eligible to submit challenges to the GovTech Catalyst. They can pitch solutions to challenge competitions.

Reasons to be part of the GovTech Catalyst

Public sector challenge owners benefit from:

  • the opportunity to explore creative solutions to operational and policy challenges
  • funding to find and develop innovative solutions across all industry sectors

Intellectual property rights stay with the competition winners (not the government organisation).

Read more about challenge owner responsibilities within the GovTech Catalyst process.

Eligible challenges

To be selected for a GovTech competition, the challenge must describe a current public sector service or policy delivery problem where:

  • the problem requires an innovative digital solution
  • a solution will bring better services or reduced costs
  • the public body is willing to buy the solution

Read more about the challenge selection criteria.

Challenge funding amounts

The maximum available in total for a phase 1 challenge is £250,000. The maximum for any phase 1 solution provider is £50,000 (including VAT).

The maximum available in total for a phase 2 challenge is £1 million. The maximum available for any phase 2 solution provider is £500,000 (including VAT).


We’ll add new dates here as they’re confirmed.

Round 1

Five challenges have been selected for funding in round 1:

  1. Identifying Daesh still imagery
  2. Tracking waste through the waste chain
  3. Tackling loneliness and rural isolation
  4. Cutting traffic congestion
  5. Intelligent data to transform local council service delivery

18 January to 19 February 2018: Public sector organisations submitted challenges. See all challenges submitted in round 1.

March 2018: The GTC team contacted shortlisted challenge owners to confirm details to present to the GTC board.

March and April 2018: The GTC board selected challenges for the competition and all challenge owners were told if their challenge had been selected.

14 May to 27 June 2018: The first challenge competition. Registration closed on 20 June 2018.

11 June to 25 July 2018: The second challenge competition. Registration closed on 18 July 2018.

16 July to 5 September: The third challenge competition. Registration closed on 29 August 2018.

13 August to 26 September: The fourth challenge competition is open. Registration closes on 19 September 2018.

24 September to 7 November: The fifth challenge competition is open. Registration closes on 31 October.

Round 2

Five challenges have been selected for funding in round 2:

  • Improving fire fighter safety and operational response
  • Making better use of data to guide public sector audits
  • Detecting and quickly identifying more illicit goods at the border
  • Understanding the overlaps between business regulations
  • Guaranteeing prescription continuity while people move between care providers

21 May to 25 June 2018: Public sector organisations submitted challenges. See all challenges submitted in round 2.

Round 3

Five challenges will be selected and funded in round 3.

Public sector challenge process

There are 7 stages. Read the specific actions for challenge owners at each stage.

1. Challenge submission

Public sector bodies can submit operational service and policy delivery challenges during the challenge submission window. Read how to submit a challenge.

2. Challenge selection

Challenges are selected based on the challenge selection criteria.

The GovTech Catalyst team works with organisations that submit challenges (called challenge owners) to make sure the challenge is clearly defined, appropriately scoped and scalable. The GTC team may recommend combining similar challenges.

All challenges are initially assessed by the GTC team and a cross government assessment panel of senior officials from:

  • Cabinet Office (CO)
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
  • Government Digital Service (GDS)
  • HM Treasury (HMT)
  • Innovate UK

A shortlist is drawn up and the shortlisted challenge owners are interviewed by the GTC team. The final selection of challenges to be funded is then recommended to the GovTech Steering Group and ministers by the assessment panel. Competition slots are scheduled after challenge selection.

All challenge owners will get feedback on their proposals, even if they are not selected for funding in the current round. Some may be encouraged to apply for the next round of funding.

3. Phase 1 competition

Innovate UK supports the GovTech Catalyst to run challenge competitions using the SBRI competition process. Businesses are invited to pitch innovative solutions to the challenge. Winning pitches get funding from the GovTech Fund to develop their solutions.

The GTC Steering Group picks the winning solutions from a shortlist created by Innovate UK and reviewed by challenge owners and the GTC team.

Businesses should be ready apply for security clearance if:

  • they’re shortlisted

  • it’s needed for their challenge

Phase 1 competitions are open for applications for up to 6 weeks.

4. Phase 1

The challenge owner supports the competition winners to build a functioning prototype.

Phase 1 solutions focus on proving the technical and commercial feasibility of the project, showing how a solution can meet a well-understood set of user needs.

Phase 1 lasts from 1 to 3 months after the agreed start date of phase 1, which will happen after:

  • the challenge owners agree research and development services contracts with the competition winners
  • competition winners get any necessary security clearance

Competition winners and challenge owners will report on the success of each solution at the end of phase 1.

5. Phase 2 competition

Some phase 1 challenges may qualify for additional funding to further develop a working proof of concept. A challenge can get phase 2 funding for more than one solution.

Only phase 1 solution providers can enter the phase 2 competition, which uses a request for tender process. If no phase 1 solution providers want to participate in a phase 2, then there will be no phase 2.

The challenge owner must intend to procure any successful phase 2 solutions.

Phase 2 competitions can be launched between 1 and 3 months after the end of phase 1.

Phase 2 competition will last up to 6 weeks.

Phase 2 competition assessment can take up to 4 weeks.

Phase 2 competition dates depend on:

  • the success of phase 1
  • approval from GTC board on the scope and funding for phase 2

6. Phase 2

Phase 2 should result in a product or service that the challenge owner has tested in an operational environment and is confident will help to address the underlying service needs.

The challenge owner will support the competition winners to iterate the Phase 1 prototypes based on ongoing research and testing with users into a complete proposition.

Competition winners and challenge owners will report on the success of each solution at the end of phase 2.

Phase 2 challenges can last up to 12 months, including development and testing with the challenge owner. For AI innovation, extended evaluation time will need to be planned for supervised and unsupervised learning.

7. Procurement and adoption

Challenge owners should follow their own procurement process.

The GovTech Catalyst team can provide some support to startups on how to commercialise the developed solution (including how to sign up to the Digital Marketplace).

GovTech Catalyst Steering Group

The GovTech Steering Group:

  • decide which GovTech challenges are accepted

  • decide how to distribute the GovTech Fund
  • oversee the running and management of the programme

The GovTech Catalyst Steering Group members come from:

  • BEIS
  • DCMS
  • Devolved authorities
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • GDS
  • Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT)
  • Innovate UK
  • Number 10

The GTC Steering Group reports to:

  • Oliver Dowden, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office
  • Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • Sam Gyimah, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation

The Accounting Officer is Alex Chisholm, BEIS Permanent Secretary.

Contact information

Contact the GovTech Catalyst team with any questions at:

Published 10 May 2018
Last updated 24 September 2018 + show all updates
  1. Round 1: fifth challenge competition now open.
  2. Details of successful Round 2 challenges added.
  3. We've updated the eligibility criteria and round 2 timeline in this guidance. We've added links to new guidance on the challenge owner responsibilities and how to submit a challenge to the GovTech Catalyst.
  4. First published.