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Cabinet Office launches climate challenges for startups

The Cabinet Office has partnered with government technology accelerator Public to run a programme for startups developing innovative digital and data technologies that can help with some of the most pressing climate issues

The Cabinet Office is inviting technology startups to develop digital and data-related climate solutions as part of its new Tech for Our Planet challenge programme.

Run in partnership with government technology (GovTech) accelerator Public, the programme will allow startups to apply for one of six core climate challenges aligned to government priorities and development goals.

The challenges relate to how technology can be used to drive more sustainable consumption within the home; how it can promote better land use and waste management practices on farms; how to better capture and share energy consumption data across the grid; and how it can boost community engagement so that more people can have their say on climate priorities and initiatives.

The two further challenges relate to how tech can be used to make financial services greener, and to support aquatic ecosystem protection, including ecosystem recovery and preventing biodiversity loss.

If successful, startups will have the opportunity to develop and pilot their new technologies within the UK ahead of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021, where they will be given the chance to pitch their solutions to an international audience of industry figures, investors and policy makers.

“Public was founded to discover, develop and deliver innovation to governments around the world to help solve pressing issues. We believe that Tech For Our Planet will be a key step in identifying innovative digital solutions to some of the most pressing climate challenges,” said the firm’s director of external affairs, Syma Cullasy-Aldridge.

“Public remains committed to helping government identify the next-generation of innovators and cutting-edge startups to tackle the threat of climate change.”

To mark the launch of the programme, Public has also released a research report, titled Startup zero, highlighting the role startups can play in developing greener technologies to tackle climate change, as well as how they can help to make the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP) more effective.

NZIP is a collection of 10 areas – such as offshore wind, bioenergy, industrial fuel switching, greenhouse gas capture and removal, and hydrogen – where the government has pledged £1bn of research and development (R&D) investment to develop green technologies, including growth funding for startups and scaleups.

“Overall, we found that the top 150 NZIP startups have raised a total of £823m in venture funding, as of the first quarter of 2021,” said the report. “Breaking down this figure, homes, disruptive technologies and advanced modular reactors are the three best capitalised sectors in the portfolio, having raised £227m, £212m and £166m respectively.”

Noting a Tech Nation report that showed only 3.5% of UK venture capital deals in 2020 went to net zero-related startups, the report outlines 10 recommendations for how the government can further support net zero startups.

These recommendations include building an open and accessible energy data infrastructure, investing in the digital skills needed to deliver future green energy innovation, and supporting the growth of venture capital investment in less mature technologies (such as offshore wind and direct air capture).

“The funding landscape in the sector is currently unbalanced. In particular, short investment cycles mean funding is targeted towards technologies that return short-term benefits for investors, rather than the long-term solutions needed to combat climate change,” said the report.

“We recommend that the government identifies and supports investment, especially in areas where venture funding is less prevalent or less attractive to private investors. This might include areas where technology is currently less mature.”

Other recommendations include promoting diversity of founders within the net zero startup ecosystem; building a government-led forum to promote greater collaboration between various stakeholders; using public sector purchasing power to promote the growth and commercialisation of UK energy startups; and adopting a wide range of financing approaches for the energy transition.

“Innovation is crucial for developing the low-carbon technologies that will enable us to end our contribution to climate change by 2050, and that’s why the government is investing £1bn through our Net Zero Innovation Portfolio to put the UK at the forefront of this vital sector,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

“The UK has a deep pool of innovative companies working to combat climate change, and this report highlights how important it is to support the UK’s energy innovators which are helping us to be a world leader in green technology.”

Applications to the Tech for Our Planet programme will close on 25 June 2021.

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