Energy, Enthusiasm and Inspiration in Abundance at the first CCR Challenge Fund Briefing Event

On Wednesday 18th November an online event was held to launch the Cardiff Capital Region Challenge Fund. Targeting a Public Sector audience and specifically those active in the Cardiff Capital Region, this event introduced the new £10m CCR Challenge Fund. Attendees heard from experienced practitioners from Innovate UK and Welsh Government, as well as leading academics from Cardiff University. The aim was to gain an insight into how Public Sector bodies can act as a catalyst for driving Challenge-led Innovation and importantly how the new CCR Challenge Fund package of support can be accessed to help tackle some of the big challenges facing society.

The event was opened by Cardiff Capital Region’s Director, Kellie Beirne, who started proceedings stating an interest to capture as much live learning as possible. Kellie stated that over the period of the pandemic certain sectors of the economy, particularly the foundational, have been greatly impacted and stressed that this insidiously seeps through to communities, mental health and many aspects of the community as a whole.

“What we are trying to do is address gaps and markets where no current solution exists.” – Kellie Beirne

Kellie continued that, on a real positive note, ingenuity has been witnessed by businesses coming through and helping using innovation and inspiration to combat the new set of challenges brought about, not in the least, by the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been an upturn in interest in nature, working from home, caring and optimism as a whole that we would like to maintain and develop further going forward.

“Thinking about how we solve challenges and overcome problems is a process of discovery and experimentation. We aren’t asking the best questions yet let alone getting the answers. Today is about asking those questions and finding out what we can do to help solve them. We are embarking on a different process; fail fast and fail forward.” – Kellie Beirne

Kevin Morgan spoke next from Cardiff University on the topic of the ‘Innovation Landscape’ in Wales stating it’s imperative we think beyond Wales. The landscape is changing rapidly and who we think of as the key players is changing. The process was narrowly conceived and now we think of the public sector as a major player, social and technological innovation is now a key player. It’s now imperative we think beyond wales and access European funds if we are allowed to do so. The fastest change landscape is the institutional landscape. The policy landscape lays way beyond our limiting borders and we are now beginning to see devolution within Wales as opposed to devolution from London to Wales.

The CCR is an exciting agenda if we get it right, how we secure the benefits of regionalism without suffering the Balkanism of regionalism.” – Kevin Morgan

Kevin went on to talk about how the Challenge Fund sits alongside infuse – the two are two of the most exciting public sector innovation schemes being launched anywhere in the UK right now. We can build confidence in a sector that’s been diluted by years of austerity. The public sector can be a catalyst for real innovation rather than just being the last chance saloon to pick up the tab for market failure.

Jon Hazell spoke next about the SBRI – Small Business Research Initiative, and the importance of Open Innovation and Innovation procurement for the public sector. Jon stated the merits of running an open innovation programme by using an SBRI. SBRI provides a process where the public sector publishes an open challenge that needs to be solved and allows innovators to submit applications to test and develop their ideas through a phased process to help manage risk. When the public sector and private sector work together in this way, the public sector gets access to new products and services that will make significant improvements in service delivery, while the innovators get funding and a chance to work with a lead customer to help develop a solution that meets the needs of the customer and has the best chance of success.

Jon spoke passionately of the SBRI, Open Innovation, and Procurement of Innovation being seen as a success, but stressed that we need to do more.

In order to get involved in these type of programmes an openness about your challenges is imperative and funding is needed to experiment. Jon urged the virtual audience to take advantage of this opportunity for funding and support with the Cardiff Capital Region Innovation Fund.

Defining your challenge was seen as one of the hardest starting challenges throughout this talk and Jon gave some examples of GovTech challenges set by public sector bodies across the UK to help stimulate thinking about the challenges we may face. Interestingly, questions were posed such as: How might we use emerging technologies to improve the tracking of waste? How might we combat loneliness by helping our communities to help each other, in a digitally and transport deprived area? (Monmouthshire council wanted to help communities facing isolation, for example), and how might we tackle traffic congestion using data and emerging technologies?

Kate Williams, Welsh Government, spoke next on the topic of challenge-led Innovation in Wales. Kate stated they work closely with internal and external funding bodies to maximise innovation activity. They promote Welsh Government funded opportunities, support the wider innovation network by working with colleagues from Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network with a core aim of supporting Welsh businesses to access the wider UK funding opportunities to maximise the benefit of R&D within Wales. The Welsh Government Innovation Division has supported SBRI competitions for the past seven years, delivering eighteen challenges that have opened up public sector R&D contracts of more than £7m, including over £3million in contracts awarded to Welsh businesses.

Key focuses of Challenge-led Innovation:

– Real innovation, with a focus on technological challenges where either no solution is available on the market or where existing solutions do not fully meet the need.

– Projects that have a broader market potential so that the solutions can be adopted on a wider scale.

– and most importantly of all, projects that demonstrate potential benefit for Welsh citizens to ensure that we’re leveraging public procurement spend for the benefit of our communities.

Successes of challenge-led funding

Working with dementia care and nursing to improve patient care by enabling nurses to spend 10% more time with patients was ran through Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Environmental challenges with Natural Resources Wales like fenceless fencing, developing solutions to prevent grazing cattle from damaging waterways and newly planted habitats. A large amount of motorcyclist injuries on Welsh roads was another challenge faced by developing a testing facility which now informs EU standards for motorcycle helmet grading and rating, based on the research undertaken by a challenge. Even a reduction of 86% in ambulance cleaning times during the Covid-19 pandemic was a challenge faced and met giving the staff the time to undertake other duties whilst the cleaning process is underway.

Gareth Browning, CCR Challenge Fund Manager spoke on the aims and objectives of the fund which, at its core, is to build local wealth through creating commercial opportunities for organisations across the CCR by inviting them to propose solutions to the challenges.

The Three Priority Themes of the Challenge Fund

Accelerating decarbonisation, improving the health and wellbeing of the region’s citizens, and supporting, enhancing and transforming communities. Gareth stated the urgency of these priority themes has now been further intensified by the experience of Covid-19.

The fund is intended to help bring together challenges that require the public, private and perhaps third sectors to work together to find solutions.  Key benefits will include:

  • Opportunity to explore creative solutions to local challenges.
  • Investment to find and develop innovative solutions.
  • Improved local service delivery that benefits from tailored solutions.
  • New market creation and ability to ‘break through’ public procurement frameworks.
  • Potential for commercial solutions which can be scaled and sold both locally and beyond Local supply chain growth and development.

“Fantastic early engagement in our CCR Challenge Fund briefing event, demonstrating the appetite for challenge-led innovation in the region. I hope we can draw on the experiences shared by Innovate UK and Welsh Government in the design and implementation of our CCR Challenges over the coming months. This exciting Challenge agenda opens up the art of the possible and can play a significant role in rebuilding our economy and tackling big societal challenges” –  Gareth Browning

Rick Delbridge from Cardiff University then spoke about the support available and how we can engage from an expression of interest form, challenge development workshops, partnership approaches, the rollout phase timetable and how that would look to a breakdown of the funds assessment criteria.

A lively Q&A followed with questions on ranging from EOI deadlines to clarity over emerging IP to safeguard and encourage open dialogue in the initial stages of the process. How can we help to prepare the local supplier markets to gear them up to engage with challenge-based innovation/procurement? Will the panel assessing be reflective of the aims – connecting ordinary citizens with industry brains? Will proposals centred in de-growth & wellbeing economics be supported? And many more.

If what you heard interested you then please follow these next steps

Please visit the webpage or email the CCR Challenge Fund team at

Also, please contact the team at to book onto one of our upcoming Challenge Development Workshops or you can book a 1:1 meeting with the CCR Challenge Fund management team at one of our Challenge development surgeries.

View the event recording HERE.


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