Guest Post: Nesta Challenges to help UK’s young people find innovative solutions to major societal issues

Nesta Challenges is calling on young people from across the UK to come up with pioneering technology solutions to the issues they care about, from climate change and pollution to health and wellbeing.

Secondary schools and youth groups throughout the UK are encouraged to enter teams of young people aged 11-16 for the Longitude Explorer Prize.

The Prize is supported by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has provided almost £1 million investment in the competition to keep the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future and support the next generation of digital entrepreneurs in their aspirations. The Government continues to drive investment into backing the UK’s world-leading innovators at the cutting edge of the next scientific discovery. 

Nesta Challenges is providing free resources to stimulate young people’s creative thinking and enable them to come up with practical artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to help people to:

  • Live greener – tackling pollution and encouraging energy saving
  • Live longer – supporting those in later life to stay independent and active
  • Live better – finding ways for people to live more healthily
  • Live together – through better transportation and technology

Following two successful programme pilots, this year’s Prize aims to grow significantly in scale, reaching young people from all corners of the UK. Data from 2017 showed that 100 per cent of students had a better understanding of entrepreneurship and 100 per cent of teachers would take part again.

Nesta Challenges is particularly keen to enhance opportunities for those who are currently less likely to be represented in STEM careers or become innovators, such as female applicants and those from lower income backgrounds.

Only 1.5 per cent of the school age population across England currently have access to innovation programmes, and Nesta research has found that among the founders of innovation start-ups, women are outnumbered by men by four to one.[1]  

The winning teams’ school or youth group will be awarded a grant of up to £25,000, to invest in STEM and entrepreneurial activities, or support their team with the ongoing development of their concept. Grants are also available for runners up.

Tris Dyson, Executive Director of Nesta Challenges, said:

“Innovation is crucial to help meet the major societal transformations we are experiencing. But to inspire the next generation of innovators and ensure the creation of tech that meets the varied needs of our population, we need to involve a diverse range of people in entrepreneurship.”

“By encouraging young people from all walks of life to harness tech to tackle issues they care about, we can generate practical ideas that will make a real positive impact. AI is already all around us in our daily lives, so giving young people the chance to use it creatively as a force for good will help to demystify innovation while building their confidence and capabilities.”

Launching at a time of growing youth activism, including last week’s global climate strikes, the Prize hopes to harness young people’s enthusiasm for driving positive change.

Up to 60 semi-finalists will be announced in January 2020, with 30 finalists shortlisted by April 2020. Finalists will be provided with expert mentors and access to further resources to develop their ideas into prototypes and business cases. Following a Dragon’s Den-style event where finalists pitch to a panel of expert judges, a winner will be chosen at the end of the academic year.

Working on submissions to the Prize can be easily incorporated into extra-curricular, after-school activities, such as STEM clubs, code clubs or youth group sessions, with Nesta Challenges providing activity sessions plans including examples of practical AI applications to spark creative thinking.

Successful Longitude Explorer Prize entries from previous years include a tool which allows ambulance crews to check live data on available beds at hospitals, and a wearable device for people on the autistic spectrum, which enables teachers to be alerted to the anxiety levels of their students.

Guy Strath, Subject Leader in IT, Southlands School in Hampshire, entered the winning team in 2017, who came up with the wearable device for those on the autistic spectrum. He added:

“Taking part in this Prize is an amazing opportunity, regardless of whether you’re a finalist or not. As a teacher, entering any extra-curricular school competition means looking for value in terms of what the students get out of it, and this Prize offers that in spades.”

“The design of this Prize is part of what makes it so rewarding; the journey that those taking part go on is fantastic. From working together as a team and coming up with solutions, to then – if you’re lucky enough to be a finalist – being supported by expert mentors and meeting other schools with exciting ideas, the whole learning process is great.”

Submissions to this year’s Longitude Explorer Prize are open from 23rd September until 29th November 2019. To find out more, visit

@NestaChallenges #LEP2019


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