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Nesta, the innovation foundation, today opens applications for the next phase of the ‘Open Up Challenge’, a £2.5m prize fund backing next-generation financial technology for small businesses. The prize is open to applicants globally- no prior participation in the first stage is needed to apply.

The Open Up Challenge is seeking innovative products and services that will help small businesses save time and money, find better services, reduce stress and discover the intelligence in their financial data.

The Challenge is looking for fintech solutions that will promote competition, and teams can apply for one of three prize tracks (full details can be found here):

  1. Business Current Account (BCA) Track: The Challenge is looking for solutions that will (at a minimum) help small businesses navigate the market for business current accounts. This service could be embedded in a wider product.
  2. Credit Track: The Challenge is looking for solutions that will (at a minimum) help small businesses navigate the market for unsecured loans of less than £25k. This service could be embedded in a wider product.
  3. New Frontiers Track: The Challenge is issuing an open call for next-generation products and services that will create substantial value for small businesses and strengthen competition.With real-time, permissioned access to small businesses’ account transaction data now enabled by open banking, there is an unprecedented opportunity to re-think financial services for small businesses.

The Challenge opens for applications today and talented start-ups or established companies have until 4th May to apply. The prize is open to applicants from anywhere in the world but solutions will need to serve UK small businesses.

At the end of June, an independent judging panel will award grants of £100k to ten to twelve finalists to develop their products for the Challenge, with five or six of those teams winning prize awards of at least £200k in November.

The Open Up Challenge was announced by Nesta in February 2017 in a global search for organisations seeking to use new open banking technology to transform the way small businesses discover, access and use financial services.

Twenty teams participated in the first phase of the Challenge, each receiving a £50k development grant. Ten teams were then selected by an independent judging panel in December for developing products assessed as most likely to have a positive impact for UK small businesses in 2018 and beyond. The teams, awarded an extra £100k each, represented a mix of established and early stage fintechs adopting a range of data-driven approaches to solving real problems faced by small businesses. It is anticipated that many of these twenty teams will be applying to participate in the second phase, along with a fresh cohort of applicants.

Chris Gorst, Challenge Prize Lead at Nesta,commented:

“Open banking is becoming a reality and we have already started to see fintechs build tools and services that will impact the way small businesses discover, access and use core financial products and services.

“The next phase of the Challenge builds on this by encouraging these innovators to develop solutions that will enable small businesses to better navigate the market and compare the products and services now available to them.

“It was evident from the first phase of the Challenge that there is an abundance of pent-up innovation ready to come to market and open banking has the potential to radically reduce the barriers for these new products to emerge. This is good news for small businesses.

“The Challenge is open to everyone, not just previous winners, and we are genuinely excited to see what other solutions the prize unearths.”

The Open Up Challenge is part of a package of reforms to retail banking from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The Challenge is managed by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, which delivers innovation through Challenge Prizes including the Longitude Prize and the Inclusive Technology Prize.

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