Challenge-based funding

Challenge-based funding is a solution-focused approach to research funding that uses prizes, phases, defined timelines, teamwork, mentorship, and competition to direct research activity towards addressing pressing societal and economic problems.

It is designed so that teams work to develop a solution for a specific problem or need. By collaborating with stakeholders, potential beneficiaries and other end-users, the researchers ensure they are solving the right problem and are developing the best solution.

Science Foundation Ireland supports teams with training, mentoring and funding as they take on Challenges. The teams move through competitive phases gaining additional funding over time to work towards a top prize.  

From the first Future Innovator Prize in 2018, to the Sustainable Development Goals Challenge, SFI has accelerated research and innovation using Challenge-based funding. 

SFI-Irish Aid Sustainable Development Goals Challenge

SDG 13, 14 and 15

This SDG Challenge call announced in 2022 supports solutions that contribute to SDG 13: Climate Action, and related goals and targets.

Protection and restoration of nature will be essential in addressing climate change and ensuring future resilience. Recognising the interconnectedness between climate, biodiversity and the environment, the challenge theme also encompasses SDG 14: Life below water and SDG 15: Life on land.

This challenge theme encompasses adaptation and resilience, climate mitigation, environmental protection and restoration, pollution of soil, water and air, biodiversity loss, blue economy, nature-based solutions, amongst others, but applicants are also encouraged to consider where STEM-led solutions could be impactful in areas such as climate justice, climate finance, and digital inclusion as relevant to climate action.

Eligible partner countries for this SDG Challenge Call are: South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

View the teams in this challenge.

The Sustainable Development Goals Challenge is run in partnership with Irish Aid.

Previous Challenges

SDG 3 Challenge - A Challenge seeking solutions in support of SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Winners announced 28 September 2023

SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challlenge - Under this Challenge, research teams were invited to address one of five challenges, or to propose disruptive ideas for technologies across several areas of interest to the Irish Defence Forces. Winners announced 22 February 2023

Plastics Challenge - Remove, Replace, Recover. This Challenge sought solutions to enable the sustainable use of plastics in a circular economy; to restore and preserve our oceans’ health; and to maximise how we use the Earth's finite resources. Winners announced 5 October 2022

Food Challenge -This Challenge invited novel, potentially disruptive, sustainable STEM-led solutions to reduce food loss and waste across the full breadth of the food supply chain from “farm to fork”. Winners announced 14 September 2022

Zero Emissions Challenge - Teams were invited to address significant challenges in achieving net-zero economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through the development of disruptive STEM-led solutions to accelerate progress towards this ambitious goal.  Winners announced 21 June 2021.

AI for Societal Good Challenge - Teams were invited to address significant societal challenges through the development of disruptive STEM-based solutions based on interdisciplinary approaches using artificial intelligence. Winners announced 29 July 2021

SFI Future Innovator Prize - Winners announced 8 May 2020