About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please email us at [email protected] with any additional queries about the Future News Pilot Fund Innovation Sprint, or [email protected] about the Future News Pilot Fund Accelerator Programme.

1. Deciding if this fund is for you

What is the difference between the Future News Pilot Fund Innovation Sprint and Future News Pilot Fund Accelerator Programme?

We have created separate tracks of support for the Future News Pilot Fund, recognising the different needs for different organisations. For example, for-profit start-up technology companies are likely to need broader fundraising and business-building support than teams who are prototyping new solutions within more established organisations or non-profits.

The Future News Pilot Fund offers an Innovation Sprint and an Accelerator Programme:

  • The Innovation Sprint will be run directly by Nesta. It is suitable for organisations who have a specific idea to be tested ( from new or established organisations), to understand insights and impact the idea / solution has.
  • The Accelerator Programme will be run by Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV). It is designed for commercial for-profit organisations, building a tech-enabled business, who are likely to need more sustained support, office space and investment connections as well.

Can I apply for both the Innovation Sprint and the Accelerator Programme?

No, you need to choose which track is best suited to your needs. Nesta or BGV may get in touch with you to discuss whether your application is better suited for a different track. Should that be the case, it will be at Nesta or BGV’s discretion with your agreement.

What’s the commitment required for the Accelerator Programme?

The Accelerator Programme will take place in London from mid-February until the end of June 2020. Programme events will likely run on Mondays and Fridays.

What’s the commitment required for the Innovation Sprint?

The Innovation Sprint will involve London-based and regional-based workshops and cohort events that are compulsory. Participants will be expected to progress their ideas and test them during the full course of the programme.

What’s the timeframe for the fund?

The Innovation Sprint will commence in February 2020 and finish at the end of June 2020.

The Accelerator Programme will commence in mid-February 2020 and finish at the end of June 2020. The Accelerator Programme time frame includes the Pre-Programme and the Core Accelerator Programme. The Pre-Programme offers industry-specific and sector-specific support during February and March and leads up to the Core Accelerator Programme from March to June.

2. About the fund

What does the fund aim to achieve?

The fund aims to support and test ideas and solutions to:

  • Ideas that reimagine engagement of people and communities in the generation and dissemination of public interest news.
  • Ideas that test new ways to improve the financial sustainability of public interest news.

What funding is available?

Funding of up to £100,000 is available to support ideas between February and June 2020. Funding cannot continue beyond this point.

Applicants must submit a budget that clearly justifies what any funding will be spent on, and when, during the course of the fund. Funding could be used for (but is not limited to) staff time, overheads for staff working directly on the idea, user engagement testing, modest travel to workshops and cohort events, costs relevant for solution deployment and measurement of the impact it makes. Please note capital expenditure is generally not permitted and can only be included under exceptional circumstances, subject to approval.

For the Innovation Sprint, we are asking for applicants to tell us the exact amount of grant funding they are requesting, between £20,000 and £100,000.

For the Accelerator Programme, applicants are asked to identify if they are applying for either:

  • £20,000
  • £50,000
  • £100,000

For both the Innovation Sprint and the Accelerator Programme we expect to support more applications under £50,000 than those in the £50,000–£100,000 bracket.

What level of organisational cost/overhead would the funding support? Can you give a ballpark % or total funding requested that could be used for this?

We support full cost recovery. There is no maximum but obviously, budgets should be proportionate and reasonable.

How many applications do you expect to fund?

The Innovation Sprint will aim to support approximately 8–12 applications.

The Accelerator Programme will aim to support 8 applications.

You can only apply through one track.

When will the programme commence?

The Innovation Sprint and Accelerator Programme will commence in February 2020.

How long does the programme last?

Both programme tracks end in June 2020.

What are the key dates of the fund?

Applications open on 4 November 2019 and close at 23:59 GMT on 8 December 2019.

Shortlisted applicants will be notified by 20 December 2019.

Interviews / development days will take place during the week of 6 January 2020 and applicants may be asked to further develop their proposals or submit supplemental information.

Final decisions will be made in mid January 2020.

The Innovation Sprint will involve:

  • From 1 February to end of March 2020: two months of intensive support to design and test ideas.
  • From April to June 2020: a three-month period to deploy ideas and measure impact.

The Accelerator Programme will involve:

  • From 17 February to 13 March 2020: Accelerator Pre- Programme for sector-specific support.
  • From 30 March to 29 June 2020: Core Accelerator Programme offering business building support and office space.


  • 4 November Call for applications opens
  • 14 November FIrst webinar for potential applicants
  • 26 November Second webinar for potential applicants
  • 8 December 23:59 GMT call for applications closes
  • By 20 December Shortlisted applicants notified
  • 6–10 January In-person interviews for shortlisted Accelerator Programme applicants, In-person engagement days for Innovation Sprint applicants
  • Mid-January Grant offers made
  • February Innovation Sprint begins, Accelerator Pre-Programme begins
  • April - June Core Accelerator Programme, Deployment and impact measurement phase for Innovation Sprint
  • End of June Final showcase event bringing together participants from both tracks

What do you mean by public interest news?

Public interest journalism/news is:

  • About matters that concern society as a whole, including those who have been historically or systematically under-represented in society or by power
  • Produced by people and organisations that are editorially and functionally independent of political, corporate or other interests (even if they receive some funding or support from such sources)
  • Committed to the pursuit of truth, according to the abiding and emerging values and ethics of journalism, including accuracy, fairness and balance.

What do you mean by under-served communities?

Under-served communities face barriers to or deficits in accessing or receiving news, journalism or information that is relevant to their lives, which can threaten their ability to participate in their communities, and in democratic life more broadly. These communities can be based on geography, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, health status, among other parameters, and they can be physical or virtual.

3. Who can apply for the fund?

What are the eligibility criteria?

Who can apply:

  • Any organisation can potentially apply. The Future News Pilot Fund will be open to anyone with promising new ideas for how public interest news, especially at local level, could be produced, sustainably run and disseminated. The best ideas to address the public interest news challenge will not just come from inside the established industry and we want to support a wide variety of organisations to take part. Any organisation that is not itself a news organisation generating public interest news, but has a promising and potentially transformative idea for reimagining public interest news, must demonstrate their commitment to public interest news in the application form and selection process.
  • You must be a UK registered organisation; if you are not, then you must apply with a lead partner who is a UK registered organisation.
  • Ideas need to be focused on public interest news in England and address the focus areas of this funding round.
  • The idea must be designed to benefit people in England (noting that people elsewhere could also benefit).
  • The idea, solution or business must have an intention of delivering measurable social impact and ambition to continue beyond the duration of this fund.

We are unable to support:

  • Applications from individuals.
  • Ideas that cannot demonstrate public benefit.
  • Ideas that are likely to increase inequality or exclusion, or otherwise have a harmful or detrimental effect on individuals (such as through the unethical use of private data).
  • Any activity that is party political, affiliated to a faith or religious group.
  • Pure editorial work or individual investigative journalism pieces.
  • One-off projects that do not aim to continue beyond the lifetime of the fund.

I’m not a news organisation. Can I apply?

The fund is open to eligible news organisations and other innovators working in England.

Any organisation that is not a news organisation, but has a promising and potentially transformative solution for public interest news, must show their commitment to public interest news in the application form and selection process.

Do you have to be based in the UK to enter?

If you are applying as a single organisation, you must be a UK registered charity or company.

If you are applying as a partnership, the lead partner must be a UK registered charity or company. Other partners may be based overseas.

Why is the fund restricted to England?

Funding for this programme is restricted to activities that primarily benefit people and organisations in England because the Departmental funding available is restricted to England only. Equivalent funds for the rest of the UK are controlled by devolved administrations.

Can partnerships apply?

Yes. We welcome partnerships to apply for this fund.

You must nominate a lead partner to apply on your behalf, and be clear in your application form why you are applying as a partnership.

Can individuals apply?

No, only UK registered companies or charities are able to apply for the fund.

Can one organisation submit more than one application?

Yes, but we are unlikely to fund two applications from the same organisation.

My idea already receives funding from another source. Can I still apply?

There is no requirement to bring additional funding to apply. However, you are welcome to bring in additional funding from other sources to develop and test your solution.

Please identify in your application what funding will be matched, and what initiative costs will be met by the Future News Pilot Fund.

I’m a for-profit company. What do I need to be aware of?

Nesta can only fund applications that meet our charitable objects and provide public benefit. Therefore, there must be a clear commitment to supporting the public interest news ecosystem linked to the funding application.

Does the funding include state aid?

The funding received through the Future News Pilot Fund may contain state aid. State aid is generally unlawful unless certain exemptions apply. We, therefore, can only provide funding where we can determine that an exemption applies. We will ask you questions during the application process to help determine whether an exemption could apply. We expect that in most cases the de minimis exemption (Commission Regulation (EC) No 1407/2013) will apply. You can find information and guidance about state aid and exemptions at GOV.UK. Please be aware that Nesta cannot provide legal advice to you, including on state aid issues.

4. Completing your application form

How do I apply for the fund?

You must only apply through either the Innovation Sprint OR the Accelerator Programme. You cannot apply for both. Applications for both the Innovation Sprint and the Accelerator Programme must be submitted via our online application platform:

Submit an application to the Innovation Sprint.

Submit an application to the Accelerator Programme.

When is the deadline for applications?

Applications close at 23:59 GMT on 8 December 2019.

Can I apply more with more than one ideal?

You can submit as many as three proposals, but you will need to do so on separate application forms. You must only choose one track to apply through.

Are there any constraints around the type of public interest news that my solution aims to support?

Solutions must be directed to public interest news in England, and have the potential to improve the financial sustainability or increase public engagement, particularly for under-served communities in the UK.

Applicants need to take into account the public good considerations that are part of the criteria for this fund. This means that we are unable to support any ideas that are exclusively for private benefit or profit maximisation (i.e. solely to make money). An example of a idea with no public benefit might be public interest news that is behind paywall.

We are also unable to support ideas that are likely to increase inequality or exclusion, or otherwise have a harmful or detrimental effect on individuals (such as through the unethical use of private data). This would include business models that rely on personal data being gathered and sold to third parties without explicit permission from individuals involved.

Who should the solution be aimed at?

Any ideas / solutions supported through this fund need to have an impact on audiences who predominantly reside in England.

We are particularly interested in solutions that help address local and / or under-served communities in England and improve their engagement in public interest news.

What is the expectation regarding evaluation and evidence?

Understanding the potential impact of your idea and how you will track it, will be part of the process.

We will work with successful applicants to identify how to best gather learnings about what works and what doesn’t, as well as measure impact within the time frame of the fund.

One of the conditions for funding will be that applicants put in place some time and resource to measure impact and share learnings and insights. We will support you in that.

I have commercially sensitive information. How will this be treated as part of the application process?

Information included in your application will be accessible to key personnel at Nesta, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, advisory panel members and professional support providers. The privacy statement sets out who the information provided in your application will be shared with.

5. Why apply?

What are the benefits of being involved in the programme?

The Innovation Sprint and Accelerator Programme offer slightly different benefits, recognising the different needs of organisations best suited to either track. You can only apply to ONE of these tracks.

Funding within both tracks:

Both tracks offer grant funding of £20,000–£100,000, depending on the scope of the idea.

Wrap-around and business-building support within both tracks:

The Innovation Sprint will provide additional support which will include:

  • Targeted support to build and test a specific idea for any organisation, either alone or in partnership.
  • Bespoke and masterclass support from news, journalism, public engagement and digital experts.
  • London-based and regional workshops across England.
  • Support from sector and business experts.
  • Workshops, skills and training sessions run by a number of leading organisations in the journalism, technology and innovation field.
  • Evaluation and impact measurement support.
  • Access to new research and insights.

The Accelerator will provide:

  • A structured business-building programme for early stage for-profit businesses using technology to support the ecosystem of generation and delivery of public interest news with this funding.
  • Support from sector experts and fellow entrepreneurs.
  • Mentoring.
  • Three months central London office space for up to two team members.
  • Workshops, skills and training sessions run by a number of leading organisations in the journalism, technology and innovation field.
  • Evaluation and impact measurement support.
  • Access to new research and insights.

Community events for both tracks:

This fund is aiming to build a community that works together on testing their ideas. Successful applicants will not only develop their own ideas but also form part of a wider community that supports each other and shares useful learnings. Between January and June 2020 the fund brings together successful applicants in both tracks at multiple points.

What can the funds be used for?

  • Direct initiative costs.
  • Development costs.
  • Staff costs relevant to development and deployment of the idea during the timeframe of the programme (you can include overheads, pension costs, national insurance etc for the relevant staff for the timeframe of the programme.)
  • Cost of travel/accommodation to and from the Accelerator or cohort events/masterclasses (in case of Innovation Sprint).

Note: we are unable to fund training or pure editorial/content production.

If successful, when will funding be released? How will it be released, in full or parts?

Funding is payable in arrears over the six-month duration of your project. We tend to make quarterly payments, but we are open to making monthly payments and some payments in advance if your organisational cashflow would prohibit your participation without this.

What are the conditions that apply for receipt of funding?

Organisations must:

  • Be successfully accepted into the programme.
  • Comply with the Terms and Conditions, grant agreement, reporting and milestone requirements.
  • Participate in, and contribute to, learning and insights on impact and progress.
  • Share learning and insights about your idea and participation in the programme.
  • Acknowledge Nesta and Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport contributions.
  • Acknowledge state aid requirements and report on any state aid received.
  • Inform Nesta (and Bethnal Green Ventures, in the case of Accelerator Programme) of any changes to your delivery plan or resourcing.

Will the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport or Nesta take any equity as a result of being funded?


Who will own IP of any solutions developed during the fund?

You will own any IP you developed using the grant.

However, as the grant comes from public funds and is being administered by a charity, Nesta, we have an obligation to ensure that the funds are used in a way that achieves public benefit and doesn't just benefit your organisation alone. Nesta shall be entitled to use any reports or materials you develop for research and evaluation purposes and to publicly share learnings. You may also be asked to grant rights to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to use IP or learnings derived from the grant for public-interest purposes.

6. Assessment of applications

How will the successful applications be chosen?

Eligible applications will be assessed against the criteria below. The most promising applications will be shortlisted and invited to attend an interview or engagement day in London in the week commencing 6 January 2020.



This fund seeks to support innovative ideas that could reimagine engagement and increase the financial sustainability of public interest news.

For the purposes of this fund, we will consider:

  • What is new about your approach to reimagining engagement and increasing the financial sustainability of public interest news
  • The uniqueness of your idea in comparison to what already exists in the public interest news ecosystem in England.
  • The uniqueness of the technology or service or process you plan to use.


We want to understand the potential impact of your idea and how you plan to achieve it.

For solutions that seek to transform and reimagine engagement in public interest news, we will be interested in how people will be engaged differently in news generation, production, verification or consumption, who you plan to engage differently, and what impact that could have on their lives, democracy or civic engagement.

For solutions that seek to improve the financial sustainability of public interest news, we will be interested to understand how the proposed idea could increase revenue and efficiency or reduce costs, without undermining the role independent journalism plays in democratic engagement.


We want to understand what skills, knowledge and experiences you and your team would bring to the programme. We believe that everybody has the potential to be an innovator and want to make sure we help you plug important skills gaps in the programme.

For the purpose of this fund, we will consider

  • The experience and skills of the team and whether you can realistically deliver the proposed solution.
  • Your openness as a team to share and learn, as this will be an important component of the programme.


Applications must include a budget and delivery plan that demonstrates the resources you have and your ability to deliver within the timescale of the fund (ends June 2020).


We want to understand how your proposed solution will and could financially sustain and grow after the funding period of this fund (ends June 2020).

For the purpose of this fund, we are particularly looking for ideas that:

  • Clearly aim to continue beyond the end of this fund.
  • Include a clear plan for a potential business model/how you think you can financially sustain your idea beyond the life-time of this fund.
  • Address an identifiable need.

Who decides if I get funding?

All eligible applications will be reviewed by programme specialists and subject-matter specialists against the assessment criteria.

External selection advisers will provide Nesta with information and advice.

Nesta will make the final decision for the Innovation Sprint track and Nesta and Bethnal Green Ventures will jointly make the final decision on the Accelerator Programme applications.

When will I know if I have been successful?

Shortlisted applicants will be informed by 20 December 2019 and final grant offers will be made by mid-January 2020 for both tracks.

7. Help and support

I have a question about my application. How can I get help?

Please contact [email protected] for questions relating to the Innovation Sprint and [email protected] for questions relating to the Accelerator Programme.

Due to the high number of applicants we may not be able to reply to all emails immediately. We will prioritise queries that are not otherwise answered in fund materials available on the website. We will update our FAQs page regularly throughout the call for applications.