November 22, 2021

March 13, 2023

Tech for our Planet: COP26 Challenge Programme

Engaging startups to pilot innovative solutions aimed at helping us achieve NetZero

Open Innovation Programmes


In 2021, PUBLIC partnered with COP26 and the Cabinet Office to design and deliver the Tech for Our Planet (TFOP) programme, an innovation challenge programme to identify and pilot leading CleanTech SMEs that address the most pressing challenges in achieving Net Zero, and to showcase them at COP26 in Glasgow. Through a project needs assessment, PUBLIC identified three clear objectives: i) find a set of diverse, high-quality CleanTech solutions on an international scale that could address the challenges; ii) enable selected companies to complete a successful pilot in a short timeframe, ahead of the final event iii) and execute a successful event as part of the COP26 conference in Glasgow.


We were responsible for designing the programme, including defining the five challenge areas aligned with the COP26 vision and priorities and running a competitive global selection process to find the most promising CleanTech SMEs. We then worked with down-selected SMEs to successfully execute a 3-month pilot with public and private sector partners and organised the final Tech For Our Planet Showcase and fringe events for innovators to present the results of their pilot, and to engage with policymakers and investors around CleanTech's potential.

We provided clear value to the Cabinet Office by:

  • Designing a five-stage approach to innovation challenge, adapting our methodology to cater for the needs of the Cabinet Office and key government stakeholders, and aligning with COP26 priorities: challenge definition, campaigning, selection, pilot delivery and final showcase;
  • Utilising a dynamic and agile project management approach to respond and adapt to COP26 timelines and requirements by tracking both TFOP and COP26 activities ensuring they stayed aligned through delays, adaptations, and changes. Our agile project management approach allowed for fast adaptation to the new circumstances and effective delivery;
  • Consulting regularly with the COP26 teams on key deliverables, communication and event planning to ensure we acted as one team and had consistent messaging on the programme vision and benefits, including outlining a clear TFOP communications plan;
  • Mobilising international networks and community partners to achieve 178 applications from innovators from across 6 countries and managed 3 rounds of bid reviews with our internal programmes, tech, and climate teams. We resourced tech, climate, and business experts to interview down-selected applicants and collaboratively finalised the 10 solutions with the highest potential to achieve environmental impact with the client;
  • Working collaboratively with a range of international stakeholders, including our government clients and scientific advisors, to make key decisions such as the final selection and pilot planning mentorship, through multi-stakeholder sessions;
  • Providing 1-2-1 tailored support to successful solutions including pitch preparation ahead of COP26, monitoring their progress through bi-weekly check-ins, and flagging any delivery risks and mitigation strategies promptly to the Cabinet Office; and
  • Utilising our methodology for event management to run an engaging and dynamic final event in front of international policymakers in the form of a Pitch event and live questions to innovators, similar to a Dragon’s Den pitch


At the end of this process, 10 diverse and dynamic SMEs presented their solutions on stage at COP26 in front of policymakers and investors from all over the world. These solutions demonstrated great results on a small scale. For example, the Canadian startup Brainbox AI, employing artificial intelligence to autonomously monitor the energy efficiency of buildings, has been generating up to 25% energy reduction and a 40% improvement in individual building carbon footprints, and Olio, a community food-sharing app aiming to eliminate food waste, successfully collected 23 tonnes of food in an 8-week pilot program across 23 Tesco stores. The Tech For Our Planet event attracted 4500 attendees and generated 1000 social media posts and 3.5 social media impressions.


Photo by the author

Chiara Carlini

Deputy Director of Startup & Challenge Programmes

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