Horizon Prizes are 'challenge' prizes (also known as ‘inducement’ prizes) offering a cash reward to whoever can most effectively meet a defined challenge.
The aim is to stimulate innovation and come up with solutions to problems that matter to European citizens.
This is how the Horizon Prizes work:
- first a technological or societal challenge, for which no solution has been found, is defined;
- an award is promised for the delivered breakthrough solution;
- the award criteria give information about what the solution must be capable of proving;
- the means to reach the solution are not prescribed, leaving contestants total freedom to come up with the most promising and effective solution.
Horizon Prizes are different from prizes such as the Nobel Prize or the Sakharov Prize which celebrate outstanding achievements performed in the past.
Challenge prizes are a tried and tested way to support and accelerate change in the world and have become an important driver for innovation in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors worldwide. They are recognised as:
- Providing a way to advance innovations that would not ordinarily develop through traditional routes such as grants or procurement.
- Attracting a wider range of innovators, not the 'usual suspects’, because they have low entry barriers including not requiring a track record and because they are often exciting and inspiring.
- Providing an opportunity for innovators to take a risk and to forge new partnerships.
- Leading to sustainable new products and services.
- Spurring interest in a particular issue.
Challenge prizes (also known as 'inducement' prizes) have prompted a surprising array of developments through the past few centuries.
These include the popularity of the potato as a human foodstuff in Europe, which was an outcome of the Académie de Besançon’s Prize for substitute foods (awarded in 1773), and accurate marine navigation, which was an outcome of the British Government’s Longitude Prize (awarded in 1765).
More recently, in 2004 the US X-Prize foundation awarded the $10 million Ansari X-Prize to the first non-government organisation to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. The space contest created a new market and prompted the development of a whole new industry.
In March 2014, the European Commission announced the winner of its first ever challenge prize to encourage inventors to overcome one of the biggest barriers to using vaccines in developing countries: the need to keep them stable at any ambient temperature. The €2 million prize was awarded to German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH for progress towards a novel technology to bring life-saving vaccines to people across the planet in safe and affordable ways.