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Innovation Awards and Prizes

The purpose of the PEN-CP Innovation Awards and Prizes is to celebrate the most innovative solutions and solution ideas, to the broad variety of challenges that contemporary Customs administrations currently face. From 2019 to 2022, we have executed three rounds of Customs Innovation Award calls, each with different scopes, submission formats, and scoring criteria.


First, in 2019, the call for submissions title was: “Improvements in existing solutions and technologies, and introduction of new solutions and technologies; improvements in existing processes, as well as introduction of new processes (PCIA-2019).” Seven different PEN-CP partner administrations made submissions, and, the winning submission, selected in a vote held during the Year 1 PEN-CP event in Budapest, was by UK Border Force:  “Using a human security radar screening passengers on the move.” (See all PCIA-2019 submissions in PEN-CP Magazine 11, pages 19-29.) Since then, a handful of Customs administrations have expressed their interest in following up with other PCIA-2019 submissions, in the context of PEN-CP’s Innovation upscaling and Resource pooling ambitions.)


Next, in 2020, based on the PET-1 and PET-3 work with actual Customs User Needs and Challenges, i.e. the PUNIs, we published the following two innovation award calls, both of which received multiple submissions by PEN-CP partner administrations: (i) “Novel approaches to cope with the growing international e-commerce traffic (PCIA-2020-PET-1)”; and (ii) “Future opportunities with mobile laboratory capabilities (PCIA-2020-PET-3)”. The winning submission for the PET-1 topic was entitled “E-commerce in an integrated data approach” (by Dutch Customs); and the winning submission for the PET-3 topic was entitled “New applications for mobile FTIR-instruments in the field – from the detection of gasoil fraud to screening of cannabis” (by Belgian Customs).


Then, in 2021, we invited the global Customs community to join our Customs Innovation Award (GCIA-2021) action within the theme “Actions and ideas from customs that demonstrate innovative approaches to data quality; with two tracks: one for tested solutions and other for novel ideas”. The two winners and submission topics were the following: (i) Australian Border Force: “Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) bulk upload function”; and (ii) UK Border Force: “Designed and embedded carrier connectivity dashboards, to identify carriers importing freight into Great Britain that are not submitting mandated pre-arrival safety and security declarations”.


Information about the two recently closed calls (status May 2023), Global Customs Innovation Award GCIA-2022/23 & PEN-CP Innovation Prize PIP-2022/23, will be added here soon.

Advanced Innovation Instruments

PEN-CP employs four advanced innovation instruments, as described below. For all four instruments, an exhaustive process of preparatory work is normally required before calls for participation are launched. In our view, in fact, the success of each action depends in large part on the high-quality preparation of announcements and call texts. These must include well-formulated scopes and objectives; clear, detailed rules for participation; and realistic expected outcomes, with potential to help Customs to solve specific problems.

Technology grant
Challenge competition

Co-developing and field-testing promising technologies with Customs practitioners. Two grant topics to be drafted and agreed by each PET-team (Data & risks; Detection technologies; Laboratory equipment). Examples include: tailoring a laboratory device for testing in border conditions, and upgrading a technical outcome from a previous EU project to make it suitable for Customs (trial) use. Each grant is 60.000 EUR, and covers material, work and travel costs. 9-12 months total lead time per grant project.

Submitting a blueprint to solve a specific Customs problem. Here we seek inspiration from relevant past challenge competitions, including the US Opioid Challenge (held couple of years ago). The PEN-CP PET teams are working on candidate topics, as usual driven by our high priority PUNIs (PEN-CP User Need Ideas). Winners receive seed funding to help turn their proposed solutions into actual, working solutions.  8-10 month total lead time is expected. (exact prize amount is to be determined later).

An intensive session to design and pilot software tools/ algorithms/ data management techniques, to improve the effectiveness of digital customs; one option is to focus on data linking challenges. 6-8 months total lead-time, where the actual hackathon event is likely to last between 24-48 hours; or, in the case of online hackathon, even a full month. A small financial prize may be awarded to the best teams.

Demonstrating skills in a friendly, head-to-head competition against other experts from the Customs community. One possible option is to focus on threat recognition in X-ray images. 15-18 months total lead time, which includes the collection of existing threat images, and sharing them with the tournament teams. Winning teams will be awarded with glory and an enhanced reputation within the elite Customs community.

Part of our central vision for PEN-CP Innovation Awards and Prizes is to build work done during previous, more granular PEN-CP actions into the final scope of advanced innovation instruments.

For example, outcomes of an Expert Report might feed into a Technology Grant Call, or past Customs Innovation Award submissions could influence the scope and objectives for a Challenge Competition call. We could even form a chain of 3-4 different PEN-CP innovation instruments, supplying findings and filling gaps in knowledge.

Attention all innovators: We’ll keep you posted as new calls for proposals / submissions are announced.Looking forward in years 2023 and 2024 to working with as many of you as possible!

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