Three Challenges to Contribute Back to Open Source

Let’s strengthen the Open Source ecosystem together!

The Contribute Back Challenges

The Sovereign Tech Fund is looking for developers who use open source and want to contribute back to it. We need a sustainable ecosystem that enables new software development and ensures the ongoing security of existing dependencies.

In three challenges, participants can work on contributing back to open source for up to eight months with a budget of up to €300,000 per round.

The deadline to apply for the Contribute Back Challenges was July 6, 2023.

Selected Participants (First Round)

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Many more people use open source software every day than contribute to it. It’s time to give back and invest in this ecosystem, to increase its security and sustainability, and to create a digital world that we collectively shape.

The Sovereign Tech Fund invests in open digital infrastructure. For us, this means fundamental technologies that enable the creation of other software. These components – like libraries and open standards – are openly accessible, trustworthy and can be used freely. Open digital infrastructure is critical for innovation and competitiveness, and it also provides the foundation for widespread digitalization.

What are the Contribute Back challenges about?

The Sovereign Tech Fund is issuing three challenges to encourage active participation in open source infrastructure. With the call to “Contribute back,” we are making it possible for developers, contributors, and maintainers to actively contribute to and work on the open source projects they depend on over a four to eight month period.

We want to identify critical issues in the open source ecosystem and empower people to work on them. To do this, the Sovereign Tech Fund is offering short-term challenge funding for participants to explore new solutions and focus on implementing them over a limited period of time. Our goal is to use these challenges is to discover the best ways to strengthen the ecosystem together.

The Sovereign Tech Fund provides up to €300,000 per application over a period of four months, with the possibility of a four-month extension. We will support the creation and improvement of developer tooling, the production security of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) components, and the documentation of projects.

In the challenges, the STF hopes to answer important questions, for example:

  • Can better developer tooling help FOSS maintainers manage growing technical debt and increase test coverage to provide greater reliability and maintainability in the long term?
  • What software production security mechanisms enable FOSS projects to stay open to contributions while protecting against the increasing threat of supply chain attacks?
  • As the demand on the FOSS infrastructure increases, what documentation is needed to allow new developers to participate and to reduce the load on maintainers?

More about the challenges

1. Improve FOSS Developer Tooling

The Improve FOSS Developer Tooling Challenge calls on participants to contribute to the development workflow for FOSS infrastructure projects.

Software development is a complex process that requires a wide range of tools and technologies. There are often pain points in the workflow that slow down development and make software harder to maintain.

The goal of this challenge is to improve the efficiency and working conditions of FOSS maintainers and contributors by creating new developer tools or improving existing ones. This also includes deploying tools in a new way that addresses existing pain points and improves the overall development workflow and maintainability of FOSS infrastructure projects.

2. Securing FOSS Software Production

The Securing FOSS Software Production Challenge focuses on securing the entire production of FOSS, from source code to binary distribution.

In recent years, there has been an increase in security breaches targeting highly used and depended-upon FOSS infrastructure. These vulnerabilities have had serious consequences for the developers, for dependent software projects, and for the software users, resulting data loss, financial loss, and damage to the reputations of those affected.

The goal of this challenge is to enable developers to collaborate securely, share their work, and reuse software at every stage of the development lifecycle. To do this, dependencies must be known and vulnerabilities must be fixed quickly before they can be exploited.

3. FOSS Infrastructure Documentation

The FOSS Infrastructure Documentation Challenge invites participants to create comprehensive documentation for the most critical and widely-used FOSS infrastructure projects.

Documentation is an essential part of any software project, but especially for FOSS projects, as it can be a significant barrier to entry for new users and contributors if it is not well written and organized.

The goal of this challenge is to make FOSS projects more accessible to new users and contributors through improved documentation and better knowledge management. Participants will improve the documentation for a FOSS infrastructure project of their choice and ensure that it is clear, concise, up-to-date, and accurate.

Who can apply?

We welcome applications from teams of developers in agencies, consultancies and public institutions who want to dedicate four to eight months to one of the challenges. We especially welcome applications that are centered on a technology or an open source project that the participants already use and want to improve.

Applications are open to individuals and teams of all legal forms, in Germany, the EU or from outside the EU. The Sovereign Tech Fund also welcomes applications from consortia or group projects. However, there can only be one contractor of record.

Applicants must verify that the work in their proposal is not already funded by another public institution.

For maintainers (i.e., those already actively working on open source projects), we’d like to highlight the option of applying to receive investment from the Sovereign Tech Fund for longer periods of time.

Application Process

The challenges will take place over a period of 8 months and consist of two rounds of four months each.

For the first round, interested participants apply through the Sovereign Tech Fund’s application system. The selections are made by the Sovereign Tech Fund based on the criteria outlined below. Participants spend four months developing and implementing their proposal. After three and a half months, participants will submit a report on their progress and what further activities are planned to expand on that progress.

The report serves as the input for a panel that evaluates the progress, contribution to the technology, and activities planned for the second round. Participants selected for the second round will again have four months to implement their proposals.

Teams can apply to multiple challenges if they wish.


6 June 2023Applications for challenges open
6 July 2023Application deadline (23:59 UTC+2)
July 2023Evaluation and selection of first round of participants
September 2023*First round begins no earlier than 1 Sep 2023
December 2023Evaluation of first round participants and selection of second round participants
January 2024Second round begins
April 2024Challenges end

* Updated on 18 July 2023: Due to the large number of applications received, we have adjusted our evaluation process and timeline so all applications received can be reviewed in detail. Based on our estimates of the time required, the first round of funded work will not begin before 1 September 2023 (originally planned for 1 August 2023).

Selection Criteria

For the first round, the Sovereign Tech Fund will select participants based on the application and the following criteria, each of which will be scored on a scale of 1-5. The questions that guide scoring each criterion are available in the challenges announcement [PDF]

Round 1 Selection

  1. Degree of Criticality
  2. Degree of Maturity
  3. Degree of Sustainability
  4. Degree of Benefit for the Public
  5. Degree of Feasibility

Round 2 Selection

By 15 December 2023, all participants will submit a report on their progress and any further activities planned for the second round. The Sovereign Tech Fund will provide a template for this report. The selection for the second round will take place in a joint session with the STF and external experts Dawn Foster and Ben Cotton. The decisions will be announced in January 2024. The selected projects will receive further funding of at least €65,000 and a maximum of €300,000 per project over four months.

Selection is based on the progress of the project to date and the following criteria:

  1. Degree of Progress (Maturity)
  2. Degree of Sustainability
  3. Degree of Feasibility

Additional Information

How will the Sovereign Tech Fund provide support?

For Round 1, the STF will provide a minimum of €65,000 and up to €300,000 per selected application. The applicants must present their financial needs and the planned activities in their applications. For Round 2 funding, a minimum of €65,000 and a maximum of up to €300,000 will be allocated again.

Prospective participants can also apply for more than one challenge.

All figures quoted do not include VAT.

How does the application process work?

Applicants can apply for the first round using the STF application system. A preview of the application form is in the announcement (PDF).

You can also review the Participation Agreement (PDF).

Participants in the first round can apply for the second round by submitting their report.

What about confidentiality?

Sovereign Tech Fund and SPRIND will treat all submissions confidentially. Information about the submissions will only be passed on to a panel of judges or reviewers. STF and SPRIND also require these persons to maintain confidentiality.

Who can I contact with questions?

We ask applicants to review the Participation Agreement and the rest of the Additional Information section. If you still have questions that are not answered here, please contact for further clarification.

Please note, we are unable to provide advance review and consultation on proposals.

What is the Sovereign Tech Fund? What is SPRIND?

The Sovereign Tech Fund (STF) supports the development, improvement, and maintenance of open digital infrastructures. The goal of the STF is to strengthen the open source ecosystem sustainably. We focus on security, resilience, technological diversity, and the people behind the code. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) and hosted and supported by the German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation GmbH (SPRIND).

SPRIND enables and supports disruptive innovation - products, services, and systems that make life tangibly and sustainably better. SPRIND was founded in 2019 by the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition to the defining goal of discovering and advancing research ideas that have the potential to become breakthrough innovation, SPRIND’s mission also includes contributing to the advancement of knowledge transfer of innovative ideas as well as the underlying factors driving innovation.


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