Piloting an Innovation Internships programme for PhD students

•• Phase 2 ••• Phase 3


What is the project doing?

In 2022, Zinc piloted a new placements programme, allowing PhD students – the majority from SHAPE disciplines – to work with and in Zinc startups. Eight students joined us in May from a range of institutions and disciplines, but with a shared interest in improving children’s mental health, which was the focus of our most recent venture-builder. Over three months, they were able to gain substantial hands-on experience with startups and to apply their research skills and knowledge to the early-stage development of new commercial products and services. They also worked together on a group Venture Project, to develop a commercial solution supporting children experiencing eco-anxiety.

Both student and venture participants in this programme provided very positive feedback. Students particularly highlighted the value of joining a cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary cohort; working together on the Venture Project; gaining direct experience of work with founders / ventures; and being able to access support and programme content from Zinc.

The experience of running this programme has confirmed that there is both a significant gap in the availability of startup-based placement opportunities for PhDs (particularly in SHAPE), and a real demand for this sort of placement among students. We hope to run further Innovation Internship programmes in future.

Phase 3 focus: Run a second round of the Innovation Internships placement programme, building on the pilot experience to refine and enhance the programme to move towards a sustainable programme.

Why is this needed?

Given the clear demand for this sort of placement among PhD students and the mutual benefits that we observed to both students and ventures, we are keen to offer further Innovation Internships with Zinc / Zinc ventures. Before the end of this programme, we ran two online information sessions for PhD students interested in participating in a future programme. Even with minimal promotion, hese attracted ~20 participants from a range of institutions and disciplines. Students from the current cohort joined those sessions and were able to share their own experiences with prospective applicants to a future programme.

How can members get involved?

This programme has now finished. However, we hope to run further iterations of the Innovation Internships placements for PhD students. We would welcome members’ input to the development of that new programme and their support with promoting this opportunity to students at their own institutions.

We also welcome ongoing expressions of interest from academics at ASPECT institutions who might be keen to engage with companies in our portfolio of existing ventures (all of which focus on mental health, healthy ageing, and the future of work). Anyone keen to learn more can contact Rachel Middlemass
(rachelm@zinc.vc) for more information.

We are also keen to hear from any academic researchers who might be interested in joining us as Visiting Fellows to the next venture-builder, which will develop new companies seeking to transform the industries with the biggest environmental impacts. Researchers can register their interest in this here: https://bit.ly/3RNrub2


Rachel Middlemass, Head of R&D Partnerships, ZINC

Training & resources

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1 Resources | Page 1 of 1

Zinc offers an Innovation Internships scheme for PhD students to learn about early-stage innovation within placements in start-ups

This is a detailed report available to Aspect members about Zinc’s offerings of the Aspect-funded Innovation Internships scheme that supports students from both disciplines, SHAPE and STEM, for three-month placements outside academia, with mission-focused start-ups to gain commercial experience.

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