Aspect Student Entrepreneurship Toolkit

Aspect’s Entrepreneurship Community of Practice (ENT COP) seeks to identify entrepreneurship opportunities for social science students and share knowledge and expertise amongst its members.


About this toolkit

Aspect funded 6 projects, led by ENT COP members, that aim to explore how universities in the UK can encourage more social sciences entrepreneurship and empower entrepreneurship practitioners and educators to better support these ventures.

This toolkit encapsulates the learnings and outputs from these projects.

  • Entrepreneurship COP Workshop Series & Mini-Projects – a series of workshops aimed at developing social innovation based entrepreneurial activities, building institutional capacity, enhancing internationalization, and establishing the social sciences as a key driver for social innovation and social enterprise development.
  • Aspect Student Accelerator Programme (ASAP) – a new flagship four-month student and alumni accelerator hosted by LSE to support and scale socially impactful and responsible ventures.
  • Ecosystem Audit – this project aimed to identify social science entrepreneurship offerings (from within the total offering) with a view to mapping relevant resources for entrepreneurs and alumni for each Aspect partner institution.
  • SS Entrepreneurship Case studies – this project highlighted case studies from each Aspect partner institution of what social science entrepreneurship can look like
  • “Inside the Founder’s Mind” Podcast – this project aimed to provide social science students with dedicated resources aimed to inform, inspire and prepare them for life as an entrepreneur. The podcasts included ten recorded interviews with entrepreneurs.
  • Creative challenge series – this project aimed to show the scope of social science research and the artist’s relevance in today’s society as explorers of the challenges and issues that surround us.

Additional resources and tools have been added from other Aspect funded projects which have generated insights about entrepreneurship in the social sciences, namely, the Zinc Research Fellowships and Prize Fund, the ARC/SUCCESS accelerator, and the Abacus intra-preneurship project.

Why do we need an Social Sciences Entrepreneurship toolkit?

These projects have helped COP members to identify what is different about Social Sciences Entrepreneurs, what challenges exist in supporting them, and to explore and trial solutions to overcome these challenges.

One of the key findings from the LSE TTO office was the importance of student entrepreneurship programmes – particularly those for the social sciences. Deliberately bringing together staff and entrepreneurial students on commercialisation projects taps into a new potential that could lead to new ways of building commercialisation projects. Within the Aspect programme, entrepreneurship is a key pillar in providing support to social science commercialisation.

By engaging with social science students about entrepreneurship, universities are also in a way raising the next generation of social science researchers who might proactively engage with commercialisation and see the benefits of doing this type of work. TTOs might see this as “future-proofing” their social science commercialisation pipelines – although the tangible outcomes of this would need a longer-term study. Entrepreneurship is also valuable in the social sciences for many other reasons including the development of skills such as: employability, creativity, resilience, etc.

So – social science entrepreneurship is important, but why do we need a toolkit, and what might the toolkit provide? There are plenty of generic and STEM-focused entrepreneurship resources for entrepreneurs and the university staff that support them. The Entrepreneurship COP explored the idea that engagement between the social sciences and entrepreneurship might be linked to the need for resources specific to the social sciences. They funded projects specifically designed to investigate and develop these types of resources.

How to use this toolkit

This social science entrepreneurship toolkit is primarily designed for entrepreneurship support practitioners and those who teach entrepreneurship, although some resources might be relevant to social science entrepreneurs. It is envisioned that these tools might be brought into the classroom and used practically to support the development of social science ventures, or at a more strategic level for support practitioners to provide ideas around how entrepreneurship support might be delivered.

Challenges and differences


In 2019 there was an initial workshop to identify what is different about social science entrepreneurship and to identify the challenges that social science entrepreneurs might face or the gaps in support provided to them. The COP identified the following overarching challenges and differences in social science and STEM-focused entrepreneurship:

  • The differences in the language used when discussing entrepreneurship can demotivate individuals from participating in entrepreneurship.
  • The skills required for social science entrepreneurship (business skills, a social impact focus, etc) can be different to those that need to be taught to STEM entrepreneurs.
  • The support required to form a team – often multidisciplinary and around a tech/digital solution – in social science entrepreneurship can be challenging.

These challenges led to the generation of the 6 funded project activities. The outputs from the COP’s funded project activity have generated insights and learnings that will help University support teams refine their entrepreneurship offerings. Five key question areas surrounding these projects were identified and are listed below.

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1. How do we define Social Science Entrepreneurship?

The first key challenge identified was to answer the question – how is social science entrepreneurship defined? The COP produced the following definition and mission statement for university teams who support social science entrepreneurship:

“Social science is, in its broadest sense, the study of society and the manner in which people behave and influence the world around us. Social science entrepreneurship is the creation of ventures, services, or products i) by founders with a background in the social sciences, or ii) by multi-disciplinary teams with business models and processes rooted in social sciences.

University teams who support social science entrepreneurship aim to encourage social science students and alumni to consider entrepreneurship as a means for enacting impact and change, while also supporting entrepreneurs from other backgrounds to adopt social science methodologies into their ventures.”

Learn more:

  • What’s Different About SocSci Entrepreneurship (Workshop writeup) – this session created a working definition of social science entrepreneurship and discussed the particular challenges faced by social science students in their prospective path to entrepreneurship. Read more here.
  • Challenges in SocSci Entrepreneurship (Meeting notes)
  • More TBC

2. How do we find and engage more Social Science entrepreneurs?

COP members felt that social scientists faced a few unique challenges that contributed to low engagement. First, the communication around entrepreneurship – how people talk about it and the terminology used – might put some individuals off. Second, the skills that need to be taught to entrepreneurs – such as business skills and a social impact focus – are not always taught in more mainstream entrepreneurship programmes. Third, the support required to form a multi-disciplinary team was a hurdle and that skills gaps were more obvious than those in STEM-focused startups.

All of these issues can make it hard for social scientists to engage with entrepreneurship. COP members brainstormed some areas where support might be needed in order to increase engagement. These included  – helping social science students find the right resources, demonstrating the value of intrapreneurship, helping individuals to identify when entrepreneurship is not right for them, providing support to form multidisciplinary teams, and raising awareness for other avenues within entrepreneurship even if you are not the individual with the start-up idea.

These challenges and ideas lead to the creation of two specific workshops to explore these topics in greater detail. The writeups from these workshops recommend tactics like encouraging social science entrepreneurship programmes to avoid using “business jargon” and to use language that is inclusive of all sizes of ventures (i.e. local impact, freelance, small business) rather than over-emphasising things like the typical “10x return, high-growth, disruptive innovation” messaging. These recommendations come with the caveat and acknowledgement that while contextualizing entrepreneurship to different audiences improves engagement, this takes resources and must be balanced with the capacity of the team to support a wider range of entrepreneurs.

Zinc received funding from Aspect in support of their missions and additional funding for two pilot projects aiming to drive engagement between SocSci academics and startups. The first of these saw two researchers join Zinc’s in-house R&D team, working with mission 3 entrepreneurs focusing on translating and embedding existing research as well as facilitating the generation and dissemination of new evidence. This project found that startups are attractive destinations to early career social scientists and that startups can really benefit from their expertise and skills.  A full list of outputs from this project are include below and can be found on the project page.

The second zinc pilot project supported Tandem – a mission 2 venture, in delivering collaborative research between Tandem and social scientists from the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen. By working with the researchers, Tandem gained a great understanding of the complex problems they were dealing with, informing their market validation through social science research. The researchers gained valuable real world experience, working with an exciting mission led venture.  More outputs from this project can be found on the project page.

Learn more:

  • The Language of Social Sciences Entrepreneurship (Workshop writeup) – this workshop aimed to understand the role of language used in reaching and supporting social science entrepreneurs, particularly in engaging underrepresented groups. Read more here.
  • Increasing Diversity in Social Sciences Entrepreneurship (Workshop write-up) – the ecosystem of high growth startups and businesses perform poorly in terms of diversity and inclusion. The Entrepreneurship COP discussed and shared learnings in this area. This article shares some of the key outputs from the session.
  • Zinc Research Fellowships – a short video showcasing scientists and researchers in Zinc ventures. Blog posts about research in startups and a webinar recording that makes the case for early career social scientists to work in startups.

3. What’s different about the Social Science entrepreneur’s journey?

The “Mapping the Ecosystem” workshop (linked below) highlighted how Leah Thompson from the University of Oxford developed the Enterprising Oxford initiative to help promote, support, and highlight entrepreneurial activities, resources, and opportunities. This initiative aims to connect the entrepreneurship processes and various events taking place around the university to make it more accessible to others. Entrepreneurship COP members saw the value in this type of activity, and funded a project to audit the entrepreneurship ecosystems at their universities, with the hope of sharing best practice in social science entrepreneurship programmes.

A key report out of the ASAP social sciences accelerator identified two major areas to build upon in supporting social science entrepreneurship: founders learning and development, and entrepreneurial exposure prior to the accelerator programme. Entrepreneurs with little or no previous experience in these areas were less likely to have the skills required (or the impetus to attain these skills) to convert their research into businesses.

The ASAP report also identified three main areas of intervention for social science entrepreneurship programmes to focus on – building a data driven translation engine, channelling scale for business and impact, and finding purpose product market fit.

Learn more:

  • ASAP: Social Business Model Innovation report – This report explores how startups with a social science and impact driven foundation ideate and evolve their business models and how we can adapt to make future commercialisation programmes more effective for early stage social entrepreneurs.
  • Ecosystem Journey Mapping (workshop write-up) – This workshop was devised in order to share the experience of the University of Oxford in creating and maintaining maps of relevant entrepreneurship activities, resources, and opportunities for members to access. Read more here.
  • Journey Mapping Mini-Project Report – What does the SocSci student’s entrepreneurship journey look like? This project collated background research and interviews to produce a visual diagram defining the key stages of the user journey including a supporting narrative of typical key activities undertaken at each stage, parties involved, challenges faced, and relevant support needs. Contained in this narrative is an explanation of the enhancements or changes needed to accommodate the different needs of SocSci students. This project also produced a report that summarises the interviews and data collection activities. It includes a brief review of the literature in order to identify suitable frameworks and models that can be used to interpret the data. This leads to an initial working hypothesis explaining the differences observed in terms of supporting SocSci students and their (SocSci-based) businesses.

4. What offerings can we provide to better support Social Science entrepreneurship?

Early on in the Aspect programme the Entrepreneurship COP identified that there are a lack of entrepreneurial resources specific to social science entrepreneurs. They highlighted the need to raise awareness particularly around businesses skills, training in digital/technical areas, exploring social responsibility and impact, and in providing resources to inspire social scientists to pursue entrepreneurship and commercialisation. One project, ABaCuSS developed and provided a proof of concept for working models of intrapreneurship within the social sciences, and brought social scientists and industry partners. Students developed practical skills for students coming from a diverse field of disciplines. This project found that there is a high demand for intrapreneurship frameworks and that PhD students are keen to learn business-focussed skills. Although these students were not directly involved in entrepreneurship, participation in these types of programmes can encourage different ways of thinking and perhaps be open to entrepreneurship options in the future.

Three other key projects were funded to explore what offerings can be provided to support SocSci entrepreneurship – the ASAP accelerator, the podcast series, and creative challenge events. These projects generated a wide-range of resources for social science entrepreneurs. Links to the specific resources and content are below.

Learn more:

  • ASAP: Learnings from Joint University Social Sciences Accelerator – the social business model innovation report explores how startups with a social science and impact driven foundation ideate and evolve their business models and how we can adapt future commercialisation programmes to be more effective for early stage social science entrepreneurs.
  • Profit with purpose: The ASAP Impact Report the ASAP team created a unique infrastructure to develop, share, and exchange knowledge and good practice and most importantly to inspire and encourage social sciences commercialisation. Read more here.
  • The ASAP alumni community drop in sessions – six drop in sessions were run for alumni to discuss challenges and get input on how to solve them. Success stories were shared on Miro boards. More coming soon!
  • ASAP Podcast: The power of social business – building off the knowledge reports, the focus of each episode addresses specific challenges and opportunities faced by social science entrepreneurs: scaling for impact, leading with purpose, and using data as a superpower. Links to listen coming soon.
  • The ASAP Playbook (accessible to Aspect member only) – The ASAP club aspires to establish a digital support structure for applicants who apply for social sciences and/or social-impact accelerators but are unsuccessful in reaching the final cohort selection. It enables them to receive sufficient encouragement to continue and excel in their entrepreneurial journey.
  • ASAP club Toolkit – This mini-Toolkit provides potential entrepreneurs with a target list of resources for the social sciences. Originally inspired by the desire to support unsuccessful applicants to the ASAP accelerator, these resources are relevant to any social science entrepreneur.

Read more about the ASAP Club project below, or click these links to access the project resources directly:

  1. ASAP Club Digital Toolkit – A curated set of resources to enable early-stage founders of social sciences and/or social impact driven ventures to take the scary step forward to make it a reality
    • Launch Event – Webinar recording from the 29th April 2021 Launch Event  – Coming soon!
    • Creator Fund Webinar – Webinar recording from May 2021 Event – Coming soon!
    • Podcast Mini-series  –  Five new podcasts episodes interviewing incredible mentors and founders on each focus area – Coming soon!
  2. Podcast Series: Inside the Founder’s Mind – A 10-part podcast series including interviews with business leaders, entrepreneurs, and scientists that explores the entrepreneurial mindset and discusses key traits including resilience, stamina, and facing failure.
  3. Creative Challenge Events – These events aimed to inspire social science entrepreneurs by bringing artists and academics together whose work aligned with the Industrial Strategy challenges. The two Event Reports from the series serve as a “how to guide” for others wishing to run similar events in the future.
  4. ABaCuSS – An internship programme designed for social science PhD students looking to diversify their capabilities and expand their network. Explore the resources on the project page.

5. How do we fund and structure our entrepreneurship support teams and programmes to be the most effective?

Entrepreneurship support teams and programmes at universities can be structured in a variety of ways. The ecosystem mapping project audited support team size and structure across the eight Aspect member institutions and found that they ranged in size from 1.5 – 30 FTE. Many teams contained core functions such as supporting and developing student entrepreneurship; activities included mentoring, hosting events, and competitions. One university noted the lack of a dedicated marketing and communications resource as a key challenge in actively promoting entrepreneurship activities and resources across the university.

The institutions commented that the size of their team was generally due to the budget available, and that if more funding were available they might structure their team differently. A key resource that was either present or recognized within all universities was the need for a single point of contact – one person or team who helps build the ecosystem and is involved or aware of everything that is going on at the university. Universities who lacked this resource stressed its importance and their desire to have this support.

In early 2021, the ASAP programme hosted a webinar highlighting key learnings from their unique joint-university social science accelerator programme. They discussed two key areas where accelerator programmes could make modifications to suit participants – programme structure and programme content. The delivery team noted that the programme structure for the ASAP programme reflected traditional accelerator programmes and included mentoring, a community aspect, and tailored training. One key difference, however, is the tailored training and content. Topics like social impact, socially-minded business models, and illustrative case studies need to be woven and integrated into the core content, not tacked-on at the end of generic content. The resources below explore these concepts in further detail.

COVID-19 presented new challenges across the entrepreneurship ecosystem when accelerator programmes were forced to move to virtual delivery almost overnight. The ASAP accelerator learnings webinar (linked below), podcast series, and supporting entrepreneurship remotely workshop write up highlighted the unique opportunity that this presented. Content produced for social science entrepreneurs was directed towards covering “softer” entrepreneurship skills and on startup survival topics such as establishing emergency funds for founders, founder wellness, and mindfulness and breathing work. Read more in the resources below.

Learn more:

  • Ecosystem Audit Project Outputs – Entrepreneurship support teams vary greatly in size across the Aspect member institutions. Universities cited having a central resource who is aware of all entrepreneurship programmes and activities as one of the most important members of the team.
  • Supporting Entrepreneurship Remotely (workshop writeup) – This workshop write up shares the learnings from LSE on their approach to developing a holistic virtual entrepreneurship hub. Read more.
  • Innovating revenue generation to sustain university entrepreneurship hubs (workshop writeup) – Learnings from this workshop are most relevant for entrepreneurship hubs that are facing pressures to generate revenue and/or are facing a funding gap or are considering growing the programme’s remit. Read more.
  • Bristol’s approach to early-stage support (workshop writeup) – This workshop explored Bristol’s experience in creating a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support. The initiative responds to an existing institutional arrangement in which entrepreneurship support is offered by different parts of the university with little to no communication with each other. Read more.
  • Getting ‘bang for your buck’: Supporting Social Sciences student enterprise with a (very) small team (workshop writeup) – Being understaffed is a common challenge indicated by university entrepreneurship support hubs. Glasgow University shares their experience in developing and growing student enterprise support with a full-time staff of one. Read more.
  • ASAP: Learnings from Joint University Social Sciences Accelerator – the team who launched and ran the first iteration of the Aspect accelerator to support social science entrepreneurs share their experience and highlight key learnings on running this programme. Watch here

Resources – Guidance, Examples & tools

Below is a full list of the Aspect resources and project outputs, that are relevant for SS Student Entrepreneurship

Case studies

The full Aspect case study library – including examples from other COP areas – can also be accessed here:

  1. Title. One line description. Link.
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  4. Etc.

Project outputs

  1. Entrepreneurship Workshop Series. A series of workshops aimed at developing social innovation based entrepreneurial activities, building institutional capacity, enhancing internationalisation and establishing the social sciences as a key driver for social innovation and social enterprise development. Click for project page.
  • Mapping an ecosystem: The Enterprising Oxford Journey. This workshop shared the experience of the University of Oxford in creating and maintaining maps of relevant entrepreneurship activities, resources, and opportunities for members to access. Read more.
  • Supporting entrepreneurship remotely. LSE’s approach to developing a virtual hub. Read more.
  • How are social science entrepreneurs responding to COVID-19? From helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to re-imagining a society coexisting with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the social sciences have played a key role each step of the way. Read more.
  • Innovating revenue generation to sustain university entrepreneurship hubs. A discussion of challenges faced by entrepreneurship hubs that are facing pressures to generate revenue and/or facing a funding gap or are considering to grow the programme’s remit. Read more.
  • Supporting diversity in innovation and entrepreneurship. Since university is often a young person’s first substantive exposure to entrepreneurship, Aspect member institutions serve a critical role in setting an example for creating a diverse and inclusive environment and supporting underrepresented students and researchers, with consideration of the specific challenges and needs of different groups. Read more.
  • Language of social science entrepreneurship. Understanding the role of language is imperative to supporting social science entrepreneurs, particularly in engaging underrepresented groups. Read more.
  • Creating a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support. The University of Bristol shares their experience in conceptualising a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support. Read more.
  • What’s different about social science entrepreneurship. This session aimed to develop a working definition of social entrepreneurship and discuss the particular challenges faced by social science students in their prospective path to entrepreneurship. Read more.
  • Supporting student enterprise with a (very) small team. Getting ‘bang for your buck’. A Q&A session from the Aspect Entrepreneurship COP. Read more.

2. Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Audit case studies. Shares examples of best practice and showcases exceptional stories of innovation, entrepreneurship and research commercialisation in the social sciences from each of the participating universities. View project page.

3. Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Audit. Identifying and mapping relevant resources for entrepreneurs and alumni. View project page.

4. Aspect Student Accelerator Programme (ASAP). A new flagship four-month student and alumni accelerator hosted by LSE to support and scale socially impactful and responsible ventures. Link to project page.

  • Social Business Model Innovation Report. Exploring how social science startups ideate and evolve their business models. Link.
  • Profit with purpose: the ASAP Impact Report. Highlights the key results and programme activities from the inaugural cohort of nineteen social impact ventures from eight Aspect universities. Link.

5. ASAP club toolkit. Establishing a digital support structure for social science entrepreneurs. Link to project page.

6. Creative challenge series. Aims to show the scope of social science research and the artist’s relevance in today’s society as explorers of the challenges and issues that surround us. Link to project page.

  • Click here to access a diverse range of content relating to the themes explored – including podcasts, books, articles, blogs, apps and music, in addition to the recordings of the talks themselves.

7. Inside the Founder’s mind podcast. 10 recorded interviews with entrepreneurs that aim to inform, inspire, and prepare social science students for life as an entrepreneur. Link to project page.

  • Links to podcast recordings coming soon.

8. Research Fellowships in Zinc Mission 3. A research fellowship programme where to researchers joined Zinc’s in-house R&D team.

9. Research Funding Prize for Zinc Mission 2 Businesses. A research funding competition aimed at supporting the Mission 2 ventures to embed and generate research as part of their products and services, as well as to showcase the impact of social sciences on startups.

End of Toolkit