The SHAPE of things to come: Current and future Aspect impact

Aspect has achieved significant milestones since its inception five years ago. As it progresses towards its latest phase, marked by the introduction of a new funding model, Aspect aims to accomplish three primary objectives:

  • Showcasing Impact Achievements: Over the past years, Aspect has made remarkable strides in fostering SHAPE commercialisation. Through collaborative efforts with 50 higher education institutions and partner organisations, it has built an ecosystem supporting the emergence of new commercial opportunities from SHAPE research.
  • Highlighting Future Potential: The programme underscores the existing and potential impact of SHAPE commercialisation. By nurturing relevant capacity and skills, sharing knowledge, and addressing challenges and opportunities in commercialisation, Aspect aspires to ensure SHAPE research significantly contributes to the UK economy and society.
  • Enhancing Impact Reporting: To reinforce the case for future funding and institutional participation, Aspect seeks to effectively capture and demonstrate the economic and social benefits derived from its initiatives. This entails a shift from focusing solely on activities and outputs to capturing outcomes and real-world impacts.

To achieve these goals, Aspect has undertaken a comprehensive review of its activity over the last few years, encompassing findings, insights, and recommendations across various dimensions. In this report, we go hunting for the strongest set of outcome proof points to ensure Aspect is able to fully demonstrate its impacts to critical audiences, including Members and new potential funders, includinG:

  • Impact Capture Methodology: Insights into the methodologies employed to capture and assess the impact of Aspect’s initiatives.
  • Pre-zero Point Impact Assessment: Evaluation of the impact achieved prior to the implementation of specific interventions.
  • Post-zero Point Impact Assessment: Assessment of the impact realised following the implementation of interventions and initiatives.
  • Comparison to Mature SHAPE Spin Outs: Comparative analysis with more established SHAPE spinouts to identify trends and best practices.
  • Lessons for SHAPE Commercialisation: Insights gleaned from Aspect’s experience to inform future strategies and approaches in SHAPE commercialisation.
  • Impact Reporting Conclusions and Future Approach: Conclusions drawn from the impact reporting exercise and recommendations for future reporting methodologies.

With this research in-hand Aspect aims to provide a robust framework for capturing, assessing, and reporting on the impact of its initiatives, thus paving the way for continued success and growth in SHAPE commercialisation.

A huge thank you to Campbell McDonald and Mark Mann from Divine Ox for conducting this research and producing the report.

Games Hub Phase 3

What is the project doing?

The aim of phase 2 was to  create a community of engaged academics, professional services staff and business in the games development ecosystem, and study market validation/ commercialisation routes via the the ‘Legally Wed’ project.

The aim of the Phase 3 extension is to increase awareness amongst SHAPE academics and professional staff about the potential and best practice in developing commercially viable outputs through games, through: populating a library of existing and new resources (webinars, game testing, toolkits, survey feedback etc.), facilitating discussion with its members and industry (events, workshops), and creating an online training course for those interested in converting their research into games.

Glasgow Mini-Projects

The University of Glasgow split its funding from Aspect to support three initiatives: (1) Innovation Audit, (2) Entrepreneurship/ Challenge-led placements, and (3) Zinc and investor relationship building.


The Innovation Audit set out to uncover and develop existing research for innovation activity. The University IP & Innovation team ran these ‘audits’ in the STEM colleges regularly and began to look at how to adjust the model to work for SHAPE disciplines.


This part of the project aimed to empower SHAPE researchers to deploy entrepreneurial skills to short-term placements around specific challenges for business partners to develop the depth of private sector relationships with strategic partners alongside building innovation confidence in keen researchers.


Across SHAPE disciplines, the team recognised the need to grow a base of investors who understand the nuances of early-stage investment and how that differs from our STEM counterparts (i.e., often earlier stage and potentially lower growth but high societal good, different business models, etc), while helping shape suitable business models that excite investors. This part of the project enabled travel for both academics and professional support staff to attend Zinc events in London, providing a variety of options to catalyse innovative growth from research.

SUCCESS Programme

Seeding University Collaboration for Commercialisation and Enterprise in Social Sciences

The SUCCESS programme (now ARC) is a first-of-its-kind opportunity designed to help social scientists with innovative and marketable research ideas. This programme provided them with the training, support and funding to transform those ideas into a business or social enterprise. Successful applicants benefitted from support to build their idea, including a three-day bootcamp focused on imparting entrepreneurial skills, expert speakers and mentorship as well as the opportunity to pitch for up to £50,000 in prize money and investors.

SUCCESS Workshops

SUCCESS Project profiles

SUCCESS Bootcamp

SUCCESS Blog posts

SUCCESS was subsequently rebranded as the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator.

You can see more of ARC here.

Bristol Impact Hub

Bringing Bristol’s professional services teams together to deliver support for SHAPE using a shared framework.

Project dates:

November 2021 – October 2022

Why is this needed?

At the University of Bristol we try to significantly increase the impact at scale from academic research. However, we believe we identified challenges such as

  • Social science academics usually are not part of large groups that can spend years developing patents and technologies and therefore, generate soft IP that is more challenging to commercialese.
  • Culture means academics are less excited about commercialisation and the terminology
  • Lack of transitional resources and limited coordination between different professional service functions.
  • Inefficient processes for obtaining advice, slowing projects and funding bids
  • Siloed knowledge and lack of reaching out to other academics with complementary knowledge.

In order to address some of these challenges the University of Bristol established a “translational impact hub” that includes all professional service functions meeting on a monthly basis to discuss certain projects.

What did the project achieve?

Aspect funding enabled the Bristol team to take a more coordinated approach and hire an impact acceleration officer to help expand the activities by doing the following:

  1. Map existing pipelines and challenges
  2. Conduct and test additional activities to stimulate more projects (talks, events etc.)
  3. Build on our IAA activities and further accelerator existing projects within our impact pipeline.
  4. Develop and test a framework to allow us to track projects and outcomes.
  5. Produce a project report to be shared with Aspect members on how to best set up a hub and get the most benefits for each institution.

What was the output of the project?

short report available to Aspect members on the Aspect Members Platform was produced summarising how the Hub was run, what sort of training and support was provided, how the tracking framework works, and including case studies of applying the framework to real projects. (The report is available to Aspect Members only.)

The project ran in parallel to the Aspect Translational Impact Acceleration Hub project, which also deployed the tracking framework across a group of Aspect members, and developed some of the support offerings with input from the Hub team.

Artificial Intelligence in Arbitration: Ethical Considerations

What is the project doing?

This project allowed researchers to engage with the relevant commercial stakeholders (specifically AI firms, law firms, and arbitral institutions) to ensure the careful and ethically appropriate integration of AI technologies into commercial arbitration processes through the application of the academic research conducted by the authors.


Jasem Tarawneh

Omar Madhloom

Methods for embedding micro-businesses in change for Net Zero

What is the project doing?

MicroSEM was a project led by a team at the University of Sussex Business School, which aimed to understand how to better engage with the UK’s smallest businesses, micro and small businesses (up to 49 employees), for supporting their transition to Net Zero.

In the UK, small and medium size businesses (from zero to 250 employees) collectively emit around half (43-53%) of UK’s business sector carbon emissions, however 76% of SMEs are yet to implement decarbonisation strategies with only 3% having measured their carbon emissions to set reduction targets. The existing literature on SME and Net Zero argues that 34% of businesses are more likely to not be prepared for transitioning to Net Zero, suggesting these are often the smallest businesses.

Current academic discussions on SME decarbonisation in the UK suggest that micro and small businesses (up to 49 employees) remain an understudied area of research. Outputs of this project including a video and tools for better approaching micro and small businesses in relation to Net Zero are available on the Aspect Member Platform.


Ralitsa Hiteva, Senior Research Fellow, University of Sussex

Franco Gonzalez, Research Assistant, University of Sussex

Design for Social Entrepreneurship

What was the project doing?

This project aimed to strengthen the RCA’s institutional capabilities for supporting, starting, and developing social ventures from a human and people-centered perspective. Through a combination of case studies and practice-based design research, the project sought to develop and deliver a design-driven training model to support the expansion of social entrepreneurial practices within RCA students and staff with the aim of promoting its institutional capabilities and expertise to their partners and key stakeholders.

Why was this needed?

The project activities increased cross-college collaboration, enabling stronger cooperation between Research & Innovation, Communications, Schools, Research Centres, Academic Development (students), and InnovationRCA. The project increased staff capacity and capabilities to develop partnerships with business and industry using studio projects as an entry level to collaboration.

How could members get involved?

Members were involved by:

  • Contributing successful case studies of social entrepreneurship.
  • Being part of a training pilot.
  • Disseminating the training program.

The learning material of the training programme will be published and made accessible to all members via the Aspect Members Platform.

For further information, please contact Tatiana Schofield (

Piloting an Innovation Internships programme for PhD students

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
( 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:


Rachel Middlemass, Head of R&D Partnerships, ZINC


What was the project doing?

This project explored how systems underpinning academic career progression could be better aligned to support meaningful engagement with Entrepreneurship & Innovation. It examined the then-current state of play with Aspect partners in terms of recognition, reward, and workload allocation; co-created solutions; and provided recommendations for developing and implementing an enterprise pathway(s).

Why was this needed?

Research had been completed, and findings were prepared for dissemination. Work was underway on a follow-on project.

How could members get involved?

The project received Phase 3 funding from Aspect and shared in the session how members could get involved, including: Interviews with senior stakeholders; Survey of academic staff (in preparation); Focus group with SHAPE researchers (in preparation).


Paul Robert, Lead Researcher, University of Sussex

Prof Norbert Morawetz, Henley Business School, University of Reading