New SHAPE Catalyst to create up to 75 ventures over the next 3.5 years

We are thrilled to announce that the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator will be delivering the Social science, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy (SHAPE) Catalyst programme with ESRC and AHRC.

The new programme will support researchers within these disciplines to develop and bring new products, processes, services and experiences to market.

The Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) Interim Executive Chair Professor Alison Park said:

The potential for greater commercialisation of the outputs from social science, arts and humanities research is huge and offers a way of delivering even greater economic, societal and cultural impact. Yet, of the 160 spin-out companies founded each year, the overwhelming majority are STEM-based.

It’s time our world-class SHAPE researchers had a greater opportunity to get in on the act, and that is what this programme and funding will deliver.

Working with our partners at the ARC Accelerator, we will equip arts, humanities and social science researchers with the skills they need to explore the commercial application of their research.

Enabling commercialisation

This innovative catalyst commercialisation programme is open to UK researchers from the social sciences, arts and humanities.

It will enable them to apply for a unique package of financial and training support to explore commercial applications of their research.

Included in the programme is £2.7 million of funding for commercialisation projects and a further £1.2 million contract with partners the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, run by Aspect, to provide award holder training and mentoring.

A pioneering initiative

Professor Julia Black, Chair of the Aspect Steering Group, Strategic Director of Innovation at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and President of the British Academy, said:

We are very excited to be selected as delivery partners in this pioneering initiative. SHAPE subjects and the research undertaken in these areas are not only essential for understanding the human world, but also to understanding the interaction of people with the natural and physical world.

In expanding the opportunities of the ARC programme to researchers across the UK, we can harness the richness and diversity of these subjects and the different mindsets, methods and modes of expression they inform to create an important pathway for transitioning research findings into impact for social good.

This new Catalyst programme provides a comprehensive framework for academics and universities to mobilise research into dynamic ventures that champion socially responsible innovation.

We are in a global climate where this is much needed, and with the right tools, guidance and materials that this initiative provides, insights become transformations to deliver impact at scale.

How it will work

At least three rounds of commercialisation funding will be available from a total pot of £2.7 million. Expressions of interest for round one will open in June 2023.

This is open to individuals or teams from UK research organisations with innovative, ambitious social science, arts and humanities-based ideas that can sustain economic or non-economic impact through the commercialisation of research.

There will be up to 25 awards of £50,000 each round to teams or individuals to develop their social science, arts and humanities-based research insights into scalable products, processes, service or experience innovations.


Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) will run application workshops from June 2023. These will help potential applicants understand the scope of the programme and begin applying commercialisation thinking to their research.

Funding and training

Award holders will receive:

  • up to £50,000 from the SHAPE Catalyst programme to fund commercialisation activities
  • a virtual training bootcamp, led by industry experts, to develop key entrepreneurial skills
  • specialised, sector specific training
  • access to key experts who have been there before, including investors and networks
  • dedicated mentorship support to help validate their idea, develop the business model, and support their pitch for further funding or investment

Achieving ESRC and AHRC objectives

This investment contributes to the ‘world-class innovation’ objective in ESRC’s and the Art and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) 2022 to 2025 delivery plans.

It also contributes to the UKRI principles for change, as it supports resilience, and both the ‘world-class innovation’ and ‘world-class impact’ strategic objectives (further details in the UKRI five year strategy).

Case studies

Previous examples of the commercialisation of social science, arts and humanities research include:

Tourism and education

Hidden Cities is an immersive app that brings stories of the past to life on the streets of the present. It was developed by historians at the University of Exeter.

On a geolocated historic map, characters guide users on trails and tell stories about their lives and times, while historians offer commentary and information about artefacts linked to sites.

Hidden Cities trails are available in six European cities including Florence and Exeter. Other cities in development include Venice, Copenhagen and Tours.

(AHRC funding, supported by ARC)

Benefits to government and the environment

CECAN LTD works with policy analysts in government departments to develop and evaluate more effective policy for an improved environment. Clients include:

  • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
  • Natural England
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • UKRI
  • the Digital Catapult
  • local authorities

CECAN Ltd now has a turnover of about £250,000 per annum and employs administrative staff and a consultant. Much of the work is subcontracted to postdoctoral level associates, providing development opportunities for early career researchers.

(UKRI funding: ESRC CECAN Research Institute (ES/S007024/1ES/N012550/1); ESRC impact acceleration accounts funding)

Example project: UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

World-wide social impact

Wise Responder helps investors and businesses to identify and deal with multidimensional poverty. Its products are derived from the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed by Sabina Alkire and James Foster at Oxford.

MPI is used by governments, the UN Development Programme, World Bank, and others all over the world to direct investments and interventions to where they will have most impact. It has raised $350,000 equity.

About the SHAPE Catalyst

The ESRC and AHRC-funded £3.9 million SHAPE Catalyst will run from 2023 to 2026.

Working in partnership with ARC, we are looking for individuals or teams with innovative, ambitious social science, arts and humanities ideas that can sustain economic or non-economic impact through the commercialisation.

Application workshops for round one of the SHAPE Catalyst will start in June 2023.

Image: photoGraph @Pexels

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