ABaCuSS Final Project Report: Programme Overview and Learnings

30th September 2021

Funded Project:

Funded by Aspect, ABaCuSS is designed to inspire innovation through collaboration between business and PhD researchers in social science. The programme aims to accelerate solutions to social challenges for businesses, and provide a platform to transform the contribution that social sciences research can make to society.


Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels 




The ABaCuSS pilot programme placed seven students from the Universities of Glasgow and Manchester into intrapreneurship-based placements (for our purposes defined as: applying entrepreneurial models and spirit within an organisation). ABaCuSS aimed to embed social sciences PhD students within companies for eight weeks (roughly April-June ’21) to test working models of intrapreneurship. 

This report provides an overview of the programme, and reflections from the programme team about ‘good practice’ learnings from the model. 

Why do we need a social sciences intrapreneurship programme? 

Aspect members highlighted that career paths for social sciences early career researchers (ECRs) and PhD students are not necessarily linear – many will alternate between public and private research and will participate in multidisciplinary collaborations. The majority of those who do not stay in academia will likely go on to join a company from an early-stage SME to a corporate. Both groups will need a different set of skills than those taught at universities and in start-up accelerator programmes.   

The ABaCuSS intrapreneurship project was designed to get PhD students and ECRs plugged into a company setting and get them innovating the learning in this new environment. The ABaCuSS project consisted of three activities: 

  1. A nine-week placement in a company. An effort was made for the students to be embedded within the company and applying social sciences methodology to a project with tangible outcomes. Two of the 7 placements were with ventures started by Zinc in their earlier venture builders. 
  1. A bootcamp and additional group training sessions. Training sessions focused on topics such as pitching and business design, and included specialist talks from industry experts. 
  1. One-on-one coaching. The coaching sessions were intentionally very broad, and students could choose to focus on their project, career progression, or academic work. 

About the Training and Support  

PhD researchers participating in ABaCuSS took part in a rigorous training programme provided by our partner Skillfluence. This has been designed to impart the consulting and intrapreneurial skills necessary to allow them to excel in solving your business challenges.  

Components of the programme are described below. Aspect members can also access the Programme Welcome Packs, which provide further details on the application forms used for both students and businesses, and the programme of support. 

Induction Week  

The training programme began with an intensive week of sessions that took place before the start of the researchers’ work placements. This first week comprised of three elements:   

  1. Welcome – This session provides a welcome and introduction from the Skillfluence and AbBaCuSS teams and ice breakers to start cohort building before moving into the main programme. 
  1. Future Innovators – In three afternoon sessions, researchers learn how to clearly define problems, create a large number of possible solutions, select top ideas, quickly develop ideas, and finally present ideas to management in a clear and concise manner. 
  1. MultiMind Jumpstart – In six highly focused sessions, one for each of the work placements, business representatives gave all seven students an overview of the business and insight into the project. 

Programme During Work Placement 

The second part of the training programme took place concurrently to the work placements. This consisted of four elements:  

  1. Business Representative Interview  – The researchers organised an interview with their business representative in the first week of their placement to discuss project scoping and ask questions. 
  1. MultiMind Group Coaching  – Taking place every second week of the programme, researchers came together in these sessions to be coached on the effective use of a new tool, skill, or competency. They then spent an hour leveraging the collective brainpower of the group focusing and applying their learnings from the session to two of the projects each week. 
  1. Conversations with Innovators – These 45-minute sessions provide inspiration and ideas for students and will aim to bring in sectoral or project relevant speakers with whom the researcher can interface. 
  1. Individual Coaching.These 40-45 minute sessions take place four times throughout the programme. These coaching sessions will be designed to support researchers’ thinking throughout their placements and provide a space for constructive discussions aimed at resolving challenges.  

Finale Event 

At the end of the programme, a virtual finale event provides an opportunity for researchers and business representatives to come together to showcase their work and disseminate learnings from their projects. 

Is an intrapreneurship programme different for the social sciences verses STEM? 

The training offered during the bootcamp included topics like the innovation process and pricing model guidelines – essentially a mini MBA in a week. The additional training sessions were around taking what students learned with their research background and how to apply it in a private sector area. These topics are not social sciences specific and would be relevant and useful to PhD students and ECRs from any background.  

Many of the internship projects were centred around topics that students of varying backgrounds could have worked on such as transport, poverty, or women’s health. However, the common factor between these projects was that they all had a social impact side to them, making them more suitable to social sciences students rather than STEM. 

Key Learnings 

The following are insights about what worked well, and where changes were made to improve the ABaCuSS programme. 

  • The ‘wraparound’ support – including the bootcamp, training sessions, and 1-1 coaching was cited as extremely valuable and one of the reasons why students wanted to participate in this programme. Students cited these sessions as hugely valuable not only to their ABaCuSS project, but also other work environments and their studies. The sessions were all expertly tailored to the student’s needs – including a session on ‘speaking in a digital environment’ that was highlighted by students as one of the most useful sessions.
  • The cohort ‘vibe’ is important for keeping students engaged. This was particularly challenging due to COVID-19, but providing time where students could socialise and discuss challenges was useful. 
  • Introduce design-led thinking early. The training session on design-led thinking could have been introduced earlier on in the programme as it helped many students address challenges they were facing in their ABaCuSS projects and adapt to a new learning environment. 
  • A part-time programme is more inclusive. Changing the programme from full-time to part-time cultivated a more inclusive programme ad encouraged more applicants from diverse backgrounds. Running a part-time programme meant that international and graduate students could participate. Graduate students in particular were excellent participants as they brought a lot of practitioner/practical experience to the programme. 
  • Include training and resources alongside the placement. The programme offered opportunity, (networking and the placement itself), resources (open-ended coaching, i.e., not limited in scope to the placement, and online learning through the portal), and training (bootcamp and skills-based training every other week). This trifecta of opportunities, resources, and training worked well for making the students feel supported to not only complete their placement successfully, but have a holistically valuable experience aimed at growing them personally, academically and professionally. This was heavily reflected in the student feedback. 

Next Steps 

The first iteration of the ABaCuSS programme has achieved positive results, with over half of the students having been asked to stay on at their internship company in some capacity. Several Aspect members have demonstrated their interest in running another iteration of this intrapreneurship programme during the 2021-2023 Aspect follow-on funding period. 

Aspect members interested in learning more can contact Paige McCaleb at paige.mccaleb@glasgow.ac.uk.  

Visit the Aspect website to read the student reflections on ABaCuSS programme, or learn more online at https://abacus-s.org/.  

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