The funding, part of Research England's Connecting Capability Fund (CFF), will support 'ASPECT' ('A social sciences platform for entrepreneurship, commercialisation and transformation') – a pioneering collaboration between leading universities and businesses to develop the commercial potential of social sciences. Led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), ASPECT is a partnership with the University of Oxford, University of Manchester, University of Sussex, University of Sheffield, alongside business investors. Oxford will be part of two further CCF projects, as well as ASPECT.
ASPECT will bring together the best social science ideas with leading businesses and entrepreneurs to create new products and businesses which will both solve pressing social challenges and improve productivity, a key aim of the UK Government's recent Industrial Strategy. ASPECT also seeks to increase the creation of commercial spin-out companies based on social science research.
Commenting on the announcement of ASPECT, Professor Mark Pollard from Oxford's Social Sciences Division said: 'It is hugely exciting to work with our partners on ASPECT, through this we will build on Oxford's recent strategic investment in business engagement for social sciences and humanities. This cutting-edge project will develop new methods and support for commercialisation of social sciences research, providing a sense of direction across the sector.
'It is time to unlock the huge potential of social sciences research. Working together with businesses we will help them to future-proof themselves using research-based insights into human behaviour, developing new products and tools, creating efficiencies and productivity, and facilitating take-up of new technologies among customers. Putting people and human behaviour at the centre of our efforts to drive forward the economy will create a stronger UK.'
A key part of ASPECT's work will be based on an innovative approach piloted by the LSE's partner 'company-builder' Zinc. ASPECT and Zinc will bring together the best social science ideas with top entrepreneurs to create new products and businesses which will both solve pressing social challenges and improve productivity, a key aim of the UK Government's recent Industrial Strategy.
Zinc's programmes are mission-led, with cohorts of participants facing up to a specific economic or social problem. The aim of each cohort will be to fulfil an unmet need of at least 100 million people in the developed world through the creation of 10-15 investable businesses. The first Zinc cohort, who started in 2017, were tasked with creating tech-based businesses which tackle the crisis in women and girls’ emotional and mental health. Over the course of six months the ‘Founders’ formed 19 companies which focused on this challenge, covering a range of sectors including transport, health, outdoor experiences and perinatal support.
ASPECT will be central to Zinc's second social mission: 'To unlock the full potential of left-behind places.' This mission will focus on the creation of tech-based businesses which support the ‘rust belt’ in the developed world, such as former-industrial cities in the US Midwest or northern England, which have struggled to recover from the loss of traditional industries. More generally, the mission will cover any area which has struggled to adapt to economic change, including coastal resorts or market towns with declining custom.
The mission will start on 1 October 2018. Anyone interested in joining as a Founder, or offer their skills as an Expert, can apply at www.zinc.vc/join.