UKRI video showcases UCL’s entrepreneurial support for doctoral students

ISIKLE’s Dr Ruth Weir, Entrepreneurship Advisor at UCL, talks about the value of UCL’s entrepreneurial training programme dedicated to the needs of doctoral students.

In a new spotlight video, part of UKRI’s 101 Jobs that Change the World series, Ruth describes the support available to doctoral students through UCL’s SPERO programme.

The programme, which has been running since 2018, has now equipped over a thousand UCL doctoral students with tangible entrepreneurial skills. 

As Ruth explains, it’s a programme that’s beneficial to all students studying at a doctoral level, whichever direction they intend to go in later. 

“The training we provide has value for anyone studying at this level, whether they have plans to stay in academia, work for a business or launch their own venture. 

“We show people that entrepreneurship isn’t a scary word; that everyone has entrepreneurial skills. We simply help to highlight those skills, and give people the confidence to package them up and take action with them, so they can achieve their goals and have more impact.”

Different levels of support

The SPERO programme is divided into three levels:

  • Level 1: where students role play in a hypothetical startup, and learn to apply entrepreneurial skills to their current research and future career
  • Level 2: where students work in groups to develop novel enterprises and pitch their idea to an entrepreneurial adviser
  • Level 3: where students take a deep dive into the legal aspects of running a business, including IP rights, co-founder agreements, profit and loss projections and negotiating with investors

Students can choose to take part in one or all of the levels. It’s currently delivered online, so the training is very flexible and open to UCL students all over the world. The programme attracts students from a wide range of research areas. 

“I love the eclectic aspect of it,” says Ruth. “It’s entrepreneurial alchemy. We have architects, neuroscientists, arts students, people studying in other countries, all mixed up, all working together, with a shared interest in entrepreneurship and taking their ideas forward. It’s very exciting to see people’s research and ideas coming to life.” 

The overlap between research and the startup world

A former UCL PhD student herself, Ruth wants to change people’s outlook on entrepreneurship. 

“I used to think you’re either born an entrepreneur or you’re not. In fact, there’s a huge overlap between being a researcher and being a startup founder, in terms of the process involved but also the resilience that’s needed. It’s the parallels between the two endeavours that makes researchers such excellent entrepreneurs,” adds Ruth.

Supporting doctoral students to achieve their entrepreneurial goals

Isobel Pagendam (PhD, Department of Geography) is one of the students who’s benefitted from the programme. Having never considered herself to be an entrepreneur before, she discovered a new affinity for entrepreneurship after taking part in SPERO, and went on to intern for the London Mayor’s Entrepreneur competition.

“It was interesting to get a broad overview of the different types of entrepreneurship and what counts as entrepreneurship… Entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean developing a physical product: you can come up with a range of different services and offerings in a range of sectors,” said Isobel.

Vishal Kumar (MRes Spatial Data Science and Visualisation) also attended both SPERO 2 and 3 to reinforce his entrepreneurship skills. He went onto launch his own startup, specialising in AI-accelerated hardware and software for modern photography. 

“Both courses were very helpful in reinforcing some entrepreneurship skills I already had. But, most importantly for me, I had the chance to apply these skills… Working together in teams, listening to each other and pitching our ideas helped me in a practical way for real-life applications,” said Vishal.

The SPERO programme is part of a wide package of support available to UCL doctoral students looking to build their entrepreneurial skills, delivered through UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

To hear when the new SPERO workshop dates are released for term 1 of the 21/22 academic year, please register your interest.


Increasing and Evaluating Student Impact in Knowledge and Learning Exchange (ISIKLE)