Enterprise & Employability

Enterprise role wordcloudEnterprise skills are incredibly useful in many aspects of life and make you very attractive to potential employers. You may have noticed that Enterprise features in Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF) - it sits within the Engagement, Influence and Impact domain. It therefore features in the Development Needs Analysis, which you are required to complete annually as part of your research programme.  

The term enterprise can be confusing and is often associated with starting a business venture, but in fact it simply refers to the generation and application of ideas to address practical situations (QAA definitions). Enterprise isn’t so much a skill, but rather a collection of skills and attributes. In fact there are 38 descriptors within the RDF which relate to enterprise - see the image below.  

Vitae Researcher Development Framework with enterprise ticks

This may seem daunting, however you are already half-way there to becoming more enterprising…

  • The very act of deciding to undertake a postgraduate research degree demonstrates enterprise skills and attributes such as having an inquiring mind, enthusiasm and perseverance.
  • You have had to identify a gap or need or problem which you are addressing through your research, therefore you have generated an idea, spotted an opportunity and worked out a strategy to explore it.
  • And your degree inherently requires you to develop your project management, critical thinking, argument construction, communication and presentation skills. So you can tick those off your list!

Vitae, 2010

“Research by its nature requires creativity, determination and problem-solving.”

But why are enterprise skills important?

No matter what career you have in mind, enterprise skills will make you more employable and better at your job.

For a career in academia, enterprise skills will help you:

  • have impact with your research – opening you up to options such as commercialisation, spin-out, licensing, participatory research
  • win grant applications – knowing how to pitch your research, awareness of the wider agenda and policies, knowing how to effect greater dissemination and reach of the outputs
  • partner with external stakeholders – awareness of relevant sectors, experience in collaborating with or consulting for industry, commercial awareness
  • engage the public – generate innovative and effective communication tools and strategies

and, they will make you a better researcher and educator for future students.

For example, at the University of Birmingham we have academics who have created spin-out companies (Professor Mark Drayson), created a social enterprise (Professor Joan Duda), collaborated with industry (Professor Kai Bongs), engaged with the public and disseminated their research via graphic novels (Dr Christalla Yakinthou and Dr Tom Dunkley Jones)

In industry, enterprise skills will make you a valuable intrapreneurial employee who can contribute to business growth through problem solving, horizon scanning, research and development and innovation.  (An intrapreneur is someone who is employed by a company, but is creative and innovative in their work for the company.  Whereas an entrepreneur is the founder of a new venture, an intrapreneur supports, develops and has impact on an already existing organisation).

Here are some examples of famous inventions and developments created by intrapreneurs:

  • Dr Larry Hornbeck, a researcher for Texas Instruments, revolutionised digital projectors and won an Oscar in recognition of his contribution to cinema
  • Paul Buchheit, a Google employee, created Gmail
  • Dr Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, invented post-it notes

Whilst you may not know these people by name, you can see the impact they have had for their employer.

So now you know the why, it’s time for the how!

The PGR Entrepreneurial Development Officer role within the University Graduate School specifically offers enterprise skills development opportunities through a range of activities:

Innovative Researchers

The Innovative Researchers series features University of Birmingham PhD alumni and academics who are making an impact with their research in innovative and practical ways. In this informal, friendly environment you will hear first-hand how exciting, challenging and rewarding innovative research practice is.

This is a monthly series with a range of speakers from all disciplines. Check the University Graduate School events listings for the next session.

Postgraduate Enterprise Summer School

The Postgraduate Enterprise Summer School (PESS) is an intensive week-long programme where postgraduate researchers work together in small inter-disciplinary teams to create an innovative business solution to solve a real life strategy challenge being faced by the industry partner.  Click here for more information.

Consultancy Challenges

Similar to the Postgraduate Enterprise Summer School but run over several weeks, this professional development opportunity gives you the chance to act as a consultant for an industry partner. Working in an inter-disciplinary team with fellow postgraduate researchers you will draw on your expertise to solve a real-life challenge.

These are run throughout the year. Check the University Graduate School events listings to find out if one is running soon.

PG Skills workshops

A series of workshops covering the key skills employers tell us they are looking for, such as commercial awareness, leadership and management and workplace IT. Plus workshops on optimising your online identity using LinkedIn and blogging.

Check the University Graduate School events listings for the next session.

Business start-up advice

If you have started a business, have an idea for a business (including consultancy) or are interested in commercialising your research you can meet with Katie Hoare, the PGR Entrepreneurial Development Officer, to discuss this and get advice on how to move forward.

External competitions


The Careers Network team offer enterprise support and activities for all students, such as Boot Camps, Start-up training, Freelance workshops, Company treks and more. Visit their website.

Other resources



Professional Services