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From idea to innovation: humanities impact at scale

Thank you to the researchers, students and speakers who attended our events over Humanities Innovation Week 2021.

We are very pleased to announce this year’s prize winners. And we look forward to working with everyone who submitted a project proposal over the coming months!

Competition winners

First place

Dr Diarmuid Hester, Faculty of English and Emmanuel College

‘Prick Up Your Ears: cultural history audio trails’

Diarmuid’s cultural history audio trails allow listeners to head out onto the streets to immerse themselves in hidden queer histories, guided by cultural history and oral history interviews. The trails draw on his expertise as a cultural historian and his knowledge of sexually dissident literature, art, film, and performance in the nineteenth and twentieth century. To date the trails have proved popular with audiences: the Cambridge trail was featured in the Guardian, and will be relaunched at the Cambridge Festival in April 2022. The aim is to develop the project and work with partners such as councils, public bodies, and charitable organisations to create site specific audio content and tours that reveal hidden cultural histories.


Second place

Dr Saussan Khalil, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

‘Developing a game-based app for learners of spoken Arabic’

Despite Arabic being an official UN language spoken by 400million people worldwide, and the proliferation of language-learning apps and websites such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, Arabic has been lagging behind. It was introduced on Duolingo after 36 other languages were already available on the app and both it and Rosetta Stone assume learners have mastered the script, one of the initial hurdles to learning Arabic. Families looking for language learning apps for their children, whether to master the script for reading or to develop their speaking skills, are unable to find what they are looking for. This project will build on the success of the novel Arabic phonics method developed by Saussan and bring it to a wider market through the development of a game-based app for young learners.


Runners up

Veronica Jingyi Wang, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

‘Academic Bird: the school of critical thinking for a Chinese-speaking audience’

Inspired by and developed during doctoral research on Chinese media and Internet culture, Academic Bird is an online channel that seeks to bridge academic debate to the general public in a light-hearted way.  Using short videos of themed talks with scholars from different disciplines, the channel fills a gap for critical thinking platforms in the Chinese-speaking media market and acts as a connector between Western and Eastern thought. ‘Academic Bird’ has attracted over one million views and 45,000 social media followers, with a strong Weibo presence. Their goal is to grow their capacity to rival Western online content channels such as The School of Life and Nowness.


Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Faculty of Music

‘Jewish Morocapp’

Jewish Morocapp is an app and game using a plethora of sonic, visual and textual materials gathered while living in and researching the Jewish community of Morocco. Through this app, a world and its traditions, which seem to be almost completely lost because of the large emigration of Moroccan Jews from 1956 until today, will become easily available. Both younger Moroccan Muslims and the Jews whose parents and grandparents left find it almost impossible to access both traditions and histories of this millenary community and its place within the larger experience in North Africa. Some of this rich culture in the form of a sound archive of Jewish Saharan birth songs can be found through their website Ya Lalla. This new app has the potential to become a hub for re-engagement with a broken line of transmission, supporting a renewal and re-inscription of this intangible heritage into the younger generation’s lived experience though playfulness, humour, sound and image.

2021 competition details

The competition

Cambridge Enterprise 2021 Humanities Innovation Week challenge.

28 September to 5 October

This event is held in association with the School of Arts and Humanities.

Have you got an innovative idea with its roots in arts and humanities expertise or research? Perhaps you’re hoping to develop a service, product, tool, social enterprise, business, consultancy, or creative innovation.

Want to learn more about how to make your idea a reality? Interested in meeting like-minded researchers and getting some tailored support?

Bring your innovative ideas for a streamlined week-long challenge, including training and mentoring. There is a £5,000 prize fund to help get the most exciting ideas off the ground. Your idea doesn’t need to be fully formed, but it should be something you care about, believe in, and which has clear benefits outside of the University.

We’ve designed the challenge to be flexible, with training delivered online, recorded for playback, and mentoring scheduled to suit you. Make use of advice sessions, workshops and talks to make new connections and hone your idea. You can attend as many or as few of these as you want – the competition is designed to fit your schedule.

Training and workshops

We’ve created a streamlined programme to kickstart your idea. You or a representative from your team are welcome to attend as many or as few of the training and workshop activities as you wish over the week (even if you don’t intend to submit a project proposal).

We’ll provide advice and support to everyone who enters, both during and beyond the dates of the competition – and the winning ideas will share a prize pot of £5,000 towards developing the innovation.


Launch event
Tuesday 28 September 2021, 17:00-18:00

Hear more about the competition format and meet likeminded academics including past participants with experience of scaling their humanities innovations.



Talk and Q&A: User-Focused Design for Humanities Researchers
Wednesday 29 September 2021, 17:00-18:00

An anthropologist by training, Dr Simon Pulman Jones is the founder of Emergence Now and currently Head of User Experience Design for the NHS Covid-19 App. Simon will introduce the principles and tools of user-focussed design – how can we plan for impact by shaping our research and innovations with our intended beneficiaries in mind?



Interactive Workshop: Planning for success! Humanities Routes to Impact
Thursday 30 September 2021, 13:00-14:00

Humanities research is benefiting people in industry and society in remarkably diverse ways. The process often begins with a new idea, an opportunity to act, or a need to respond to. But once you have your idea, what steps can be taken to develop it? How can you know you are making progress or that your work is having an effect? In this session, Dr Benedict Kent, Impact Facilitator in the School of Arts and Humanities will introduce you to some key concepts in planning routes to impact and suggest how they can applied to your own work. In peer-to-peer discussion, you’ll have opportunities to share your plans with others and workshop ways to demonstrate your successes.



Workshop: What is social enterprise?
Thursday 30 September, 17:00-18:00

Social entrepreneurship is often the driver to take our projects out of academia and right to where our insight is needed on the ground. Dr Emma Salgard Cunha hosts a range of speakers on how social enterprise can be used as a tool to introduce research-based interventions into wider society.



Talk and Q&A: Business Model Canvas – Sustainable Models for Humanities Innovation
Friday 1 October 2021, 13:00-14:00

The business model canvas is a powerful tool for thinking through the people, resources and models you would need to sustain and to scale a new innovation. Experienced innovation coach Ludo Chapman will introduce us to the canvas and how it can help us to identify opportunities to take our ideas into the real world.



1-1 Advice Surgery
Friday 1 October, all day, multiple times

A chance for you to discuss your specific ideas with members of the team from Cambridge Enterprise.


1-1 Advice Surgery
Monday 4 October, morning, multiple times

A last chance for you to discuss your entry with members of the team from Cambridge Enterprise.



Submit your idea by midnight – Monday 4 October

Download a project proposal form and send it across to emma.salgardcunha@enterprise.cam.ac.uk by midnight. Judging will take place over the week with the winner announced on Thursday 6 October.


What are we looking for?

We’re looking for meaningful innovations which use humanities expertise and research, and have potential to make an impact outside of academia. This could be:

  • A commercial idea or product for a business, organisation or the public
  • A creative or educational innovation such as a game, activity, media artefact or resource
  • An academic consultancy, for example a policy intervention or a plan for expertise sharing with business, government, charities or the public sector
  • A social enterprise, charity, volunteer organisation, or not-for-profit venture
  • A novel platform for research impact or public engagement
  • A tool or methodology, such as a piece of software or a research questionnaire, which could be licensed and used for purposes outside of academic research
  • A spin-out company or consultancy company based on your research

The competition is not suitable for one-off events or activities – we’re especially looking to develop ideas which with time and investment could potentially be self-sustaining and have a long-lasting impact.

Eligibility and competition rules

The competition is open to individuals or groups where at least one member of the team should be a Cambridge researcher/research student from a humanities discipline, broadly defined. Academics and researchers at any career stage are welcome to enter, including research students. Teams can also include other university or college staff and external collaborators.

Feel free to talk to us for advice about eligibility.

Project type

The project can be brand new, or something that you’ve been working on for a while. The sessions aim to help you design, refine and flesh out your idea.

The idea must be your own. You must have permission to enter the challenge from anyone else who might have a stake in it, such as a research supervisor or collaborator.

You can take a look at the AHRC subject remit guide if you want to get a sense of the scope of arts and humanities, though our aim is to be inclusive.

Prize fund

An award fund of £5000 will be split between the most exciting projects. This money can be used to progress the projects. Non-exhaustive examples of eligible activities include paying for technical or creative development work, help with trademark costs, travel to meet with beneficiaries, customers or stakeholders, costs of legal fees and advice for creating an entity such as a business or social enterprise.

For more details, please feel free to contact emma.salgardcunha@enterprise.cam.ac.uk

Intellectual property and confidentiality

Any intellectual property created during the project will be managed according to the University’s IP Policy.

If you have questions or concerns about confidentiality or how to protect your idea, we will provide you with specific advice. We expect to publish non-confidential short case studies about the winning projects in Cambridge Enterprise and University publications.

Useful documents