Establishing University Partnerships

January 14, 2019

For innovation teams, establishing academic partnerships is a promising investment in the future of its R&D efforts and long-term viability as an organization. As the competitive pressure increases, it becomes increasingly important for innovation teams to identify promising new technologies before they appear on the open market, or are acquired by their competitors.

So how can teams create truly sustainable partnerships? Here are a few essential steps innovation teams need to follow to identify, establish, and expand university partnerships.

1. Find an Effective Partner

Finding and identifying an effective partner is one of the hardest steps in developing partnerships. It is also the most important, as the quality of the partnership is crucial to its long-term value to the organization.

Before attempting to identify partners, innovation teams need clear, specific goals of what research areas they are looking to pursue and the end-goal benefits of the partnership. Having specific goals makes the searching process easier, as teams can better narrow down partners. At a fundamental level, partners need to be in similar areas, but different enough to identify areas where both parties benefit from the relationship.

During the process, teams need to look at a potential partners research specialties, research areas where they win consistent grant funding, published papers in the field, and other indicators that indicate research breadth and depth in desired fields. Furthermore, teams can look at the history of other corporate partnerships with the entities, as this can be a significant sign of the promise of a potential alliance (i.e. if the organization has had numerous successful partnerships, it signifies an expertise in working with private partners, while a lack of previous partnerships might identify a lack of experience in the public-private process).

Another productive data points teams can look for are prominent and successful university spinouts, as academic partners with a history of spinouts, as this can signify a focus on commercialization of research rather than just pure discovery. Establishing contact with a university’s tech transfer office is a valuable first step, as these offices can give much greater detail and begin the preliminary partnering process.

2. Develop a Shared Vision

All partnerships begin with identifying shared goals and processes. During the process, it is imperative that both sides establish mutual respect for the culture and processes in both organizations; this is key, as it helps create trust and establish effective and constructive communication that the partnership needs to succeed.

Both sides need to establish clear leaders that will represent each side of the relationship and negotiate on behalf of the organization. Working together, the partners can develop the framework of the partnership, its goals, individual members, responsibilities, and other parts of the agreement; not all partnerships will have similar frameworks, as frameworks are highly partner-dependent. During this process, both sides need to identify specific shared goals, conditions, and understandings regarding the deliverables and participation of each team.

3. Gain Buy-In From All Sides

Once both sides have established a mutual understanding, both sides need to create institutional buy-in and commitment. This is not a one-off event, but a continuous process; both sides need to nurture their commitment throughout the partnership, as this ensures its longevity and long-term success.

To gain this commitment, teams need to deeply integrate the partnership at every level of the institution. This can take the form of continually sharing learnings and progress, establishing regular meetings and knowledge shares, and identifying new areas of cooperation. By continually identifying synergies, the partnership can flourish and the level of collective knowledge can deepen. The deeper the knowledge, the higher the likelihood that the partnership leads to promising results for both organizations.

4. Ensure Longevity

There are two factors that create a long-lasting and sustainable partnership: continuous and active developments towards goals and a commitment on both sides to integrate and institutionalize the knowledge.

For innovation teams, institutionalizing the knowledge means that its developments and products are not simply confined to its members, but are disseminated company-wide. More importantly, the relationship needs to be institutionalized rather than managed by an individual; there is a trend within teams for relationships to be informally documented through emails, shared documents, and phone conversations, all documents that are lost once team members leave to pursue new opportunities.

By creating a centralized system of record, all forms of communication are preserved and its knowledge institutionalized. Further institutionalization can occur through consistent meetings, data sharing, and joint public announcement to cement the relationship through public participation at relevant industry events. Fundamentally, the more joint activities occur, the more solidified the relationship will be.

5. Invest Time and Effort

Effective academic partnerships need to establish mutual benefits, expectations, and goals to survive. With these things in mind, partners need to invest time and effort to have the relationship succeed. The benefits may not be immediately clear, but with consistent effort and investment on both sides, partnerships can have significant long-term advantages.

With the right partners, goals, and investments, academic partners can help corporate innovation teams expand their reach and identify new opportunities that help organizations drive technological development and revenue.




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