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University-Industry Engagement Week

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How to find a good fit in industry-university collaborations

A recent blog post co-written by Laura Schoppe, president of consulting firm Fuentek, and Richard W. Chylla, PhD, executive director of MSU Technologies (Michigan State University’s commercialization arm) spotlights a program at MSU that simplifies industry collaborations and offers compelling terms. The authors also discuss the factors that lead to positive, long-term corporate partnerships, and other factors that have the opposite effect.

The MSU Business-CONNECT office features a staff of business development specialists who act as a concierge service for companies looking to work with the university. They help facilitate not only research partnerships but also internships, recruitment of recent grads, and other areas of corporate interest. These specialists – most of whom have industry backgrounds — also negotiate service and/or sponsored research agreements (SRAs).

According to Chylla, a Master Agreement approach has been especially effective. These agreements allow sponsors to provide funding over several years IP terms can vary in the individual projects. Benefits of a Master Agreement include:

  • Shared interest in the success of the partnership over multiple projects and several years.
  • Each party becomes familiar with the working processes of the other.
  • Company staff and university business development staff can develop deeper relationships
  • Both sides are more attentive to the needs of each other than with a standard, single-project SRA.

They cite a recent example in which faculty at MSU worked with a major utility company under a Master Agreement. During the project, market changes led to an acceleration of the project timeline. Because of the strong relationship developed under the Master Agreement over a period of years, MSU already knew about the company’s penchant for altering a project’s timing, and faculty had already been warned of this as a potential issue. That understanding allowed MSU to complete the project early and meet the company’s needs. “This example demonstrates how a long-term relationship between a university and a company promotes greater understanding and leads to increased flexibility in both parties, improving the R&D process,” the authors point out.

Addressing the industry side in their search for or assessment of a partnering university, Schoppe and Chylla advise companies to think hard about working with a university that is inflexible in several key areas:      

Unwillingness to discuss IP rights: While more and more universities are embracing a more industry-friendly approach to IP, some are still reluctant to even explore IP options. “If the topic of IP rights seems to be creating an impasse, consider looking at other, more flexible institutions,” they advise.

Inability to align schedules: If the researcher a company is targeting for collaboration has availability issues, “the collaboration likely should be abandoned,” they say.

Unresponsive or uneager researchers: Sometimes a faculty member involved in a potential project just doesn’t appear too enthused after voicing initial excitement. “If the faculty member’s early enthusiasm in a partnership begins to wane, another researcher and/or another institution might be a better match for the company.”

Limitations of “A-list” players: “Leading faculty and institutions are highly sought after and, therefore, are very selective about the work they do,” the authors say. “Rather than struggle to get the attention of the top-tier players, who can afford to be choosy, companies may do better to seek out other researchers/institutions with sufficient qualifications.

Source: fuentek

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week