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CU-Boulder racks up industry funding as it adds master research agreements

By David Schwartz
Published: November 7th, 2017

The recent addition of a formal Master Research Agreement to the ongoing relationship between the University of Colorado Boulder and Lockheed Martin Corp. — an event that merited its own public on-campus signing ceremony — also represents forward movement in the school’s efforts to expand its use of the process-smoothing documents.

An interesting joint effort between CU-Boulder’s Office of Industry Collaboration and its Office of Contracts and Grants — which executives consider a major element of its success — the MRA embrace has been in place for about a year, and is still being tweaked. Already, however, MRAs get credit for helping fuel the institution’s eye-popping increases in industry-sponsored research income.

The school is coming off a record-breaking fiscal 2017 for industry-sponsored research, which totaled a $23.8 million — a 59% leap from last year — from 223 awards. A key focus right now of the move to MRAs is the lexicography behind the push. CU-Boulder now has a couple dozen or so MRAs in place, notes Abby Benson, assistant vice chancellor for research and innovation there. And the problem is “we have some agreements that are called ‘MRAs’ that aren’t really MRAs,” she says, adding that “there can be some confusion, so we’re in the process of trying to clean that up right now.”

Uniform nomenclature helps everyone, she stresses. “The intent of an MRA is a broader relationship with an organization, in situations in which a sponsor expects to fund multiple research projects with CU-Boulder over a period of time,” she says. “The MRA includes options for evaluating projects that fall under it, and it’s intended to work out the challenging details on the front end so projects can be completed more easily on the back end.”

In addition, the school says, MRAs are designed “with the goal of increasing the number of awards and associated funding received by CU-Boulder,” in part by “further solidifying and expanding longstanding relationships” — and the just-announced deal with Lockheed Martin fits the bill.

Building on a $3 million partnership the pair reported last year, which set up academic programs at CU-Boulder focused on radio frequency systems, the follow-on MRA “provides a framework for all future research projects.” Already, four research projects totaling $675,000 — covering advanced electronics, signals processing and sensors — have been identified as the first deals executed using the new document.

The Lockheed Martin deal is just the latest in a string of deals centered around the MRA approach. A detailed article on the CU-Boulder MRA strategy appears in the October issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and get the complete article, along with scores more like it in the online archives and in regular monthly issues (plus save $100 on a subscription!), CLICK HERE.

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