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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Key strategies for hosting a successful ‘Industry Day’ on campus


By David Schwartz
Published: May 14th, 2019

“Industry Days,” or day-long events held to showcase what a university has to offer to one or more industry partners, can be an effective way for a university to “put its best foot forward,” according to comments made at the recent UIDP28 conference in Raleigh during a discussion focusing on best practices for such events. However, the discussion also pointed out potential pitfalls and lessons learned by those universities who have participated in many industry day programs.

The informal session was led by Priya Baboo, director of industry, innovation and development at Penn State University, and Camille Noel, Grants Manager of Research Collaborations at Varian Medical, who focuses on research partnerships in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Participants made it clear that while some of these events include multiple companies, others focus on just a single partner. And some focus on one field or technology vertical, while others attempt to showcase a wide swath of innovations from multiple disciplines. “There are different flavors,” Noel says. “We think of these as events where universities invite one or more industry partners, and we participate and team up in dozens of these. But as far as large-scale industry days, those are rarer, and harder to put on.”

Baboo agrees it might take more than one turn at an industry day to get things right. “When we did our first year (Penn State is now preparing for its third), we had no benchmarks or performance measures on how it turned out,” she recalls. “One specific lesson we learned concerned poster sessions. During the first year we had them at the end of the conference. We learned later that a lot people from industry and from Penn State left after the main session. So, we learned never to put a poster session at the end of the day. We made a lot of smaller tweaks to our structure as well based on feedback.”

Penn State began its “Industry Exchange” because of a need identified within the engineering department. “Engineering has a lot of faculty that works with industry, but we did not look at partnerships from an enterprise-wide perspective,” says Baboo. “So, it was more about how to be proactive, to develop better partnerships and foster existing ones.” The intention was to explore new collaborations between academia, industry, and government, so several federal and state agencies were also invited. “It was how to get the word out on what expertise lies within Penn State,” she adds.

Although it started as an engineering event, from the second year on it became more university-wide, says Baboo. “We have 24 campuses and several colleges, and a number come in,” she states. “The aim is to put together a more holistic picture.”

The Industry Exchange at Penn State was Noel’s first as a Varian representative. “They developed an agenda that presented their best R&D initiatives,” she observes. “Some were more directly related to things of interest to Varian, some not quite as directly, but it was really an all-encompassing agenda that presented what their capabilities are.” She notes that there were “at least 20” companies represented, from fields as diverse as automotive, health care, computer vision, and gaming.

“We’ve been growing since the first year,” says Baboo. “So far we have 40 companies coming in [this year] and we still have a month to go.” Her team reaches out in a number of ways, including existing contacts, alumni in industry, and attendees who learn about it through the UIDP website. “Each of the colleges and campuses reach out to their industry partners,” she adds.

Industry is closely involved every year, from the planning stage to follow-ups after the event. “We continually try to improve,” says Baboo. “We decide on topics based on what’s happening in industry, what’s trending. Then, within those topics we seek to understand which subtopics, and applications resonate well with industry. Even before we have an agenda, we reach out to all industry partners, asking them what topics are of interest.”

A detailed article on hosting a successful industry day appears in the May issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor as part of a special focus on creating campus events to engage with corporate partners. Other articles include details of a best practice program from Sweden’s Uppsala University, a partner recognition program at UMass Lowell, and a “reverse pitch” program from Carnegie Mellon. For subscription information, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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