Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Master agreement renewal shows success of partnership at NC State

By David Schwartz
Published: November 12th, 2019

The recent renewal of the master agreement between Eastman Chemical Company and NC State, involving a new six-year commitment of $10 million following an initial investment of $16 million for the first six years, clearly demonstrates the strength of the partnership. However, cautions Leah D. Burton, the school’s director of the Centennial Campus Partnership Office & Industry Alliances, partnerships like these are not “built in a day,” but rather often start small and only begin to grow when one or both of the partners recognize the importance of strategic alliances.

“There had been some research agreements, but they were really just one-offs,” says Burton, referring to NC State’s collaborations with Eastman prior to the master agreement. “There were a number of NC State graduates working there, we had a relationship with some department heads, but very few — and not in any coordinated way.”

In this particular case, it was the industry partner that took the initiative. “They really went about the process of looking for an ‘innovation partner,’” Burton recalls. “They recognized internally that they could probably get more out of the research they were doing at universities if they had a more coordinated approach, and that if in fact they could find one university where there were a variety of opportunities to collaborate they could probably make better headway in terms of the innovation cycle.”

By the time NC State got involved, she continues, Eastman was down to its ‘Top 10’ and began to make campus visits. “The key things that sold Eastman on NC State were that we did have the bulk of research interests Eastman had, and [we] had established a number of departments and colleges that opened many innovation opportunities within one university; and our pre-established IP terms were important to them,” says Burton. “They viewed NC State as very open and easy work with. The third thing was that they could put an office on campus, co-locate. That had not been one of the criteria from the beginning, but they realized how beneficial it would be and that it was something most universities do not have.”

In the years following the initial master agreement, engagement has increased and spread into different areas, says Nanci Washington, partnership developer in the Office of Economic Development at NC State and the account manager for the Eastman account. “We’ve recently seen a move beyond the College of Engineering to include the College of Veterinary Medicine as well as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,” she says. “Engagement has broadened quite a bit.”

New engagement activity includes a class project in the College of Design underwritten by Eastman. The company has also done “some one-off projects with analytic instrumentation facilities,” Washington reports, “as well as a joint collaboration with UNC Chapel Hill — the first time we’ve had a joint project.”

The renewal clearly indicates the success of the partnership, but what has made it so successful? “This is like so many long-term relationships; the success of this partnership relies upon continuous interaction and exchange, and the ability to pivot together when market changes or personnel changes occur,” says Burton. “We believe in this together; maybe personnel or market

forces change at Eastman, and that causes us to pivot. That’s what you do for a partner. When you have that continuous interaction and change it keeps the partnership vibrant and important — to both sides.”

A detailed article on the NC State-Eastman partnership appears in the October issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, CLICK HERE.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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