Industry-Sponsored Research Week

University-industry partners break new ground as they seek COVID solutions

By David Schwartz
Published: May 12th, 2020

It comes as no surprise that universities and their industry partners have strongly reached out to each other in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, desperately seeking urgently needed solutions. What might not have been predicted, however, is how willing and nimble they have been at throwing off the limitations of more traditional partnering methods in order to speed up processes, or to enter into totally new areas of activity to meet those urgent needs.

For example:

  • Vanderbilt University, which has traditionally sought outreach agreements on a one-on-one basis, is now reaching out to as many partners as possible to solve the same problems and working with them on non-exclusive agreements.
  • The University of Dayton, which would typically spend several months negotiating a license, has completed an agreement in three days for a technology to detect the presence of COVID-19.
  • The University of Alabama and Florida Polytechnic University have joined forces with industry partners to manufacture PPE for local healthcare workers.
  • Canada has seen “unprecedented levels of collaboration” in therapeutics research and in manufacturing, according to one university engagement executive.
  • Penn State has been promoting its BSL 3 lab for industry partnerships in animal studies.
  • What started out as a one-off effort by Northern Michigan University to support local businesses has turned into a multi-pronged effort involving major corporations and alumni across a broader geographic area.

One thing is clear: University-industry partnering is far different than it was B.C. (Before COVID). “This is unusual for us; we usually target one company,” says Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor for tech transfer and commercialization at Vanderbilt. “We’ve turned the process on its head.”

“This is radical change,” says Steven Murphy, president and vice chancellor of Ontario Tech University.

One well-established industry partner of Penn State “did not think this problem could be addressed that quickly,” adds Melissa Erekson, assistant vice president for corporate engagement at Penn State University.

And Mathew Willenbrink, director of technology partnerships for the University of Dayton, notes that a blog by a faculty researcher about his discoveries led to a first-ever collaboration with software development company Blue Eye Soft.

There is a real possibility that some of these “radical” changes will become part of the “new normal,” whenever we start year one A.C. In fact, Murphy predicts, all of this may lead to “a different way of looking at universities.”

An in-depth article detailing a variety of partnerships and new models of working with industry brought about by the COVID-19 crisis appears in the May issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, click here.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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