Industry-Sponsored Research Week

New online portal crosses boundaries to connect universities and industry


By David Schwartz
Published: August 11th, 2020

A detailed article on the new Research Enabled collaboration portal appears in the July issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor.  For subscription information, click here.

A new online portal designed to connect university researchers with industry-sponsored projects, service contract opportunities, and potential collaborators is unique among the myriad portals designed to link academia and industry, according to Jay De Long, director of Research Enabled (www.researchenabled.org). The portal is a joint undertaking of the University of Missouri System and the Southern Illinois University System, funded by a grant of nearly $700,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Very few university systems are big enough to have researchers in every discipline, but if we started aggregating over a number of campuses and systems then you start to really have some depth to tap into and address all kinds of industry problems,” De Long explains. “This creates some real efficiencies in process, marketing, and transactional flow,” and that’s exactly what Research Enabled is designed to do.

In fact, he continues, “I’m unaware of any [portals] that cross over systems — much less over state lines. It’s unique in that way.” What’s more, Research Enabled makes it possible for industry to access university equipment and facilities, which is particularly attractive for start-ups, and something not found in all portals.

How did this undertaking come about? “The over-arching trend that universities have been experiencing is a reduction in the amount of federal funds directed towards sponsored research,” De Long observes. “Year over year it has declined as a percentage of GDP. At the same time, [collaboration with] private industry has been increasing — but it’s also difficult to develop; it’s time consuming, and often relationship-based. So, a couple of people from two systems got together to talk about common problems and felt if they collaborated to provide a platform of easy access and initial conversations between industry and research, they could eliminate a lot of the problems and costs.”

Research Enabled is currently in the “soft launch” phase, De Long continues. “We’ve been onboarding researchers through seven campuses; we (Missouri) have four campuses, SIU has two campuses and a teaching hospital.” This combination, he says, encompasses a broad array of disciplines — medical schools, engineering, Ag tech, and life science, for example. “That’s huge,” he asserts. “We’re also onboarding companies from our advisory board, to work out bugs and to make sure the functionality is there.” The first two systems yielded 4,500 researchers interested in industry engagement, he adds.

The advisory board involves members from both industry and academia, De Long notes. “We’ve included vice chancellors for research from all campuses,” he says. “We’ve learned from them some of the nuances about contract management and process flow. From industry we’ve gotten input about how to structure the proposal process, so it is more easily understood by companies.”

The portal, among other things, will enable partnerships beginning from either side of the university-industry equation — either a problem for which a corporation is seeking university help for a solution, or research initiatives proposed to industry by investigators.

“We can accommodate large or small companies,” De Long explains. Companies, he says, can be invited in or they can just log on, but they will be vetted. They will be able to update their data and create separate divisions if they need to.

“Then, the company can ask for specific research expertise or resources (data analysis, a specific quantity of a compound); that’s called a request,” he continues. “Or, they can create a challenge — a longer-term objective, which typically results in some IP.” Companies choose the disciplines of researchers they want to work with; that determines who will receive the requests or challenges, De Long explains. The researchers respond with proposals, which must be approved by campus administrators.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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