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U Minnesota links corporate relations and tech transfer in new “front door” portal


By David Schwartz
Published: November 30th, 2020

A detailed article on the University of Minnesota’s new “Industry Engagement at the U” web portal appears in the November issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

While at some universities the various departments that interface with industry exist in their own siloed worlds, many have found that the way to optimize engagement opportunities is through teamwork, and that was certainly the case as the Corporate and Foundation Relations and Technology Commercialization teams at the University of Minnesota joined forces to create Industry Engagement at the U (https://ie.umn.edu/), a new portal serving as the “front door” to industry engagement.

“We’ve been working together informally for about a year and a half, and by the nature of our teams we dove into it with the sense of [teamwork],” says Steven Corkery, UMN’s associate vice president and head of corporate and foundation relations. “Changes in Rick’s (Rick Huebsch, executive director of technology commercialization) office helped bring about more collaboration.”

The university also has a new president, he continues, who wants it to have a more visible presence with the corporate community, “so we’re trying to meet that need.” He recalls that someone on Huebsch’s team raised the question of a portal, and how it might make it easy for industry to come to a site they could seamlessly navigate to be connected with the right offices on campus. “Before, when you went to our site there was no way for the private sector to get that information,” says Corkery. “We wanted to provide a place where they could go to learn about ways to engage, and who to go to.”

Creating such a locus, adds Huebsch, is “one of the biggest challenges universities have,” noting that universities are not alone in this challenge. “I’ve worked with several companies a lot, and it’s hard for us to navigate their sites too,” he shares. “At a university you will have people talk to you across the board, but it’s nice to have one place where internal and external stakeholders can have a shared resource.”

The design of the site was intended to create a sense of approachability and engagement, says Huebsch. “Our model is not to be this authoritarian group with high-touch management in every single encounter, but more to engage and look at it as a 360-degree relationship between the university and the corporation, because both sides are multi-faceted,” he says.

The site clearly reflects that; it offers the user various engagement options, both in diverse media and in the depth to which the user can drill down for additional information. For example, the very top of the home page features a three-minute video, “Open for Business,” which briefly describes the university and the various types of engagement available. If that video has convinced an industry visitor that he or she would like to speak with a university contact for additional details, there is a photograph, a telephone number and an e-mail address for the university contact with whom they can “get started” at the bottom of the page. “We’ve tried to make it easy,” says Huebsch.

If, however, they would like to drill down and learn more in a specific area, they can first choose from among the four “pillars” of engagement with the university: Technology and Innovation, Talent Development, Executive and Employee Engagement, and Visibility and Branding, which are illustrated by an “industry engagement wheel” graphic. Once they have clicked on one of these areas, they are taken to another page that offers a brief summary of what the university can do, bullet points outlining different opportunities to engage, pertinent “factoids” highlighting university resources, and again, a university contact.

Corkery adds that the video is just the first of several planned. “There will be four more that dive into each of the quadrants,” he explains. “We looked at things during COVID-19 and realized we would not be having campus visits, so we’re doing it virtually to give a prospective company a feel for the campus. These four [videos] will drill down deeper.”

What are the goals of the portal? “The first is to get the information out that we’re open for business,” says Huebsch. “Lots of universities can say it, but they don’t all follow through; this provides that involvement. Second, we’re looking to increase all forms of engagement, and we’re trying to make sure they know we’re interested in all of them; the word ‘engagement’ is what we’re really looking at — and in all of its forms. We’ll meet the business where it’s at.”

“Our new president is very anxious to continue growing industry engagement, and we’re fortunate to have 17 Fortune 500s in our back yard (within 50 miles of campus), which is great,” says Corkery. “The challenge is to have others, including mid-size companies, want to engage, and we think this will help.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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