Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Setting the industry engagement agenda: Planning process focuses on moderation in budget, teamwork in goal setting


By David Schwartz
Published: January 19th, 2021

A detailed article on the budgeting and planning processes used in university industry engagement offices appears in the December issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

While the fiscal year for many universities starts in July, the first quarter is when the planning process for the next year’s budget, as well as goals and objectives for corporate engagement, start to take shape. For corporate engagement executives, that often means taking care to stay within the fiscal guidelines established from “above,” while seeking input from key team members when establishing goals and objectives for the coming year.

“Year to year I think about what’s expected in terms of resources,” shares Gary Ostrander, PhD, vice president for research at Florida State University. “If it’s a lean year, I tend to be very conservative, saving money so we can weather vacillations.”

The budgeting process itself will vary from university to university, but in all cases there is a clear-cut course followed every year.

“When I first started, we went to zero-based budgeting, which forces everything to be defined and defined,” says Ostrander. “My office puts out requests to all units that report to me, what issues they might see; if some have big important requests, I’m paid to try and figure out what’s important and what isn’t — what we can and can’t do.”

Nathaniel K. Utz, recently named vice president for industry partnerships at Purdue University, shares some of the processes employed at his previous employer, Notre Dame University, which he anticipates will be the model he looks to follow at Purdue.

“The best way to explain it is a two-way street,” he says. “Top-down, in which my boss or boss’s boss starts to drop budget numbers down the line. Bottom-up is where we as a team understand all our team goals and metrics and as individual contributors what portion of those team goals and metrics they are contributors to and will be responsible for. That comes to their fiscal year plan and leads to budget needs. Hopefully, as we roll the numbers up, they are equal to or less than our bosses’. If not, then we have a conversation about needing a bigger piece of the budget to execute and achieve the goals the university has set for us.”

With a July start of the fiscal year, the process starts in March. “We talk along the way; we look at team goals for the next fiscal year, then drop down to individual goals,” he explains. “We get buy-in from each individual member to the plan, at goal level and metric level. From there, they are turned loose: ‘Please prepare a strategic plan based on proposal pipeline, key accounts, path to goal’ — and that’s where the budget numbers flow from.”

“Our process starts with those in charge of the budget — meeting with each individual department,” says Leah Aschmann, director of corporate relations in the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Rice University. “Once they request the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations it’s me, the Associate Director of Foundation Relations, and the Assistant Vice President. The three of us get together with the department coordinator. She has good sense as to where to spend, where not to, and where we have room.”

Then comes a line item by line item review, she continues — things like student summer workers, travel expenses, or new staff. “We talk through it, provide recommendations to the budget ‘gurus,’ send it off, and a month later we’ll basically hear ‘yeah’ or ‘nay,’” says Aschmann, who adds that she has “never been denied. Our group is very fiscally responsible; we’re not big spenders.”

“In our corporate relations budget process, we make projections for revenues of the industrial liaison program and the MIT start-up exchange,” says Karl F. Koster, executive director of MIT Corporate Relations and director of alliance management in MIT’s Office of Strategic Alliances & Technology Transfer. “That’s a revenue positive situation. We’re not hitting our goals as well because of COVID, but it’s not a disaster by any means; it’s actually good. It goes up through the Associate Provost.”

In the budgeting process, he adds, “we look five years out, revise that in our planning sessions on an annual basis, and track on a monthly basis — and more important, [we track] the level of activity the office is performing.”

When it comes to establishing goals and objectives, “we have a defined set of goals and objectives down to the individual level that looks at member retention and activity, outreach to new corporate sponsors, tracking the leverage of those for investment in MIT in research and education programs, special projects people do, and teamwork people do,” Koster shares. “We have people do self-evaluations and meetings with their supervisor to discuss what we’re looking for people to achieve and strive for.” Through MIT’s CRM, he adds, all groups have monthly reviews.

As he does with the budgeting process, “I take the office through a strategic planning process every five years,” he continues. “A couple of years ago we looked at the website and that resulted in a new website that includes the Startup Exchange. We’ll take another look over the summer at IT infrastructures. We’ve moved to a Salesforce CRM, and thoughts going forward include what social media strategies there are, and what should be planned for.”

At Rice, goals and objectives are arrived at on two levels, says Aschmann. “One, Corporate Foundation and Relations staff meet annually for a planning retreat, to review the year before,” she shares. “It’s a very positive experience, with lots of positive reaffirmation and a reality check of each other.”

This year, of course, it was done virtually. “We aggregated responses to see what the themes were, whether we needed more support financially, or verbal support from leadership,” says Aschmann, who notes that this is regularly done through the team-building game “snowball,” in which team members write down their thoughts anonymously, which are shared with the group.

“It’s a game, but it’s really very effective,” she asserts. “It guides our discussion; it’s a neat way to get at peoples’ thoughts.” From there, she says, the participants move on to look at the financial goals from the year before, and what is feasible for the coming year.

“We do not have hard metrics,” she says. “We measure dollar amounts, but we do not necessarily measure the number of meetings or proposals. That speaks to the way Rice approaches corporate relations; it’s really about having a greater influence across campus to make connections. For those who should be connecting with companies, we make sure they make meaningful connections, and we help facilitate those.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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