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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

U Waterloo engagement office signs up ‘founding partners’ and builds deep collaborations

By David Schwartz
Published: June 22nd, 2021

A detailed article on U Waterloo’s “founding partner” program for major strategic collaborations appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

In an interesting twist on strategic partnerships at the University of Waterloo, several Canadian industry leaders committed to agreements identifying themselves as “founding partners” in the wake of the university’s recent creation of Gateway for Enterprises to Discover Innovation, or GEDI, its corporate engagement office.

GEDI began with the vision of the university president Feridun Hamdullahpur, says Bridget Moloney, the office’s managing director. She explains that he had started a conversation with Canadian government officials in response to what the university has been hearing from external clients, including:

  • The university ecosystem can be daunting and difficult to navigate;
  • In the face of disruptive technologies, corporate problems are increasingly complex;
  • And ultimately companiesneed access to U Waterloo’s competitive advantage to prepare for the future (research, talent and training, acceleration of innovation through start-ups, etc.)

“We challenged ourselves to ask how we could meet these needs. . . . GEDI represents the fruits of those conversations,” says Moloney. Launched two and a half years ago, GEDI seeks to understand industry partners’ goals and challenges and then works with them to identify possible engagements including research, technology, talent, training, events, and connecting into the broader innovation and start-up ecosystem. Other areas of focus include:

  • Serving as a convenor for industry by bringing together large enterprises, small and medium companies, start-ups and scaleups, and entrepreneurs to spark ideas that accelerate innovation via the GEDI Exchange;
  • Streamlining a company’s pan-university interactions; and
  • Providing a one-stop-shop for enterprises to access the full innovation capacity of the university.

Moloney explains how GEDI played a role with the “founding” companies — BlackBerry, Cisco Canada, and Rogers Communications — in cementing major agreements with each one. “We began senior-level discussion between [our] organizations. In each case, the company recognized the size and complexity of the partnership with U Waterloo and requested GEDI develop and manage the partnership broadly across the university,” she says. “The companies have interest in deep and significant research, but it goes beyond that.”

While two of the founding partners had previously worked with the university, “one was relatively new to deep research,” notes Moloney, adding that “BlackBerry in particular has had a long history of research collaborations with faculty members at U Waterloo.”

The founding corporate partners, she continues, “have multi-year, multi-million dollar, and multi-faceted partnerships with the university.” BlackBerry and Rogers also now have a physical footprint in the form of a branded office suite within GEDI’s space on campus that helps to support the partnership activities. All three are assigned a GEDI Client Manager “who manages the relationship and supports the success of the partnership,” Moloney says.

The branded office suites provided by the university create “instant co-location” for the sponsors, and bring them into close, regular contact with the GEDI Client Managers, researchers, and the university community. “The Client Managers help develop the partnerships towards success,” says Moloney, noting that they manage and oversee all facets of the relationship with the company. They meet at least weekly and are in touch “practically on a daily basis,” she says, ensuring the right people at the university are brought into the conversation, assessing progress, and identifying and addressing any roadblocks.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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