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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Ohio State spinoff helps universities evaluate strength of industry partnerships

By David Schwartz
Published: September 21st, 2021

A detailed article on UNITE’s system for ranking the strength of university-industry partnerships and moving more of them in a strategic direction appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

UNITE, a consulting company spun out of The Ohio State University, is built around a data-driven technology tool that assigns a value based on the strength of corporate relationships, helping engagement professionals better manage their portfolio of industry partnerships.

Before coming to Ohio State, Chris Svec, co-founder of UNITE, had seen the other side of the coin while working with Nationwide Insurance. “I was hired to create a holistic corporate engagement office, and at the end of the day I realized there was a systemic problem with universities — the challenge of engaging with companies and [understanding] how they work, not only externally but internally,” he explains. “We (Svec and UNITE co-founder Christy Bertolo, who was his colleague in corporate engagement) took our backgrounds working in relationship management and built a system on how to work with companies.”

The “missing link,” he asserts, was the technology tool they built that enables universities to put a value on their partnerships. Following the collection of data, the tool analysis is expressed in a graph showing where the relationship falls (the “partnership trajectory”) in a continuum from “cultivating” to “strategic.”

“We thought we had something,” Svec continues. “We sat in the commercialization office and put Post-it notes on whiteboards. Folks in the office asked what we were doing, and they said, ‘You have something; you should consider filing an invention disclosure on it.’ We did that; we worked with compliance [to see] if we could actually sell it to universities, and here we are.”

UNITE has licensed the technology from the university, and it is now “an Ohio State portfolio company,” Svec shares. “We have the exclusive rights, as creators and inventors.”

“My background is in economic development,” adds Bertolo. “This is all about economic development — [boosting] the workforce and making the state stronger and more competitive” by improving industry engagement.

In discussions with university corporate relations leaders, “when we got to the university, all people talked about were scorecards — ranking company over company,” Svec recalls. “That seemed backwards to us. It’s not an issue of which company is better, but how a company is growing on its own trajectory.”

The UNITE “scoring” system, he continues, was built with the idea in mind of using three key factors as its basis — advancement numbers, research data, and hiring. Beyond that, depending on the individual university, a total of up to 25 other variables may be used. “For example, there’s student engagement,” he notes. “We work with the university to define what they mean by that. Or, it could be organizations, or capstones.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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