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How to Get the Most From University Relationships

Innovation is the mandate of the day, and it has companies increasingly looking outside of their own organizations for new ways to grow. At the same time, shrinking federal research budgets are forcing universities to find alternate sources of funding for their research efforts. Consequently, just as companies are searching for new capabilities, sources of knowledge and means of growth, universities are feeling the urge to come down from the ivory tower to do business with corporations in order to keep their labs open. The convergence of these circumstances results in an unprecedented opportunity for successful partnerships between universities and corporations, and universities are making this easier every day. Recent years have seen a steep increase in the number of university-sponsored industrial or corporate liaison programs aimed at increasing university funding from private sources. But, given their differing needs, universities and corporations approach collaboration from different perspectives. How can managers reconcile the various needs of the two types of institutions?

Drawing upon 20 years of experience as a corporate liaison officer, the author examines how best to manage relationships between companies and universities. He suggests that one point of common ground in corporate and academic partnerships is mutual respect for the use of the scientific method to solve problems. In such a context, academics feel more comfortable entering into dialogue with corporations without fear of "selling out," and corporate interests shed their aversion to so-called "pure" research. This allows both parties to follow the author's advice of shifting from a transactional approach to a relational approach. He examines three case studies and identifies three key factors in their success: The relationships moved beyond short-term vendor relationships to become lasting partnerships that built new capabilities for the companies; senior management was highly involved; and the companies involved the university in their strategy, not merely in technical tasks or isolated business problems.

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