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8 May 2017

It is easier than ever for corporates to connect with universities

Robin Knight, co-founder of In-Part, responds to an earlier GUV editorial that looked at university-industry collaboration and finds much to celebrate.

Author: Robin Knight, co-founder of In-Part

In an April editorial for Global University Venturing, editor-in-chief James Mawson outlined some key points concerning the ongoing and developing relationship between corporates and universities, in a piece titled Universities say ‘yes’ to corporate collaboration.

Upon reading Mawson’s article, it struck us at In-Part that the trends we are seeing reflect his headline sentiment, but further still, that corporates and universities should be more aware of available mechanisms for initiating those relationships, and how successful partnerships manifest over time.

In the opening to his editorial, Mawson outlined that “if starting and developing a company out of an idea can take a long time so, it seems, can finding a way to connect corporations and universities.”

This might have been the case in previous years, but solutions are emerging to change the way industry and academia interact. The problem for both sides of the equation is similar. How are you meant to find the right person, in the right place, who is actively open and willing to collaborate?

Often for businesses, the need to gain from academia is driven by specific internal challenges or to bolster existing technology portfolios to maintain a competitive edge. But how do you begin to strategically assess university expertise across the globe?

Traditional routes to access university expertise and innovation are myriad and labyrinthine, and within each lie inherent pitfalls. In-Part was created four years ago to provide a reliable resource of relevant and available collaboration opportunities – moving away from the drawbacks of faceless portals hosting outdated and unavailable technology. We understood that successful university-industry collaboration requires people and proactivity, not simply a search box.

Combining matchmaking algorithms and pro-active community engagement, we ensure that the right people in corporations and universities are being connected to have meaningful discussions about translating research.

Since launching in January 2014, 560 introductions for potential university-industry collaborations have passed through In-Part. Each introduction represents a company requesting direct contact with one of our partner universities to discuss collaboration and research commercialisation.

Already this year, we have provided 195 introductions. This is a marked pro rata increase, a telling indicator of a growing requirement for companies to access new knowledge from universities.

The number of universities using our system continues to grow, with technology transfer teams across Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US providing their latest available opportunities. We see universities using In-Part that are passionate about global collaboration, and companies no longer viewing location as a restrictive factor. Indeed, this is true for both large institutions who use our system, such as Oxford University, Cambridge University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Australian National University, as well as many smaller universities also conducting world-class research.

However, as Mawson made clear in his editorial, “success in this field is less about numbers than impact.”

We entirely agree, and this is a sentiment echoed by almost all of the institutions we work with. In regards to measuring that impact, it can be difficult, although metrics instigated by the UK’s Research Excellence Framework seem to be the first in quantifying such outputs.

From our insight, the real impact gained from university-industry collaboration comes from the longevity of the interaction, and thus the importance of forming strategic partnerships that provide long-term benefit for all involved.

Out of the 560 potential university-industry collaborations initiated through In-Part since we launched, 410 are in an ongoing conversation. This is something that we see as a positive indicator of longer-term strategic partnerships. It is a suggestion that a ‘transactional-relationship’ between industry and universities is a misnomer, giving credence to the increasingly popular opinion that collaboration is the aim of the game.

Beyond these longer-term interactions, we view another important facet to the ecosystem being industry feedback and ensuring that two-way communication channels are established between both academia and their target market in industry.

Our platform was built for such communication in mind, enabling universities to benefit from industry professionals offering feedback on their innovations, answering those questions that often face a technology transfer professional: “is the technology too early-stage, is the market overcrowded, is the commercial route unclear?”

We capture market feedback on university technology, provide introductions to new corporate partners, and compile anonymised analytics on market engagement in Impact Reports for our university partners. By providing TTOs with this information, we are making it easier than ever for university and industry to connect in productive ways.

Our continued international growth is set to provide businesses with access to a global repository of innovation, all of which is available for collaboration. And to ensure that it is more than just numbers, we are driving impact through catalysing long-term partnerships, which we feel is the crux of successful research commercialisation.

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