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Strategic Partnerships with Universities

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University partnerships not only serve as sources for people and ideas but are also a vital means for corporations to uncover ways of engagement with the larger Innovation ecosystem and driver of Innovation economy.

These ecosystems do not merely comprise of universities and companies rather they have a whole Innovation community that includes government entities, venture investors, and entrepreneurs with universities as indispensable stakeholders.

Although industry and universities have disparate missions, work environments, and organizational structures, more and more areas of mutual interest are being explored and discovered by them, and as a consequence more supporting infrastructure is coming into existence.

Fruitful partnering with universities comprises of having the appropriate people, processes, and organizational backing to guarantee success and to detect and manage sources of conflict.

Industry and universities now search for multidimensional partnerships that are shifting from:

  • Singular to the institutional level.
  • Informal individual associations to proper partnerships.
  • Knowledge-gaining occurrences to development of fresh intellectual property and ventures.

Past practice for industry-university partnerships has generally been ad hoc.  Modus operandi being someone from the industry requires a solution to a problem being faced, reaches out on their own to a contact in a university, and gets the job done.

Now there is a shift from incremental problem resolution to strategic work on major challenges.  Formation of strategic programs has led corporations to institutionalize dedicated units for university relations.  They are frequently positioned in the corporate R&D organization with reporting lines to senior management.

A 4-year research project on forming, managing, and augmenting the inherently complex partnerships between university and industry has led to the development of following 6 questions that should be asked when choosing partners:

  1. What are the business objectives that necessitate the university partnerships?
  2. What are the main focus areas in the university partnerships, and what selection process safeguards their alignment with the business objectives?
  3. Which yardstick has been applied to choose the principal university partners, who are they?
  4. What partnership arrangements pair with the set focus areas and business objectives?
  5. What human resource, process, and organizational structures aid the university partnerships?
  6. What key performance indicators are extremely effective for assessing the university partnerships?

Let us delve a little into details of some of the questions.

What are the business objectives that necessitate the university partnerships?

Articulating the goals that drive the company-university relationship is key to making that partnership effective.

Corporations have many motives for desiring to participate in university partnerships, and they frequently have trouble expressing their goals in clear business terms.

Tackling this 1st question, which organizations seldom do, generates a chance for a company to paint an organized picture of its business goals and the manner in which they link to its university interactions. 

What are the main focus areas in the university partnerships, and what selection process safeguards their alignment with the business objectives?

Innovation priorities outlined in the business objectives should be the basis of selecting key focus areas for the university partnership.

In order to make sure that university partnerships line up appropriately with the company’s business objectives, the selection process for such partnerships should be as thorough as an equivalent internal process would be. 

Which yardstick has been applied to choose the principal university partners, who are they?

There has to be stringent and transparent criteria in companies for partnering with universities.  It should be such that it can also be shared and understood by universities.

Interested in learning more about the 6 Questions, the 6 Benefits, and the 8 ways of partnering with universities?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Strategic Partnership with Universities here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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