Eight best practices for making academic collaborations work for your business

Przemek Szleter is the founder and CEO of DAC.digital, with over 16 years of professional experience as a business and IT executive.

Working together with universities can bring significant results for companies. While there have been many disputes in the scientific literature about the usefulness of such relationships, the private sector and the academic community can take advantage of each other to maximize returns for both sides of the table.

Since the first R&D initiative my company was involved in, we have worked closely with academia and made conscious efforts to improve our collaboration with representatives of the scientific field. The following are some guidelines we’ve collected based on our research and experience in this area.

Setting the Groundwork: Identifying Research Problems for Successful Academic Collaborations

Identifying the research problems your company needs to solve is the first step in developing an academic relationship. With a well-defined research agenda, you can map academic contributors whose skills and interests suit yours. Successful collaboration is more likely, and the study performed will be more applicable to your company if you take this step.

However, we consider two ways to do this. The first is a definitive approach: you have a clear statement of the problem where theoretical principles and academic expertise can add value. The second is an exploratory approach: you have an open discussion to find new topics or directions. At the conceptualization stage, we would have been successful with the second approach. Had we been further along in the project lifecycle, the first approach would have worked well.

Building bridges: networking with academia for R&D projects

Finding the best academic experts for your R&D project requires a careful and strategic approach. Building a strong network within academia through relevant networking is one way to start. Participation in conferences, seminars, open days and thematic events is beneficial. My team also actively participates in local communities and associations, which helps reach potential gym contributors.

A social media presence can also help you interact with researchers and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and discoveries. Using these platforms and tactics, you can broaden your network and discover potential collaborators whose talents and interests match your R&D project, increasing the likelihood of a successful collaboration.

Balancing Profit and Progress

Academic collaborations should aim to balance the commercial goals of the business with the academic goals of the research. To ensure that the project stays on course, it is essential to have clear objectives and a strong methodology before starting any research project. This implies ensuring that both sides gain from the partnership, maintaining the validity of the research.

Seeking R&D funding opportunities

Government agencies and academic institutions account for nearly half of global R&D investments. Therefore, there are ample opportunities to acquire funding and resources that will allow cooperation between academic researchers and companies to prosper. Joint project applications to public bodies are a profitable way of generating funds for an initial startup. A sign of caution here would be to verify that any funding or resources obtained jointly would not impede the commercialization of R&D output.

Protecting your intellectual property

Intellectual property is a key concern in academic collaborations. Before starting any collaborative project, it is essential to establish explicit agreements about ownership and use of intellectual property. This includes patents, copyrights, trade secrets and use of existing technology/IP. If necessary, a non-disclosure agreement must be signed.

Communication is key: navigating the intersection of academia and business

Effective communication and project management are essential to successful academic collaborations. Bearing in mind the fact that academia and companies may have different communication and project management practices/habits, establishing clear lines of communication and setting expectations for regular progress updates is key. It’s also important to establish a project timeline with specific deliverables and milestones to ensure the project stays on track.

Publication and presentation of study results

Academic researchers’ careers are significantly impacted by the publications they produce. In addition to the company’s intended patents and copyrights, they generally pushed for certain publications. Provision and advance planning for publication in journals, conferences or books would benefit both parties by preventing the release of any sensitive material. As an entrepreneur, I can point out that such a contribution to science would give weight to future project submissions and increase the possibilities of receiving research money in numerous competitions.

Marketing the search result

Finally, companies must consider the commercialization potential of search results. This may involve licensing the technology or intellectual property, creating a spin-off company, or incorporating the discoveries into existing products or services. By turning academic discoveries into marketable products and services, companies can increase their bottom line.

main conclusions

It is worth giving due attention to working closely with academic researchers for R&D activities. In the rapidly evolving technology landscape, this collaboration would add a fresh perspective and add value to your business offering. In conclusion, I would like to share two pieces of literature by C. Anthony Di Benedetto et al. and Dusica Marijan and Arnaud Gotlieb. These are useful reads for companies and academic researchers to form and foster collaboration, in addition to the points I elaborated on in this article.

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