Many small business owners wish that they could consult experts or hire a scientist to fulfill innovation or research needs of their company. An academician such as a university professor, or researcher could be a great resource for the much-needed expertise. Most academicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen support the idea of industry-academia partnerships to meet R&D needs and claim that these are mutually beneficial endeavors. However, often small business owners wonder about the ways to initiate these partnerships.
Here are five avenues that are usually explored to form industry-academia partnerships:
1. Direct contact
Small business owners, who may have time-sensitive needs, may initiate contact with an academician over an email or a phone call. The outcomes of direct contact can often be unpredictable as the professor may be too busy to respond to emails or phone calls from unknown entrepreneurs.
2. Networking Events
Networking meetings of various organizations, such as association of women in science or meetups, provide a relaxed environment to interact with academicians. The popularity of these meetings is increasing as there is no set agenda or performance pressure. However, this method can prove to be time consuming as building relationships is a priority and discussion of collaboration happens at a later stage. Further, expert professionals may not attend every meeting which further prolongs the timeline of building relationships.
3. University Initiatives
Industry-academia partnerships take a variety of forms such as consultancy or contracted research. Some universities, for instance, University of Colorodo Boulder or University of North Carolina, have dedicated offices to provide support and structure to develop industry academia partnerships. These offices may run ‘incubator programs’ for student start-ups or even help with legal issues such as patent applications However, for some small and mid-size business owners, a structured approach for partnerships may not be suitable and creative solutions need to be crafted.
4. Business Initiatives
Some businesses have programs to develop industry-academia partnerships. For instance, companies such as Regeneron or Google have internship/residency programs in partnership with various universities. Some businesses invite expert speakers from universities establishing professional relationships with academicians. Most of these efforts are targeted towards long-term collaborations and may not be suited for start-up companies or companies facing a resource crunch.
5. Virtual Market places
This is a relatively new and increasingly popular method used by small business owners to connect with academic experts. Expert professionals with Ph.D and post-doc experience are hungry for new intellectual challenges and collaborating on industry projects leaves them with a sense of satisfaction. For small business owners, these virtual market places (www.kolabtree.com) are available 24/7 and experts can be hired on project to project basis. This method offers a platform where academicians and small business owners can connect with ease.
In a nutshell, although it may sometimes feel overwhelming, the process of establishing connections between academia and industry need not be a difficult task. Along with industry and university initiatives, modern methods such as virtual market places provide a faster, cheaper, and quicker alternative that will further encourage industry-academia partnerships.