Collaboration Insight: 5 pieces of advice before entering a collaboration with academia

Academic pursuit and industrial partnership have not always been easy neighbours; I recall in the mid 2000’s, when I was leading a life science spin out company, the prevailing attitude seemed to be one of academics thinking businesses were simply cash cows while businesses thought academia represented cheap labour. Unsurprisingly our interaction with academic institutions were rarely happy and only with pain, productive. Things did move on from there where academics began to recognise the value of creating ‘impact’ via partnership with business while business saw the broader innovation and recruitment opportunities within universities.

Happily, I think we have all moved beyond even that; the prevailing attitude I now observe is academics and business viewing each other as valued partners for a breadth of reasons and with a much more grounded level of respect.

Here are some things I’ve learnt in my role for life sciences enterprises and academics to keep in mind when approaching collaborations:

1 – Put your cards on the table. Academic purpose and business goals are different. That needn’t prevent collaboration except when one or both sides doesn’t recognise or acknowledge what they want from the collaboration and try to drive an ulterior agenda in the background. Figure out a collaborative program that delivers for both parties.

2 – work out the timing, funding, and deliverables early. Get on the same page. You will probably have to compromise on one of them. It is not often the case you can collaborate at speed for minimal cost and maximum delivery.

3 – the easiest interactions use direct funding. If you are going to use third party funding, fit the funding to the partnership, not vice-versa.

4 – Scotland has some brilliant agencies that work alongside University TTO’s and business academic liaison teams. Check out the Innovation Centres, Interface and the KTN for support and even funding.

5 – keep in mind the big picture. Academic institutions look to business for innovation, infrastructure access, recruitment opportunities. Business looks to academia for very similar reasons. It’s a partnership.

My office at the University of Glasgow acts as a constant reminder of the impact a successful academic commercial collaboration can make on the world; it being the former home of Lord Kelvin, the pre-eminent physicist and engineer of the 19th century. Alongside his stellar academic career, he also worked for the Atlantic Telegraph Company and lead the challenge of laying the first transatlantic communication cable – an achievement that truly changed the world.

You can click here for a list of the Innovation Centres in Scotland that are directly aligned to Life Sciences

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After spending 8 years working for a life science SME in Scotland, Gordon Meiklejohn specialises in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, Innovate UK &the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in his role as Business Development Manager at the Research and Innovation Office at the University of Glasgow.