Researchers, Meet Industry

Following last month’s announcement of Boston University’s expanded partnership with Red Hat, you may be wondering whether industry collaboration is right for you as an academic researcher. The advantages are numerous, from research funding to deepening your impact, but the process may be unfamiliar. As a first step, it can be helpful to get clear on your goals, and also to put yourself in the shoes of potential industry partners. Academic and industry collaborations can take many forms and are highly dependent on the PI and industry partner’s goals and expectations. 

The Industry Perspective

Industry is always looking for ways to create a competitive advantage for its products and services in the marketplace. They might be interested in insight into emerging science and technologies; access to unique talent, equipment, or facilities; acquiring intellectual property (IP); gaining access to industry-friendly government-funded opportunities like SBIRs and STTRs; product placement in cutting edge labs for marketing product development; or some combination of these advantages. 

How industry works with researchers is as diverse as their incentives. They may seek to license a researcher’s IP, tap into a lab’s unique capabilities, collaborate on sponsored research, or invest in a researcher’s start-up company.

It’s important to remember that industry is looking to develop a product or service that it can profitably sell to its customers in a relatively short time. As a result, industry is less likely to invest in fundamental or basic research that may take a long time to translate into a product or may represent more research or financial risk than the company may be comfortable taking.  At the same time, academic researchers may be focused on fundamental research to create new knowledge or make new discoveries and innovations in their fields that may not yet contemplate a commercial product. BU Industry Engagement can help bridge the gap between industry and researcher priorities to find what we like to call the “collaboration sweet spot.”

The Collaboration Sweet Spot

A simplified view of the Innovation Life Cycle is shown below, beginning with basic research and ending with the commercialization of a product. Academia and industry tend to focus on different ends of this life cycle. While industry will work with academic researchers across this spectrum, there is a collaboration sweet spot where an academic researcher’s work can help an industry partner solve a particular research problem to help them move a research idea to product development and commercialization.  This sweet spot is sometimes referred to as applied research or translational research and can produce very strong, mutually beneficial partnerships. 

A Partnership Takes Shape

Once an area of potential collaboration is established between an academic researcher and a potential industry partner, the form of that partnership needs to be established and put in place. There are many arrangements that can be used between academic researchers and industry, depending on the goals and expectations of both parties. The most common arrangements are shown below. 

BU Industry Engagement and our colleagues in Technology Development are well-versed in when, where, why, and how these different arrangements should be used and work with BU researchers and their industry partners everyday to put these arrangements in place.

Take Action

Your research has the potential to do big things, and Industry Engagement is here to help you unleash that potential. Reach out to our team with questions or to get started.