Dr. Margie Vela has devoted her career to advancing scientific knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). She currently serves the science community as an academic partnership success manager in the technology sector. She has also served the academic community as Regent for New Mexico State University. Margie spent the best years of her career serving students alongside science teams at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, working to diversify the scientific enterprise. Dr. Vela earned her Ph.D. in Water Science and Management from New Mexico State University (NMSU) as a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Fellow; and earned a Certification in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from Cornell University.
As the world becomes more reliant on technology, the race for innovation has become much more intense. Companies in the private sector are beginning to rely on strong partnerships at the intersection of knowledge generation and application for developing high-value products and services. This global shift requires stronger partnerships between industry and academia. The private sector is leaning on academic researchers and university educators for knowledge transfer, research collaboration, and workforce preparation and development. There is mutual value in understanding common values and nuance of norms in academia and industry for developing a successful public-private partnership.
There are several key strategies for building successful partnerships between academic and industry researchers: 1) establish norms for effective communication, 2) prepare to accelerate business processes, and 3) clearly define success for your partnership.
Establish Norms for Effective Communication- Every strong professional relationship requires clear and frequent communication. It is important to keep in mind that vernacular and jargon used in industry and academia may seem incongruent at times. However, when we listen beyond semantics, we find overlapping values that serve as the foundation for a strong relationship. It is a good practice to enter the relationship keeping in mind that there is nuance in the way language is used in our respective spaces. Engaging in a conversation about this with your partners and creating a working relationship where everyone is encouraged and welcomed to ask for clarity creates an inclusive and productive foundation for success. Additionally, effective modes of communication can vary by company and industry. It is important to establish the best mode of communication and the expectations regarding timeframes for responses. You and your industry partner benefit from timely communication, so knowing how to effectively do this from the start is central to success. Similarly, it is important to establish business norms for meetings with partners. It is common for the industry to schedule short and frequent meetings with recurring agendas for updates on progress, identifying barriers to success, and requesting any additional resources needed. Clear communication is the foundation for establishing a successful and sustainable public-private partnership.
Prepare to Accelerate Processes- It is important to work with business units at the institution to establish efficient and accelerated administrative processes. There are two critical administrative functions involved in all public-private partnerships, legal approval and distributing/accepting funding. It is vital to the relationship that realistic timeline expectations for contract approval and processing funding are clearly understood by industry partners. Many partners use a working backward approach and will set deadlines for the business using the timelines the institution can undertake. While industry partners encourage thorough contract review and approval by the university’s legal team before engaging in the work, there is an expectation for this to be executed within an accelerated timeframe. More importantly, when funds are disseminated to academic partners, it is expected that an efficient process is in place for accepting it. Research funding often runs against budget deadlines that have use-it-or-lose-it implications. Reductions in a previous year’s budget may result in a reduced budget for the following year, so partners are often eager to disseminate funds. It is vitally important to work with university administrators to develop a sustainable model for transferring funding to the institution through accelerated mechanisms. Academic partners with seamless and accelerated processes for accepting this funding may see more funding in the long term.
Clearly Define Success for Your Partnership- Delivering results is a strong common value across the academy and industry. It is broadly understood that researchers in the academy are drivers for results as experts in their fields. This is one of the reasons these partnerships are of high value to the industry. One of the major differences between academic research and industry partnership is the frequency by which reporting of results occurs. While research projects in academia have historically been expected to deliver a mid-year progress report and annual report, many business partners are reporting progress in weekly, monthly, quarterly, mid-year, and annual business reviews. The updates do not have to demonstrate a significant breakthrough, but showing incremental progress helps your partner demonstrate the return on investment in academic research. It is important to establish an agreed-upon reporting cadence with your partner and to establish effective mechanisms for delivering reports. In many cases, a quarterly or bi-annual report will help determine if any additional resources are needed or if there are barriers that need to be addressed by your partner. At the end of the funded project, both parties expect to have results from the research, and both parties are expected to benefit from these results. It is imperative to communicate these results with your industry partners to continue a successful partnership.
Public-private partnerships are growing at an exceptional rate and provide mutual benefit to the academy and industry. Academic researchers and educators are critical for establishing a pipeline of competitive and diverse researchers who are working towards accelerating the application of innovation in an impactful way. Industry scientists express that they often enjoy engaging with academic researchers and appreciate the innovation and discoveries happening in the academy. Many industries encourage scientists to collaborate with academic researchers and many industry scientists are seeking opportunities to contribute to cutting-edge work. While public-private partnerships are new for some institutions, disciplines, industries, and companies, the best practices to engage in strong, sustainable relationships with industry partners include clear and frequent communication, efficient administrative processes, and delivering results. As the globe makes a shift towards the integration of tech in all disciplines, the potential to innovate and disseminate innovation is enhanced through the convergence of researchers in academia and industry. Approaching the relationship strategically ensures that both partners benefit from this engagement.