We’re often asked by the universities that use Inpart’s matchmaking platform for university-industry collaboration what R&D teams are looking for in new potential collaborators. So, to provide some answers, we spoke with our industry community and asked them what informs their decisions to establish new partnerships with universities.

Presenting the right information

When an R&D professional reviews an opportunity to collaborate with a university, the decision to pass or to learn more ultimately comes down to whether they have all the relevant information to hand. If a project summary doesn’t have the right information, the perfect company will often pass or lose interest.

Ronan Bellabarba, a Technology Manager at Johnson Matthey – a British multinational that works on speciality chemicals and sustainable technologies – outlined the importance of highlighting what benefits a new technology has over existing systems:

“There are certain critical points of information which are necessary to establish relevance. These are obviously the fit with my company’s existing, or potential, technology and markets, but also what problem does the technology solve, and how is this better than existing solutions?

Ronan also outlined that having an economic analysis is an essential part of the equation:

“The critical point for an initial evaluation is to have some kind of economic comparison against the leading competing solution to that problem. The ‘hook’ that gets a company interested is often presented as technical, but needs to be commercial; it also has to be credible. These calculations are not difficult but increase the impact by orders of magnitude.”

Similar insights were shared by the Alliances and External Research Manager at a Japanese Pharmaceutical company who requested to remain anonymous:

“From the viewpoint of making a decision, the most important information would be differentiation points compared with other competitive technologies. It would be easier to understand the technology well by including aspects such as research summary, key differentiation points, applicable areas for the technology, IP, and publications”

Additional data and validation

After an R&D professional has been alerted to a new academic breakthrough in their area by our team, if they’re interested, we’ll organise an introduction via email.

The starting point for every new interaction between an R&D team and university is the exchange of information. Usually, this comes in the form of a request for more non-confidential information, data, or specific questions about the breakthrough – further to the information provided in the project summary.

Ganesh Ram, the Co-founder of RetinaLyze – a Danish company who are applying AI and telemedicine to ocular disease screening – shared with us a sample set of questions that he’s previously asked a university:

Could you lead me to clinical validations of the product?
– Would it be possible for you to send us a video with a demonstration of the product?
– Could you explain what the technical requirements are to make the system work (i.e. does it require a 3D tablet computer and/or internet connection) and the cost to acquire this infrastructure/the necessary devices?
– Would it be possible for you to illustrate the intended/preferred business model between you and us?

As we’ve seen from the interactions that result from Inpart, sending further information, data, and evidence for validation in the days following a request from industry leads to greater rates of success. Thinking about what questions an R&D team might ask, and having the answers to hand to send over immediately, is a sure fire way to maximise your chances of securing a new partnership.

A productive discussion

The new connections between R&D teams and universities that are made through Inpart’s matchmaking platform lead to a range of collaborations, including licensing deals, co-development projects, materials testing, grant funding for collaborative research and long-term strategic partnerships.

While not every introduction on Inpart leads to a headline-generating partnership, there are a range of intangible benefits that arise from the exchange of knowledge and best practices between industry and academia. Building strong, working relationships, being honest, and open to suggestions and criticism all lead to gaining valuable market input to ensure successful commercialisation of university research.

The need to be up-front about limitations and caveats was outlined by Ronan at Johnson Matthey, who said that:

“If there are obvious issues (e.g. tricky materials handling, separations, exotic process steps) then this question will be asked, and in my experience the conversation tends to end there, which it needn’t: perhaps a way forward could have been found.”

Even after clearing the first hurdle of getting an R&D professional interested in a project, some partnerships are cut short due to delays in communication. This was highlighted by a number of the R&D leads we spoke with:

“The best thing is to be responsive: ultimately this is a negotiation, and thus a dialogue has to be started.” – Ronan at Johnson Matthey
“Time is money. In some cases, it takes too long to get their reply/feedback.” – Alliances and External Research Manager at Japanese Pharma firm.

Industry and academia operate on different cycles and timescales; each has different pressures and requirements. But from what we see through Inpart, the essential foundation for a productive conversation is to send prompt, professional responses. It’s about keeping the conversation going. So if there’s going to be a delay, send a holding email to manage expectations.

A unique patent and clear IP strategy

Once an R&D team has found something relevant to their pipeline and made a decision to explore collaborating with a university, the next step is usually to negotiate access to intellectual property (IP) – both before and after a collaboration. This can be make-or-break for many new partnerships…

Ronan at Johnson Matthey shared with us his outlook on evaluating intellectual property:

“I won’t consider IP that looks like a “me-too” effort or a marginal improvement on existing technology: in my industry, if there is a technology that is already mature and operating, it is practically impossible to persuade a customer to buy an unproven but similar solution.”

The Alliances Manager at the Japanese Pharma firm we spoke with outlined the need to a patent strategy in place before negotiations begin:

“If I feel a university doesn’t have a clear patent strategy, it would be a signal for a red flag. Especially for a pharmaceutical company, IP is one of the most important aspects.”

The Sr. Manager of Academic Relations and Open Innovation at a global consumer electronics company (who also asked to remain anonymous) highlighted that having engagement from the academics involved is a sign of a promising project:

“…It also helps if the inventor is available to speak with technical experts on the industry side. Often we want a partner to help us implement technology that works better than what we can do in-house.”