“The majority of companies decline or fail,” says Sheldon Buckler, board chairman of adhesives and coatings manufacturer Lord Corp., based in Cary, North Carolina, “because they fail to continue to generate new value, and this generally happens through some form of innovation.” And of course, Lord Corp. is not alone in its commitment to innovation. Innovation is the mandate of the day, and it has companies increasingly looking outside of their own organizations for new ways to grow. At the same time, shrinking federal research budgets are forcing universities to find alternate sources of funding for their work. Consequently, just as companies are searching for new capabilities, sources of knowledge and means of growth, universities are feeling the urge to come down from the ivory tower and do business with corporations in order to keep their labs open. This unique timing means that there is unprecedented opportunity for successful partnerships between universities and corporations, and universities are making it easier every day. Recent years have seen a steep increase in the number of university-sponsored industrial or corporate liaison programs, all aimed at increasing university funding from private sources. Yet corporations and universities face a dilemma: How do they reconcile the short-term, profit-driven and transactional nature of the business world with the long-term, relationship-driven and research culture of the university?
A quick look at university Web sites illustrates the kind of split personality many universities are feeling they must adopt in their efforts to attract funding from corporations. They pair reports of the number of new patents received by the university or statements on how they will “match” you with potential interns, faculty or executive education opportunities with information on how you can “make gifts” to the university. Listing all of the services that the university provides and then asking for gifts confuses the relationship. Corporations are not used to “making gifts” to their suppliers. But there are tremendous opportunities for both corporations and institutions as long as each understands the needs of the other. The single most important factor that determines whether a company will develop and sustain a successful relationship with a major institution of higher learning is the company’s preconceived idea about how to work with the university.
1. National Science Foundation, “Science and Engineering Indicators 2004,” www.nsf.gov.
2. A.N. Komanecky, “Corporate Best Practice in University Relations: A Report to Participants in the Cornell University Executive Forum” (Ithaca, New York: Cornell Office of Corporate Relations, 1996), 3.
3. University of Chicago, http://corporate.uchicago.edu/about.
4. University of Missouri, http://formizzou.missouri.edu/corpfoundation.
5. Y. Fassin, “The Strategic Role of University-Industry Liaison Offices,” Journal of Research Administration 1, no. 2 (summer-fall 2000): 31–41.
7. Komanecky, “Corporate Best Practice.”