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Universities for Open Innovation

University and Industry collaboration has had a positive impact on technology and scientific studies over the years. With an increasing number of businesses relying on ‘open innovation’, the importance  of this collaboration is only increasing.

The Nokia Research Centre actively engages in open innovation through strategic academic partnerships with leading institutions like MIT, Stanford, and University of California etc. The company believes in deriving value and leveraging ideas by exploring each other’s expertise and sharing resources. Similarly IBM, through its Open Collaboration Research Programme (OCR), continues to build strong university partnerships to create smarter solutions that are publicly shared.

Recently, a collaboration between Aachen University, Germany, and 10 companies along with contributions from 50 auto-parts suppliers led to the creation of the StreetScooter, a $7,000 modular electric vehicle. This innovative product can run at top speed of 74 mph with an 80-mile range, using leased batteries. It’s already creating a buzz in the automotive industry as the shipping and logistics giant, DHL, ordered 3,500 units of this commercial product to leverage its cost-saving benefits!

Raven II, a surgical robot developed by University of Washington and UC Santa Cruz is another fine example of ‘open-source’ university-industry collaboration. It will be used by some of the most advanced medical research labs at Harvard University, John Hopkins University etc. to enable new surgical procedures. These are just a few examples that showcase the importance of university-industry collaboration, which continues to revolutionize technology across the world.

Engaging with Universities for Effective Collaboration

While companies are increasingly realizing the value of university contribution to research and innovation, they find it rather difficult to attract the best resources. According to Walter Frick, an associate editor at the Harvard Business Review, companies would have to give up more control over their projects in order to attract and motivate the most productive contributors.

Recent research at Duke and London School of Economics showed that by crediting contributors publicly, a company stands better chances at receiving university collaboration. Also, the findings indicate that financial or professional incentives were less of a factor than the value-addition that the project would bring to the community. Hence, companies need to find the right motivators to bring external sources of innovation on board.

However, challenges such as ownership of Intellectual Property, time-sensitivity of a project and other issues often hinder an effective collaboration between industries and universities. So, how does one strike the perfect balance between attracting potential contributors and deriving business value from the innovation process?

Productive Partnerships for Open Innovation

CEOs must realize that universities are no longer passive about commercializing their technical expertise and research capabilities. They actively file patents and are responsible for breakthrough innovations in various fields.

Today, universities receive billions of dollars in government or company research sponsorships and grants. With cutting-edge facilities and specialized skills available in universities, companies need to foster mutually beneficial collaboration. Whether it’s developing a new product or a software application, companies need to be more forthcoming to license their software projects openly to motivate external developers such as

Whether it’s developing a new product or a software application, companies need to be more forthcoming to license their software projects openly to motivate external developers such as university. Another important channel that companies are actively exploring is to bring people from academia and corporate, who share common interests, on a common platform. They are facilitating communities to engage in fruitful discussions and share ideas, which strengthens communication between industries and universities.

Embracing University Partnerships

While there are several challenges that businesses face when working with universities, they can be easily overcome by adopting a collaborative strategy instead of an ad-hoc approach. Universities not only have the talent pool and expertise but are also better at research activities. On the other hand, industries have the financial resources and opportunities that the universities can gain from. Therefore, it is mutually beneficial for industries and universities to foster effective collaboration and steer open innovations. Building university relationships is truly the way forward for companies to innovate progressive technological capabilities.

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