In Europe, Universities and research institutes (the seats of learning) have always been closely, if not strategically associated with industry. The mutual benefits of that association to support innovation have been nurtured since the Renaissance – it is commonplace. This is how things get done. In Australia it is different. The cultural separation between academia and business has a long history.

Yet in a connected fast-paced world, and in fast-changing technology driven markets, industry and research institutions must work together. Whilst the impression that University academics are driven by basic research and publication rights rather than applied research and contract dollars remains, the shift is on. Universities are big businesses. Their growth relies as much on engaging business for research dollars as on Government support, a trend that is accelerating.

On the other hand, industry is often not ready, culturally or organisationally, to engage universities to support innovation. Too often businesses fail to see the strategic logic in using external skills to supplement internal R&D capability.

So what is the strategic logic? First, engaging external skills gives businesses the flexibility to expand or contract R&D spend around a core R&D team when they need to, turning fixed costs into variable costs. And allowing businesses to compete effectively with larger competitors who have the capital base to support more expensive internal R&D capabilities.

Second, Universities own specialised scale research infrastructure – leading edge skills and expertise, high grade equipment and multi-disciplinary teams – to solve specific problems.

Third, external collaborations help businesses decide what R&D skills and capabilities they must own in-house (the IP that creates value) and what skills and capabilities can be contracted externally. University linkages also open new avenues to fund R&D.

And fourth, businesses learn the skill to frame short and long term collaborations that make strategic sense. Of course, businesses must first understand specifically what they want their R&D programs to deliver, and what capabilities they need to develop over time to succeed in their chosen markets. Which is itself high value.

Dealing with Universities can still be difficult, but when business knows what it wants, this fosters a trusted commercial relationship. Some Universities, like UTS, have created commercially focused arms, like UTS Rapido, to specialise in contract research for business.

When these collaborations work well, businesses leverage their internal resources and capital bases to do more with greater impact. Some businesses manage collaborations across several Universities here and overseas selecting for world best practice skills and infrastructure to support their innovation focus and deliver an X factor. This is where we help. Adding strategic clarity to enable effective collaborations.

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