Building Industry-Academia partnerships

Right from my Engineering days, I have wondered why does the Industry not engage more closely with Academia and create win-win scenarios!!

After years of experience interacting with both sides, I have realised that both sides have not taken enough efforts to understand each other and therefore have not been able to appreciate each other’s strengths and limitations. So just like any other relationship, it needs to be nurtured before you start seeing results.

Some of the common sense advice which I would like to share to help strengthen Industry-Academia partnerships are as follows: –

1. Academia should either have a business minded faculty or a business manager to deal with Industry so that things move beyond talks and translate into action

2. Academia should clearly identify areas of strength and expertise by defining focus areas, skill sets and expertise available, infrastructure and equipments so that Industry have a fair idea of what to expect even before they decide to engage with a particular Institute. This will help both sides save a lot of time and effort which is wasted when they decide to engage and eventually realise there is no match between them

3. Academia should upfront state the commercials involved in dealing with Industry be it a project, technology sale or conducting trials. I have known Institutes who charge a nominal flat fee for technology sale since they dont want to get into the complexity of evaluating the value of a technology which will always be subjective and then getting into endless negotiations with the prospective Buyer.

Also factor in the paying capacity of the buyer since an established company have far more deep pockets compared to a start up!! 

4. Academia should not over state or over claim what they have achieved. This is one of the nightmare a company has to face when Academia promise them the moon but when the company actually verifies the claims, the company realises that the product is a long way off before it can be taken to the markets

5. Industry should clearly articulate what they are looking at or expecting from the engagement. Often a company states that they are looking at something new or innovative in their area without specifying what it means.. Are they looking at lowering manufacturing cost of the product, replace the materials used or a new application for an existing technology

Unless one is clear and able to clearly articulate the direction in which you want to move, Academia will find it very hard to comprehend and eventually such discussions just taper off without resulting into anything meaningful

6. Industry should spend enough time understanding the ecosystem and work culture in an Institute so that it can ascertain whether there is a fit between the two. Just like a company would invest enough time and resources in qualifying a business lead, it should invest sufficient time in understanding the Academia partner before they decide to work together

7. Lastly both the partners should be willing to take failures as a stepping stone to success!!!

Despite the best of intentions, it is very likely that the relationship does not gets off to a great start but if both partners are determined and willing to help each other out, then they can expect to succeed sooner than later.

With a surge of Entrepreneurship on campuses and Governments across the board interested that Academia creates meaningful impact and start generating revenues and most importantly time to market becoming a more crucial factor than ever before, we will see newer ways and models in which Industry will engage with Academia.

rajeev surana 


Reflecting on the victorious BJP manifesto’s focus on Innovation & Intellectual Property

While this week’s post was to focus on the reason why Designers do not protect their designs, because of the sweeping win of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a victory of democracy and more importantly their focus on Innovation & Intellectual Property we will crystal gaze on what is in store for all those who are connected with Research, Innovation & Intellectual Property. 

The backdrop to BJP is that they are known to be business friendly with a liberal mindset.

On analysing BJP’s manifesto which was pointed out to me by my good friend, Akhilesh Gupta who is the founder of Patent Agent Association India (PAAI), we found the following interesting points: –

1. Create an ecosystem for multi-country and inter-disciplinary collaborative research, and establish an Intellectual Property Rights Regime which maximizes the incentive for generation and protection of intellectual property for all type of inventors

2. Achieving synergy between industry and scientific research. Autonomous technology transfer organizations will be created as associate organizations of universities and national laboratories to transfer the know-how generated by them to industry. Industry will be encouraged to adopt or support educational and research institutions to help direct science and technology endeavor towards tangible industrial goals

3. Promotion of innovation by creating a comprehensive national system of innovation. Indigenous knowledge, based on our long and rich tradition will be further developed and harnessed for the purpose of wealth and employment generation

India always had some outstanding research institutions such as Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indian Institute of Science apart from world class academic institutes such as Indian Institute of Technology, Institute of Chemical Technology but very poor Industry-Academia partnership which has led to huge national loss as far as new products, technologies, designs and a lot of know how being wasted and not put to use.

I remember a conversation had with the Head of Agriculture Mechanisation Group at Mahindra & Mahindra, one of the leading corporate in India about 4 years back. He mentioned that although M&M would love to partner with Agriculture Research Institutes in India but because of the lack of business focus and the time they take to sign a contract.

Another very big change I would like to see is the jump of start ups coming out of campuses which will lead to students and professors donning the hat of entrepreneurs and that promises to solve some of the big problems which are unique to India and more importantly lead to a lot of wealth creation.

I really really look forward to getting your thoughts and comments on this interesting post and some solid suggestions which I would be glad to put together as a visionary document to the Department of Science & Technology (DST) once the new Government swears in next week.