Collaborations between companies and universities are critical drivers of the innovation economy.
These relationships have long been a mainstay of corporate R&D — from creating the knowledge foundations
for the next generation of solutions, to serving as an extended "workbench" to solve short-term,
incremental problems, to providing a flow of newly minted talent. As corporations look to open innovation
to augment their internal R&D efforts, many of them are turning to universities to anchor an
increasingly broad set of activities, especially those grounded in engaging with regional innovation ecosystems
such as Silicon Valley, Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Block 71 in Singapore.
Universities are essential stakeholders in innovation communities that also include corporations, government
entities, venture investors, and entrepreneurs. In addition to being sources of people and ideas
for corporations, university collaborations assist corporations in opening up new avenues of engagement
with a broader innovation ecosystem.
While the aspirations of university-industry partnerships can be easily described, many companies are finding
that establishing and running partnerships effectively can be difficult, even when key financial resources
and human capital are available. A core reason for the difficulty, the authors write, "is that university culture —
characterized by high autonomy and distributed governance — maps poorly to corporate culture."
The authors provide a set of six questions for managers, which make up the basis of a form they call
the "university partnership canvas." They designed a form (which is downloadable from the digital version
of the article) to help corporations assess and develop strategic approaches to their university partnerships.
By working through the six questions, companies can develop a strategic perspective on what types of
partnerships are best suited to their needs. The spectrum goes from what might be seen as an ad hoc
approach to a strategic and broader engagement with an innovation ecosystem.