The University Dating Game: Perspectives from a survey of industry leaders


High-tech industry is increasingly seeking relationships with universities as partners in innovation. Through innovative partnerships, companies can leverage university technology, training, and talent in ways that directly impact their current capabilities and future innovation. As tech transfer professionals, we are motivated to compete for these relationships to meet our commercialization objectives.

I recently came across a report from innovosource that expresses perspectives from 102 industry leaders from 18 high-tech sectors regarding their approach and experiences with university relationship building. What I like about this report is that it is structured to mimic that way in which we might approach friendship or even connecting with the love of our life:

  • Identifying possibilities: Understanding how these leaders are locating and targeting universities
  • The approach/First date: What is the preferred entry point in the university environment
  • Strengthening the bond: Understanding the activities that add the most to the relationship and realize the most value
  • Avoiding fights: Recognizing inhibitors to forming and growing industry relationships
  • Getting on the same page: Realizing how industry is structuring themselves to work with universities

The report assigns tactics, qualities, and approaches to each of these categories and then allows the industry leaders an opportunity to identify what is “hot or not”. With this information in hand, we can structure operations in a way that is attractive to industry and at a competitive advantage to peer institutions.

As a connector of future technology transfer professionals to leading initiatives, one of the important considerations is understanding the make-up of professionals that will help to build these operations. I have done my best to extract and distill what I see to be five approaches to relationship building that will set these professionals apart from the rest:

  • Every experience is an opportunity: Industry leaders suggest that past experiences, and a robust view of relationships are important to them. Tech transfer professionals who are serious about “settling down” should understand that the little things do matter
  • Know yourself first: Industry leaders note that proximity and an understanding of campus capabilities is crucial. If you do not know “yourself” (campus, community), you have no business getting into a relationship
  • Desire to grow: Industry leaders mention that they have broad interests, often beyond the tech transfer office. Leading technology transfer professionals know that it is in their benefit to make these introductions
  • Compromise: Unrealistic expectations are a killer to a relationships. Tech transfer professionals know how to balance negotiations so that both parties leave feeling good, even if it means sacrifice in the near term for a long term gain.
  • Sense of Urgency: Industry leaders mark length to action as one of the biggest turn-offs to relationships. While it takes time to reach agreement, it should not be on account of laziness. Success in relationships comes to the person who puts the effort in.

So, as you position your group and your career for successful relationships with industry, please always put yourself in the best light with this guide to the university dating game.

Innovosource report referenced can be found here


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