Research-industry collaboration: a bridge-building guide for both sides – Part 4

Having put in all that groundwork, for your research-industry collaboration, now your partnership should be kicking goals, right?  Of course, it’s not that simple.  So how do you ensure that the project stays on track and the outcome will have lasting value?  How do you prevent being overwhelmed by administration and ensure the real value of the collaboration is being generated?

The key is in making use and sharing all the available resources.  This will not only strengthen and broaden links between the research institution and the company, it will also free you to do what you do best.

Step 4. Use your teams to best effect

Having done all the hard work in establishing the partnership, consider how it can be leveraged for even greater mutual benefit. For example, not all research requires your most qualified academic.  To get more bang for your buck, some elements of the project could be done by more junior researchers or undergraduates.

I was working on a project where our university partner was building a prototype device for a proof-of-concept study.  By delegating the development of the experimental protocol and the logistics of setting up the study, I could concentrate on other projects that needed my expertise.  It was also a great development opportunity for my more junior colleague.  Similarly, at the university, the work of building the prototype was done by a postgrad student, so that the project continued to schedule while the Professor could attend to the important demands of running a department.  This is a simple example, but demonstrates the point.

The research team may have results that are ready to be applied but if not, or if there is a tangible output to the collaboration such as a design or controlled study,  spending time to bounce ideas around can be valuable. Even though the collaboration may involve some of the brightest minds and foremost experts, involving the end-user provides a “reality check” to prevent over-engineering or gold-plating; identifying features which will rarely be used means you can divert the effort into the essentials.  This ensures that the project is solving real and important problems that, the solution will be adopted and the benefits of the partnership fully realised.

Invite participation from others within both organisations across a broad range of disciplines; road-blocks outside your direct area of expertise are likely to have been faced by others and solutions may already exist. Collaborative projects are an opportunity to rapidly expand your professional network which, if you stay within the confidentiality terms of the agreement, is another way to progress rapidly or at least to improve your odds of achieving a technical or scientific breakthrough.

This may lead to ideas which can be explored in subsequent projects.  The growth of intellectual networks can be of huge benefit to all parties and lead to innovation that would not otherwise have been possible.  Once I organised a two-hour meeting between a visiting delegation from a Chinese university and representatives from a local university. This introduction, combined with the enthusiasm and open-minded attitude of the two groups, led to many mutually-beneficial outcomes including the establishment of two collaborative research projects, undergraduate and PhD student exchanges, professional development, sharing of laboratory facilities, joint funding applications and the development of a new course structure in China based on the experience of the Australian university.

Research can be a very satisfying and worthwhile career, but it can be even more rewarding when it is seen to benefit society.   In my experience, the research institution is not always best equipped to do this alone, and collaboration is a very effective way to transfer outcomes into public benefit. In my final post in this series, we’ll explore how the outcomes of collaboration can be measured and improved.


Innovation and Science Australia’s recent performance review of Australia’s innovation, science and research system prompted me to produce a series of posts about improving research-industry collaboration, sharing lessons from my experience leading collaborations for Cochlear, as well as recent research into best practice. Earlier posts as part of this series include; To build research-industry partnerships for successful technology transfer, Step 1 is to develop a culture and practices that promote partnership, Step 2 is to build a strong foundation for your partnership and Step 3 is to manage risk.

James Dalton

With an engineering background, James combines strategic marketing mastery and product development expertise, derived from decades of experience with leading global companies, especially Cochlear. In 2010, he won the Engineers Australia Design Excellence Award and the Red Dot Award for Product Design. He is named as the inventor on six patents. His current role as Commercialisation Manager with gemaker is to support diverse clients – researchers, inventors, startups and expanding businesses – through the many stages of commercialisation, including idea validation and protection, industry engagement, funding acquisition, product development, and marketing.

Each month, we provide valuable information on innovation, commercialisation, funding and business growth for researchers, inventors, startups and expanding businesses.