Building Successful Industry Partnerships

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Working with a commercial partner to scale or bring an invention or idea to market is an important way for University of Minnesota researchers to have an impact on our society. Whether you are embarking on your first venture into industry collaboration or are seeking to enhance existing partnerships, this guide serves as a roadmap, offering helpful insights and practical advice. 






Partnering with Industry


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Industry partnerships offer researchers a wide range of benefits and can take many forms—collaborative research, licensing inventions, technical services, and more. 

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Benefits of Partnering with Industry

Real-world applications -  Identify problems important to industry. Translate academic research into practical solutions.

Diversified funding - Access new funding sources for research.

Talent recruitment - Provide pathways for your students to be employed in industry. 

Networking opportunities - Establish valuable connections at companies.

Technology transfer - Facilitate the commercialization of your research outcomes.

Qualities of a Great Collaborator

Companies are looking for academic collaborators who are successful in academia and understand the needs of industry.

Clear communication - Articulate research objectives, methodologies, and potential applications.

Adaptability - Adjust to industry needs, expectations, and timelines.

Problem-solving skills - Offer innovative solutions to industry challenges.

Collaborative mindset - Foster open communication and teamwork.

Industry relevance - Research aligns with potential applications in industry products or solutions.

Types of Partnerships

Collaborative research projects - Jointly undertake research initiatives aligned with mutual interests.

Student class or capstone projects - Companies sponsor class projects and engage students to do a small research or development project while meeting potential future hires.

Internship programs - Facilitate student internships to address industry needs and provide hands-on experience.

Technology Transfer, licensing, and startups - Transfer academic innovations for commercialization by industry partners through licensing and investment in startup companies.

Selling services (use of labs, facilities, and instrumentation) - Provide testing and other services that are not classified as “research” to companies under an external sales agreement. Companies use UMN instrumentation on a pay-per-use basis.

Consortia - Companies typically pay a fee to participate in a pre-competitive research consortia. 

Advisory boards - Invite industry partners to serve as advisors to centers, departments, and institutes they are associated with.


Companies provide low-barrier funding opportunities through RFPs (requests for proposals). These opportunities are easier to apply for than traditional federal funding and offer insights into what a company’s research interests are.

Faculty are encouraged to apply to these many funding opportunities:

Companies can also provide funding as a gift.

UMN Corporate Engagement Center

The Corporate Engagement Center (CEC) connects businesses, startups, entrepreneurs, and companies of all sizes with the University of Minnesota's vast resources. As part of the University’s Research and Innovation Office, the CEC is uniquely positioned to help companies and researchers forge mutually beneficial creative approaches.

The CEC supports faculty and researchers in the following ways:

Advisory support - Guide researchers through the process of developing partnerships

Connection - Introduce researchers to potential industry partners

Resources - Offer tools and resources to aid in partnership development

  • NSF-funded MIN-Corps initiative increases research-based technology commercialization capabilities and activities

Opportunities - Promote funding opportunities (Call for Proposals) from companies


Considerations & Concerns 


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Before collaborating with industry, faculty and researchers should be prepared to navigate the unique dynamics and expectations of industry partnerships. 

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Industry Expectations vs. Academia

Timelines - Industry operates on shorter project timelines and expects frequent updates on the project.

Priorities - Companies often prioritize commercialization and practical applications over fundamental understanding. They want clear project deliverables.

Decision-making - Decision-making processes in industry are often faster and more hierarchical.

Motivations - Companies often focus on profitability and how the research will benefit existing and future products or services.

Align Academic and Industry Timelines

One significant challenge in university-industry partnerships stems from the divergent timelines between academic research and industry operations. Academia often follows longer research cycles, while industry partners operate on faster timelines dictated by market demands and business strategies. To mitigate this challenge:

Align with funding cycle - Discuss funding projects around the company's budget cycles, aiming to initiate discussions well in advance of their fiscal year to secure inclusion in upcoming budgets.

Establish realistic project timelines - Collaboratively define project milestones and timelines that consider the academic and industry partners' unique needs and constraints.

Foster open communication - Maintain transparent communication channels to promptly address any discrepancies in timelines and adjust project schedules as needed.


Budgeting in university-industry collaborations requires a delicate balance between the academic pursuit of knowledge and the practical constraints of corporate funding. While faculty and researchers may perceive companies as having ample resources, it's essential to recognize that companies operate within budgetary constraints and may have limited funding for research partnerships. 

  • Understand budget cycles, budget constraints, and funding expectations upfront.
  • Discuss project budgeting early in the collaboration process.
  • Propose cost-effective research approaches that prioritize project elements that align with industry priorities.
  • Emphasize the value proposition of the collaboration, highlighting how their investment will yield tangible benefits and return on investment.
  • Explore alternative funding sources (e.g., federal) to supplement industry funding and support collaborative research initiatives.


Industry partners want to ensure they derive the first benefits of the research partnership. They often don’t want their competitors to know about the research project or its outcomes. 

However as a public research institution, the University of Minnesota needs to openly disseminate research findings to fulfill its mission of discovery and research. It can be a challenge to balance the need for academic openness with industry requirements. Strategies to address this challenge include:

  • Discuss publication plans and the University’s requirement for the ability to disseminate research findings with your corporate partner.
  • Explain that all research agreements have a publication clause that defines the company’s right to review draft publications.

Intellectual Property Ownership and Licensing

Navigating intellectual property (IP) concerns is crucial to university-industry collaborations. The issue often revolves around the ownership and licensing of innovations and discoveries arising from joint research efforts. To address this challenge:

  • Explain that IP ownership is defined in the collaboration or research agreement.
  • In most situations, the University retains ownership of IP it solely creates. IP created jointly with the company is jointly owned.

The Corporate Engagement Center can answer questions your partner may have about IP.


Establish & Grow Industry Partnerships


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These six steps are key components in developing successful and sustainable industry partnerships.

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Step 1: Identify Prospective Partners

Effective identification of prospective partners involves a combination of proactive networking, leveraging institutional resources, and staying informed about industry needs and opportunities.

Effective methods for researchers to identify potential collaborators:

Networking opportunities

  • Attend industry conferences and events.
  • Use your LinkedIn network.
  • Connect with people from industry on college and department advisory boards
  • Participate in consortium meetings.
  • Attend professional association events in your field.

Alumni connections

  • Keep in contact with former students and colleagues working in industry.

Online platforms and databases

  • Explore online platforms and databases that connect academia with industry. 
  • Investigate funding opportunities from industry-sponsored research programs.
    • Many companies announce requests for proposals (RFPs) or funding opportunities relevant to their research needs.

Leverage connectors

Step 2: Pitch Your Expertise

A successful pitch can quickly make a compelling case for collaboration. This short video uses humor and industry insight to highlight the potential pitfalls and positive practices for maximizing presentations to industry: Ways to Nail Industry Presentations

Here are best practices when developing and delivering your pitch:

Understand the company

  • Conduct thorough research on the company's mission, values, products, and ongoing projects.
  • Identify specific challenges or areas where your expertise can bring value to the company's goals.

Craft a clear value proposition

  • Clearly articulate the unique value that your research brings to the company.
  • Align your research expertise with the company's current needs and strategic objectives.

Highlight relevant experience

  • Briefly showcase your relevant experience, publications, and past collaborations.
  • Emphasize any successful outcomes or innovations resulting from your previous research projects.
  • Illustrate how your expertise can bridge gaps between different fields and enhance the company's overall capabilities.

Make a positive first impression - Remember, you have only 2-3 minutes to make a positive first impression and engage their interest.

  • Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation two-way.
  • Prepare good questions by researching the company and the people in the meeting ahead of time through the company website and LinkedIn profiles.
  • Ask for feedback and input during the discussion.
  • Ask about the next steps at the end of the meeting; do not ask for funding unless it is proposed by the company.
  • Follow up promptly after the initial pitch to express continued interest and willingness to discuss further.
  • Provide additional information or clarification as needed.

Step 3: Assess Mutual Needs and Fit

To ensure a successful collaboration, researchers must carefully evaluate the alignment of their goals and expertise with the needs and priorities of potential industry partners. 

Define objectives and expectations

  • Clearly articulate the goals and objectives of your research projects.
  • Discuss potential outcomes and deliverables with industry partners to establish. 

Open dialogue and transparent communication

  • Engage in open and transparent communication with industry representatives.
  • Discuss the scope of the collaboration, potential applications of the research, and any specific industry requirements.

Explore complementary expertise

  • Evaluate how your academic expertise aligns with the industry's technical and operational needs.
  • Identify areas where your research can complement and enhance the capabilities of the industry partner.

Assess resource compatibility

  • Evaluate the resources available on both sides, including personnel, facilities, and equipment.
  • Ensure that there is a feasible match in terms of timelines, budgets, and project scope.

Consider intellectual property (IP) perspectives

  • Discuss and clarify expectations regarding intellectual property ownership and rights.
  • Discuss publication plans.

Assess the cultural compatibility between academic and industry partners

  • Understand the industry partner's decision-making processes, communication styles, and organizational culture.

Step 4: Determine Funding and Structure Collaboration

Once a researcher identifies a suitable industry partner and establishes mutual interests, the next critical steps involve determining the funding model, structuring the collaboration, and negotiating agreements. Effective communication and collaboration with research administrators and industry partners are key elements in this process.

Follow these steps to define and start your research collaboration with a company.

Draft a proposal

  • Develop a short proposal (1-4 pages) that outlines the research project's goals, methodologies, expected outcomes, milestones, deliverables, and timeline.
  • Clearly articulate the budget requirements, including personnel costs, equipment needs, other project-related expenses, and indirect rate (F&A).

Align with funding models

Engage research administrators

  • Collaborate with research administrators to develop a detailed budget for the proposed project and to prepare internal documentation and forms (e.g., PRF) needed for approval.

Define the collaborative teams

  • Identify and assign roles and responsibilities for team members on both the academic and industry sides.
  • Clearly define communication channels and expectations for regular check-ins and progress updates.

Negotiate and sign agreements

  • Work closely with relevant units, such as SPA, who will negotiate and finalize agreements.

Step 5: Launch and Manage Projects

Launching and managing collaborative projects is a critical phase that requires effective communication and ongoing coordination. Here's a guide on how projects are typically launched and managed.

Project kick-off Meeting

  • Initiate the collaboration with a kick-off meeting involving key participants from your lab and your collaborator.
  • Clarify project goals, expectations, roles, and responsibilities during this meeting.

Detailed project plan

  • Develop a detailed project plan that outlines specific milestones, deliverables, timelines, and responsibilities.
  • Ensure that both parties clearly understand the project's scope and objectives.

Communication protocols

  • Establish effective communication protocols, including regular check-in meetings, progress updates, and channels for addressing issues or concerns.

Resource allocation

  • Allocate resources, including personnel, equipment, and facilities, according to the project plan.
  • Ensure you and your industry collaborator have the necessary resources to fulfill their roles.

Documentation and reporting

  • Maintain detailed documentation of project activities, results, and any deviations from the original plan.
  • Adhere to reporting requirements outlined in the agreement.
  • Report new intellectual property created during the project to Technology Commercialization.

Project Closure and evaluation

  • Conduct a project closure meeting to review achievements, challenges, and lessons learned.
  • Discuss opportunities for further collaboration, dissemination of research outcomes, and potential next steps.

Step 6: Cultivate and Grow the Relationship

Building and nurturing relationships over time is key to successful collaboration.

Regular communication

  • Establish a regular communication cadence with the company representatives.
  • Stay informed about changes in the company's priorities and objectives.

Share success stories

  • Highlight success stories and milestones achieved through the collaboration.
  • Showcase the tangible impact of the research on solving industry challenges or advancing mutual goals.

Networking opportunities

  • Attend industry events, conferences, and networking forums to connect with company executives, researchers, and decision-makers.

Collaborative events

  • Organize collaborative events such as workshops, seminars, or webinars.
  • Invite company representatives to campus or virtual platforms to foster face-to-face interactions and deepen the partnership.

Involve students

  • Integrate students into the collaboration through internships, co-op programs, or research projects.

Joint publications, presentations, and proposals

  • Collaborate on joint publications, whitepapers, or presentations. 
  • Identify opportunities for joint grant applications, expanded research projects, or involvement in consortiums.


Agreements for Industry Collaborations


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Partnerships with industry often require multiple agreements to protect confidential information and govern the research collaboration. Agreements typically needed may include:

Sponsored Research Agreement (SRA): MN-IP Create - Defines terms of research projects funded by a company, making it easier for companies to sponsor research at the University by offering industry-friendly intellectual property and licensing terms. The MN-IP & Industry Sponsored Research guide explains MN-IP to researchers and answers common questions about MN-IP sponsored research agreements.

Research Agreements A list of unfunded research agreements (UFRA) to facilitate collaborations while ensuring the protection of the University’s intellectual property.

Master Agreement (MA) - Allows a single company to fund multiple research or clinical trial projects over a period of time. Master agreements help to facilitate collaborative sponsored research and eliminate protracted legal review and negotiation of each new project.

Contact the CEC or your SPA Grant and Contract Officer (GCO) to find out if a company has a master agreement (research or clinical) with the University, or consult this list of companies with a master research agreement.

Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) - Governs the transfer of materials between parties.



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