Visions behind ventures

July 31, 1998

AT THE heart of every successful joint venture between university and industry is a charismatic figure with vision, initiative and drive, a government-backed study has found.

The findings, published this week by the Department of Trade and Industry, are based on a survey of 89 institutions providing 250 case studies of successful university/industry partnerships.

In-depth interviews were conducted at 37 of these institutions which included the universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Ulster, Cambridge, the Royal College of Art and Nene College of Higher Education.

Alan Brickwood, author of the study, says it is widely believed that to collaborate successfully with industry, an academic must "substitute" industry's values for those of academia. Similarly there is a common belief that the exchange of benefits between universities and industry is a simple matter, with academics exchanging ideas or teaching for cash.

"Our work leads us to believe strongly that matters are not that simple," says Professor Brickwood, who is on secondment to the DTI's Innovation Unit from Brunel University.

"To succeed as a university-based entrepreneur you do not have to change your values, but you do have to change your behaviour," he says.

Many characteristics of successful partnerships were little different from conventional successful relationships between firms and their suppliers. But it is in creating this kind of "external" relationship that university academics find the greatest challenge as it demands significant changes in the way they work.

"The structure of the parent institution, and the relationship with the partnership, can help or hinder its success," says Professor Brickwood.

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