Industry-University Collaboration – developing the models for successful Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) partnering

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Lisa McDonald
University of South Australia

LinkedIn profile

Sarah Tudor
Staffordshire University

Internationally, there is increasing focus on building Industry-University collaboration and partnerships as Universities seek to diversify their funding bases and connect research outcomes with the market and emerging opportunities. However, there are both internal and external challenges in developing strong and effective industry-university partnerships. These challenges can be compounded significantly in environments comprising largely of Small to Medium size enterprises (SME’s). SME’s (for a variety of reasons) have tended to focus on cost reduction and survival rather than innovation and transformation. And where there is a recognition of the need to connect with Universities to help drive innovation, there is often a lack of understanding of what specific benefits University collaboration can offer and how to practically make a connection.

However, as traditional sectors such as the automotive and manufacturing sectors decline, SME’s are increasingly being driven to innovate and transform to not only thrive, but merely survive.

The main challenges for Industry-University collaboration in SME environments exists across two main areas. The first is that many SME organisations do not have the absorptive capacity and resource base to engage effectively and work in partnership with Universities. Conversely there are often challenges for Universities and academics in engaging with SME’s, both in terms of understanding and translating SME needs, but also in recognising how best to deliver applicable and market relevant outcomes from research findings.

This session will be presented by two Universities from opposite sides of the world (Australian and the UK) who both have significant experience in University engagement with SME’s over recent years. Both the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Staffordshire University have had a focus on Industry-University collaboration over recent years in their local SME environments. This has included working with different frameworks of engagement to develop best-practice models to build long-term, mutually beneficial industry partnerships. Experiences, learnings and models for success will be shared from these institutions.

Broad areas to be discussed include:
• What are the challenges in industry-university engagement
with SME’s and SME dominant environments
• What are the important elements in developing partnerships
and collaborations with SME’s
• What are the models and factors that deliver success in
Industry-University engagement in SME environments

The presentation will also share some of the specific experiences and challenges encountered, and strategies developed to overcome these, including:
• Developing new ways for Universities to engage with SME’s
• Developing forums for SME’s to understand how their business
can benefit by working with University expertise
• Leveraging a broader spectrum of University assets to connect
with SME’s (students, infrastructure, workshops, seminars)
• Bringing SME’s together to work collaboratively across non-
competitive areas
• Linking with other service providers to assist SME’s across
other areas of need (mentorship, funding sources)
• Developing SME experienced graduates

Case studies will highlight how our models have been applied and are successfully helping SME’s in both the UK and Australia.