Successful collaborations between industry leaders and top universities have been shown to have large impacts on the area economy. Most technology hubs in the United States are at least somewhat driven through cooperation with local universities. Universities provide industry with a cost-effective source of cutting-edge knowledge. Industries provide universities with heightened post-graduate employment rates and the extra income allows for a broadening of programs and facilities.
Most industry-university partnerships develop through personal relationships, which could be optimized through established federal programs.
The federal government could award grants to public universities for collaborative projects with industry. This model has been very successful in both California and through the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program.
From 1996 to 2007 the state of California funded University of California researchers to collaborate with industry on projects that boosted the regional economy. The end result was the creation of 5000 jobs and the support of over 2000 graduate students.
MIPS has had similar success with a smaller budget. With a focus on translational research, the program aimed to explicitly solve critical problems in product development. The program has now been in place for 30 years and has generated $166 million per year in income.
With the success of these programs at the state level, it seems wise to expand them to a federal level.
Financing Institutes That Address Grand Challenges
Federal agencies have traditionally funded large research institutes or specific labs, such as the DOE national labs, DoD labs, and NSF labs within Universities. However, none of these institutions have had a direct mandate to collaborate with industry as part of their funding contract.
The Federal government could create Grand Challenge-based institutes that require collaboration between industries and universities. Grand Challenges attack critical problems across broad areas, resulting in transformational change, and creating new fields.
These institutes could focus on urgent issues facing the nation and economy, while incorporating science, manufacturing, business, law and policy to address problems through a systems approach.
Grants for Startups
As we mentioned earlier, the majority of our current economy is driven by startups and small businesses. Typically these businesses do not have the capital for academic collaboration. Small Business Innovative Research programs could use grant funds to foster partnerships between academia and industry or with federal labs.
Utilizing Contract Research Organizations
Federal agencies often contract out large research organizations for early stage projects. A few of these contracts could include a requirement to work with universities, which would both foster collaboration and optimize the execution of early stage ideas, feasibility studies, and technology integration.
The government contractors could manage their own competitive proposal process and academia would be managed as a subcontractor. This way FAR requirements would be handled by the government contractor.
Optimizing Fellowship Programs
The Federal government funds graduate students throughout their graduate career through highly competitive fellowship programs. If these fellowships encouraged students to spend a semester working within industry, new partnerships would
develop and companies could create a pipeline of trained employees.
Industry-University Partnerships Create Solutions
In summary, the Nation and the world face enormous challenges in the years ahead. Industry-academic partnerships could drive solutions and wealth. The US government could provide a catalyst for their formation through the above programs.