At Frederick CREST, we believe that local partnerships between industry, academia, and government do more than benefit each party involved; we believe that they’re foundational to progress for the Frederick community as a whole.
That’s why we focus on building bridges between industry and academia through initiatives like workforce training seminars, research collaboration, and internship facilitation. Partnerships between these parties make us all stronger. As the Executive Director at Frederick CREST, integration is my goal.
I’m Joanne Horn, and I wasn’t always the Executive Director here at CREST. In my experiences working in both industry and academia, building these bridges didn’t always seem so obviously helpful.
Here’s how I came to value integrating industry and academics – and why I continue to believe that integration is how we move Frederick forward.
My Path to Valuing Integration
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a Ph.D. in microbiology, I didn’t initially seek to merge academia and industry. Actually, I was most interested in pursuing industry applications at the start of my career, because I wanted to make a difference in a practical way. The opportunities available at the time guided me toward the world of academia.
I took a postdoc with the National German Biotechnology Research Institute under Dr. Ken Timmis, where we conducted research into the engineering of xylene catabolic enzymes and mercury resistance in bacteria. That experience led me deeper into the academic world but also held out the possibility that our research output could be directly implemented for environmental remediation.
From there, I served as a professor at the University of West Florida and gained some of my first hands-on experience in collaboration with different stakeholders; as part of the position, I formulated and worked on joint programs with the U.S. EPA laboratory in the region.
It wasn’t until I returned to the Bay Area in California that I ended up participating in collaborations between industry and academia from the industry side of the partnership.
During a long stint at Lawrence Livermore Natl. Laboratory working on nuclear waste deposition, among other projects, I collaborated with Prof. Gil Geesey’s lab at Montana State University. Gil’s lab conducted a set of experiments for us on biocorrosion, which we set up jointly.
Later in my career I accepted a position in industry at Integenx, where we worked closely with the then-head of the Chemistry Department at Berkeley, Prof. Rich Mathies. Our company licensed an invention that originated from the Mathies lab. That led to a close partnership between our company and the University. We also worked closely with Dr. Mustafa Ronaghi, then at Stanford; Mustafa went on to become a principal at Illumina, with whom we also collaborated.
We leveraged postdocs and facilities, while they benefited from the real-world application of industry to generate revenue.
It was the beginning of a pattern I’ve seen play out again and again over my professional career: industry, academia, and government are all at their best when working together.
The interface between different perspectives is the most fertile ground.
The Challenges to Integration
Over the course of my professional experiences mentioned above and more, I’ve also witnessed firsthand many of the challenges encountered when bridging industry and academia.
Integration is valuable, but it isn’t easy.
Most issues come from paradigm differences, because the worlds of academia and industry tend to pursue different goals.
Academics, for instance, are in dogged pursuit of publication. It’s a measure of validity and accountability. Companies, on the other hand, are focused on keeping intellectual property private to gain a competitive advantage. And while universities are built on internal bureaucracies that seek consensus, companies are built on the ability to rapidly process and adapt to changing markets.
The good news is that nearly all challenges can be overcome with compromise, made worthwhile because of the many benefits of partnerships.
The Advantages of Integration
Again, I believe that the interface between different perspectives yields the best results. Here’s why that’s especially true in the case of academia and industry.
From an industry perspective:
- Academic partnerships are cost-effective. If a company chooses to hire a contract research organization to complete a project, it’s often 10 times more expensive than partnering with a university.
- Academic partnerships add prestige. Companies benefit reputationally from association with premier universities.
- Academic partnerships offer access to cutting-edge equipment and technique. For instance, my partner at Montana State had great facilities to image biofilms, which I did not have access to at my institution.
- Academic partnerships can create talent pipelines. Companies working with universities will get first access to talented graduates, and often get the chance to trial talent via internships or externships – all of which can make hiring much easier.
From an academic perspective:
- Industry partnerships offer students work opportunities. Partnering with companies can create notable employment opportunities for students to easily step into.
- Industry partnerships can contribute revenue. This is true in a variety of ways – for instance, thanks to the investment of energy-giant BP, Berkeley secured funding for an Alternative Fuels Institute.
- Industry partnerships make research applicable. Nearly all academics work with the hope that their findings will eventually be translated into real-world results. Industry partnerships make that much more likely.
What the Future of Integration Looks Like
Over my professional career, I’ve witnessed the value of synergy between academia and industry firsthand. I’m thankful to say that I’ve also witnessed an increasing trend toward integration.
At this point in time, the ivy tower of academia is falling: there is more emphasis being placed on generating results that have both economic, human, and environmental impact. There’s more and more value placed on working in teams, on knowing how to contribute to collaborative projects, and on generating real cultural impact.
In other words, it’s time for people in both worlds to take out the earbuds and smell the cappuccino! By collaborating, we can move forward.
That is why I’m at Frederick CREST. We play the matchmaker in integration scenarios, helping well-suited partners to find each other and implement programs to benefit all parties. We facilitate integration through all stages of the process, by helping stakeholders draft and work through agreements and functioning as a neutral third party to negotiate any issues that arise.
From internships and externships, to workforce training, to ongoing educational opportunities, our goal is to build the bridges that move Frederick forward.
Let’s drive Frederick forward, together.