Five Questions with Anthony Boccanfuso, Innovation and Higher Education Luncheon Speaker

By Lanet Greenhaw, Director, Education

Are you interested in understanding how a successful innovation ecosystem of university and industry collaborations can benefit our north Texas region?  Register now for the May 31 Innovation and Higher Education Luncheon: Partners for Growth at 12 noon at the Adolphus Hotel.  Exploring that topic will be featured speaker Anthony Boccanfuso, Executive Director of the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership.

I asked Boccanfuso to answer five questions to provide a sneak preview of what you will learn about at the annual education event.  It’s sure to be a thought-provoking session, so don’t miss it.

1. Explain the concept of the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership?

The UIDP (as it is commonly referred to) was created by a strategic group of visionary leaders who saw the need for an “action tank” where companies, universities and other interested parties can get together to discuss and consider contemporary issues affecting high value, high impact collaborations.

One major benefit from UIDP engagement is the human element – individuals who participate in our efforts get to know academic and corporate representatives who in many cases are just like them.  They share similar concerns about the health of U-I partnerships and are looking for ways to make them stronger.

2. What types of projects has the organization taken on?

As an organization with a diverse mix of companies and universities – even competitors – the UIDP adopts projects that are identified by the members as being issues that can be effectively addressed by the unique demographics that the UIDP possesses.  These projects are not research and commercialization projects but more process-oriented and strategic activities that seek to identify methodologies that create an environment for beneficial collaborations and remove unnecessary barriers to these partnerships.  While we don’t undertake specific research projects, we do adopt and utilize innovative approaches for our projects; our members are innovation leaders and share their proven approaches for the benefits from open innovation and strategic partnerships.

3. What are some examples of the results of these efforts?

There are a multitude of valuable outcomes resulting from these projects – ranging from printed reports/guidebooks, webinars, non-credit educational sessions, workshops, and simple networking opportunities.  We are an open group and share our results with members and non-members alike so I encourage anyone to visit our website to see the results of our efforts.

4. How does a business typically benefit from these types of interactions?  How about a university?

Great question – businesses and universities join our group for a number of reasons.

For universities, especially public ones, there is an increasing focus on economic development as a prime responsibility for these schools.  These range from producing graduates who are workforce ready, providing access to costly, specialized equipment, supporting and producing start-ups based on university research, and filling an important role in the discovery to innovation pathway.  Many scholars have written on the evolving landscape where more innovation companies are increasingly outsourcing their basic and applied research activities and universities can play an important role in producing research results that can be commercialized by companies.

Companies are not identical and small and medium businesses have a different set of metrics for success than large firms.  For smaller companies, universities can fill important technical and non-technical gaps that these organizations face.   For example, a small company may be focused on the development of a new material to be used in the aerospace industry but lack a communications department to help promote their successes.  A student intern (or a university based consulting group) may be an attractive option for these firms.

For larger firms, the primary reason for engaging universities is still workforce development related.  Even with the unfortunate high level of unemployment that the country possesses, businesses leaders have made very public statements that they have great concerns about meeting future workforce needs and partnering with universities on research projects is a great way to evaluate the quality of future graduates.

The UIDP has recently issued a report entitled The Partnership Continuum that describes the myriad of ways in which companies and universities can engage each other.  I encourage your members to read it.

5. How might our north Texas region be impacted by a similar partnership between universities and industry?

There are a number of communities, like the north Texas region,  that have adopted a systematic approach for developing strategies for creating an environment that spurs and catalyzes university-industry collaborations.  I would encourage you to learn from these efforts while also recognizing that each area possesses a unique set of resources and challenges.  One common strength found in successful regions is that the various players (companies, universities, the non-profit sector and the local and state government) have brought forth the various financial and non-financial assets they have to invest in initiatives that advance your region’s efforts in reaching its goals.

I believe in the value of university-industry collaborations and applaud your region for considering the possibilities of how a successful innovation ecosystem can benefit your region and its citizens.

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