Professor Daniela Traini is a respiratory researcher, with a knack for partnerships. She’s received millions of dollars in competitive grant funding and has been successful with several research grant applications. With a wealth of experience finding collaborators and fostering relationships, she shares her insights on how to effectively identify and engage research partners.
Researchers may already know potential industry partners but they might not have considered them as such on grant applications. Reframing how a researcher thinks about existing relationships is important, as is being proactive and seeking out new contacts.
“Going to conferences is a great way to get to know different organisations and develop a wider network. It also helps researchers learn to communicate more efficiently with corporations,” says Professor Traini.
Meeting the right industry partner is just the beginning. Identifying who the decision maker is, the assistance they may need, and the budget they are responsible for, often takes time.
The most important consideration when involving an industry partner is building trust, which often takes twelve to eighteen months. Daniela’s best advice is: “Be open and up front. Remember, trust is with an individual, not a company name. The trust will go wherever the person goes.”
The path to identifying the right industry partner may not always be straightforward. It may start with a consultancy, then a research contract within the company, and then finally a successful grant.
Daniela says: “Identify the problem the company is facing and what stage they are at. Think strategically about what grant application would be appropriate and how you and the company can both benefit from working together. If the problem is more engineering or device focussed, consider an ARC Linkage grant. If it is more health related, then NHMRC grants would be more appropriate.”
Academic career development doesn’t just happen by spending time at another university. Working for short stints within a company keeps researchers up-to-date with the industry and their needs. In 2016, Daniela spent three months in California embedding herself in a company which resulted in support on a successful grant application. She also partnered with a German company who supported her post-doctoral visit for three months.
It is important to think globally and to understand where research fits within industry. Daniela has successfully expanded her reach from pharmaceutical companies in Australia where there is less manufacturing, research and development, to companies in the USA and Europe.
University and industry engagement are continually evolving and historically are fundamentally different in their mandates. One is education and research, the other is profit driven. Managing industry needs and expectations as well as bureaucratic processes is key, especially with completion of contracts and agreements.
Being flexible and embracing a company’s work style is important. “During my last ARC Linkage project, for 3 years we had to have teleconferences every two weeks and report monthly as per company procedures,” Professor Traini says of her time working at her partner company in Germany.
“Due to three changes in management, we couldn’t publish for 6 months. The collaborating UK and Italian companies, on the other hand, were flexible on publishing date as long as we sent the material to them first.”