Using Your Network to Establish Industry Connections

Competitive research grants aren’t getting any easier. One way to address the problem is through finding and working with an industry partner. Imagine if you spent the same time building an industry connection as you did write a grant….? What would that world look like? How could/would you make that happen?


Good day there, bakers, writers, and rock stars! Today talking about using your network to establish industry connections, and ultimately get funding. We know that competitive research grants aren’t getting any easier in Australia. The last time I looked, success rates were down as low in some cases as 10%. Then generally if you are getting funded, if you ask for a dollar you get 70 cents. So, I don’t know how you factor that calculation into the success rate, but it’s not helping. So, what can you do about that? One way to address that is to leverage your network and see if you can find an interest industry partner that might fund all or some of your research. There are lots of different ways of doing this, and I go into this in a bit more detail in my book, Connect the Docs. if you’d like a copy of it, send me an email or jump on my shop page and you’ll be able to download a digital version or get a hard copy version sent to you.

One of the things I want to challenge you to in terms of industry connection. Actually 2 things, I’d like to challenge you to in terms of industry connection. The first is to dedicate the time that you normally would spend on a grant or to understand how much time you spend on a grant, and then spend that equivalent amount of time on nurturing and building an industry connection. We spend a lot of time writing grants without question. Again, last time I checked a lot of the number of hours devoted to a grant. In some cases, were greater than the hours required to actually fulfill the grant, and then this is a massive waste of time if you ask me. So, one I challenge you to devote the same amount of time that you devote to grant writing as you do to finding your next industry partner and making that collaboration work. So, I’m not just talking about the process of finding. I’m talking about the process of nurturing, and then ultimately converting that network connection into an entity that funds your research or directly supports the funding of your research in some way. So, that’s challenge one, spend more time.

Challenge two is to think about it more broadly than just direct funding of research. So, for example, a lot of academics say, “I don’t want to work with industry because it limits my academic freedom.” Well, I’d argue that if you’re meeting funding goals of say a NHMRC or an ARC or a NIH, your academic freedom is essentially limited by the funding agency. They are saying to you these are the priorities. These are the areas that we fund. So, an industry partner is no different. They’re probably made slightly more targeted but they’re no different. Certainly, you know, you think about academic freedom as being, “I can continue doing my research.” Well, only if you get funding. The same with an industry partner, you can continue doing your research only if it’s leading down a path that suits them. So, think about challenge some of your base assumptions. So, this idea of industry doesn’t fund my research. So, one of the things that I’ve seen in my time supporting researchers is that industry funds all kinds of research activities not just the result that you might get. They might fund the approach. They might fund you to do a quality assurance exercise. So, don’t just think of yourself as a researcher in a machine who produces a result. Think of yourself as potentially part of a machine that might ensure quality or that might help them get access to other academics. Or might help them get access to other funding that they wouldn’t be able to get access to without your collaboration. So, those are the two challenges. Challenge your biases around whether you work with industry or not, and whether they fund you. Challenge the time that you spend. Don’t just devote 2 or 3 minutes to the process, and then think it’s either done or that you’ve got no results. So, it’s not worth pursuing you. You wouldn’t do the same with grants. So, I challenge you to treat industry connections the same.

Then once you’ve got over those 2 challenges then it’s now to do the networking bit. So, if you’re watching this, you’re connected to me in some way. I would encourage you to if you’re not already connect with me on LinkedIn, and via that process you can get to have a look through all of my connections. You might have an industry partner in mind that I’m connected with that I could help introduce you to and facilitate a conversation. You might have a particular kind of research that you’d like to support or promote, and so I can give you some advice on how you might do that via changes to your profile or doing some training with LinkedIn. Whether with me or with someone else.

So, once you’ve got those connections then it’s time to nurture them like I said, spend some time doing that. I’ve got templates that I can provide you with if you’re interested about how to reach out to a connection, and then how to continue nurturing them. Some kinds of time that you might want to spend doing that. Then finally don’t forget to ask for what it is that you’re after. So, you don’t want to be direct in the first approach. Say that you’re after a million dollars. But at some point, you need to get to the question of, “This is what I would like from you?”. And they get to ask, “What they would like from you?” as well. So, they get to say, Oh! Researcher, I’d like you to do this for me”, and “I’d like you to do it for free.” And you get to say, “Well, do I do it for free or not?” Again, in the academic space, often researchers will justify working on something for zero income, because they’ll get a collaboration out of it. They’ll get a journal paper, an article out of it. Now, a lot of times I don’t see those articles coming to fruition. Certainly not in the time frame originally proposed. So, you’re working for free anyway. So, if an industry partner comes to you and says, “Can you do this for us for free?” I’m not saying that you should say “yes”. But you should negotiate well if it’s got zero dollars attached. “Can I get a publication out of it?” “Can you join me in a grant?” “Here are some grant options that allow industry and university to work together, and then away we go.”

If you need help with any of this with dedicating time doing asking good questions of industry partners. Trying to find industry partners. Templates to help connect with them and make that process a bit easier feel. Free to write to me or if you find someone equivalent to me on the internet, by all means ask them for resources and see what they have to say.

So, my challenge to you, go out and get industry partners, and let me know how it goes.