Top tips for a successful collaboration from those in the know

SOURCE: Jakub Gorajek/Unsplash
While a good collaboration can bring immense results, good collaborations aren't always easy to come by.

By Emma Richards 

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Collaborations between universities and industry have been the catalyst to some of the world’s most transformative discoveries. They are the foundation upon which some of the world’s biggest businesses are built, and they have birthed the inventions that litter people’s everyday lives.

The value of these partnerships can’t be overstated. And as more entrepreneurs and academics realise this value, the more industries are getting involved.

But while a good collaboration can bring immense results, successful collaborations aren’t always easy to come by. A fruitful partnership doesn’t happen by accident – it takes work and it takes understanding.


Too many collaborations fall short of what they can achieve due to a breakdown of communication or a lack of planning. Having been given the valuable opportunity to team up, it is a crying shame to squander it.

So for any business leaders or academics looking to enter into a partnership, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into; do your research, and learn how to make the most of this great opportunity. But don’t take our word for it, we spoke to the experts to hear their experiences and get their insights on what makes a strategic partnership successful.

Leah Galvin, Eat Well Tasmania

Eat Well Tasmania have worked with the University of Tasmania on a range of projects in their mission to promote healthier eating habits to the public. Here’s what Eat Well Tasmania’s State Manager, Leah Galvin, had to say:

“The only issue I’ve ever had working with a university is that sometimes things take longer than you would like them to. And that’s because there’s a whole lot of processes and approvals needed and sometimes the cycle for that is longer than we would like it to be.

“As a general rule, I try to be very practical in my engagement with academics, so they understand why I’m using the information, and what I hope to get out of it.”

In one instance, a team of students developed a mobile app for the not-for-profit that helped Tasmanians better identify which local fruit and vegetables were in season. Universities Australia identified the partnerships as a case study of successful collaboration.

“It’s really important to be considerate of the operational environment of the university – what their larger purpose is. In Tasmania, it’s about having a positive impact on the broader community, so it has a social purpose as well as an educational purpose. Finding the people whose work ties into that is really valuable.”

But the main piece of advice to live you collaboration-life by:

“Don’t waste people’s time, keep your promises.”

Suzy Verma, HSBC Education

The international bank has a branch dedicated to higher education and helping universities achieve their ambitions, in part through industry collaboration that ultimately benefits both parties. Suzy Verma, Head of Public Sector & Education at HSBC:

“Do your research and understand what you each bring to the party and what your desired outcome should be. Understand early on what impact you are trying to achieve and identify your key stakeholders or source of funding, such as any grants or government support.

Ensure you fully understand the type of partnership you are looking for, what you deem as success, what qualities you are looking for and that you both understand both parties’ expectations in full.”

Head of Public Sector & Education at HSBC bank, Suzy Verma, with HSBC staff.

With competition in the higher education market reaching a peak, HSBC believes strong partnerships with business will be critical for an institution’s survival. Verma has seen more university clients looking to connect with local business partners and seek out valuable international collaboration opportunities.

“Importantly, ensure you have the buy-in of all senior leadership and the researchers and students who the partnership may impact, but also ensure you are undertaking partnerships which will benefit the wider student population.”

Alison Howell, Burleigh Pottery

Burleigh Pottery‘s longstanding partnership with the University of the West of England caught the attention of the “Oscars” of the higher education sector last year when it was shortlisted for the Most Innovative Contribution to Business-University Collaboration award by Times Higher Education. Here’s some sound advice from lead on the project, Design Development Manager Alison Howell:

“The main thing that the partnership embraced was structure; very regular meetings with all parties privy to a written summary of the progress made, along with a profit and loss calculation. This clear reporting strategy ensured that the partnership was transparent and that all members could input where they felt it was needed.

“Equally, sometimes industry and academia appear to ‘speak a different language’ so being mindful of the background of each party and appreciating that they can see and interpret things differently is essential- after all, the most unexpected things can happen when a problem is studied from a new perspective.”

The over 160-year-old ceramics manufacturer has been working with the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at UWE for more than 10 years, collaborating on various projects aimed at enhancing their unique printing process with resoundingly successful results.

David Mullins, WMG (formerly Warwick Manufacturing Group)

As part of the University of Warwick, WMG brings the expertise of university to the business world, working with businesses and organisations across the globe, large and small, to solve their challenges. To give the academic perspective on successful partnerships, we spoke to Director of External and International Relations at WMG, Professor David Mullins:

The key to a successful partnership is “the shared vision and the trust between participants. Many universities tend to do things in silos – they have researchers looking for collaborative partners, they have pre-existing education programmes that they want students to come on to, but they may not be focused on the impact they could have on the companies they are working with.” 


WMG, however, does things differently:

“We listen to the company, we understand where they want to get to over a 10-year time frame, and then work with them to think about how our research can [help them].”

WMG is a pioneer in the field of university-business collaborations, starting out in 1980 with a bid to reinvigorate the UK manufacturing industry. Under founder Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, it has become one of the world’s leading education and research groups, with relationships with over 1,000 global companies and has helped over 1,800 SMEs build their business.