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9 Tips for Successful Business School and Industry Partnerships


Posted October 26, 2016 by Giselle Weybrecht - Author, Advisor, and Speaker - Sustainability and Business

Partnerships with business provide a wide range of unique opportunities for business schools beyond just recruiting and raising funds. Some of the benefits for the business school are obvious: numerous opportunities in resources and experiential learning for students, faculty, and staff. But business school and industry collaboration goes well beyond this. Partnerships with business can support real-time curriculum adaption to reflect the issues that companies are facing and can better prepare students—and faculty—to tackle real-world challenges.

Businesses partner with schools not only because they want to raise awareness about their brand or recruit the best minds; partnerships further provide unique opportunities for companies to engage their employees and stakeholders as well as to yield unique perspectives and new understandings of dynamic challenges they are facing and explore new opportunities. Here are nine tips for business schools to develop stronger, mutually beneficial partnerships with business.

  1. Develop the relationships. An individual invited to a campus event on behalf of a company could become the key to developing a multifaceted, multiyear project with the school. Partnerships often result not from a general email to a company but through a personal contact. Look to alumni, companies working in your region, networks, and partners you are already working with to see how you might develop these relationships further. Finding that individual within an organization, as well as within yours, who will champion the partnership and wants to get involved is essential.
  2. Make collaboration easy. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are interested and willing to work with business schools on a range of projects but often don’t understand how to approach the schools, whom to approach within the institution, or what kind of relationships a particular school might be interested in. Make this initial connection as easy as possible for businesses. Answer emails promptly, provide suggestions and contacts, and explore these opportunities to see where they may take you. Remove barriers that may complicate the relationship, such as hierarchies, multiple contacts, and overly complex (academic) proposals.
  3. Emphasize the mutual benefit. Business partners aren’t just going to get involved because it is the right thing to do. Pick a topic and a project that is not only of interest to you but that is of interest to a particular business and that has outcomes that will be beneficial to both parties. Provide them with the information or the solution that they are looking for, and make it clear that you can help them (as much as they will help you). Clearly outline these benefits and be flexible in adapting a given proposal or idea to ensure that these benefits are mutual.
  4. Communicate your strengths. Your distinctive value as a school is not that you can do research or that you teach students. All schools can say that. Be confident about what you can uniquely offer at your business school. Outline what your specific strengths are, whether a proven record in a particular area that is of interest to business or a group of students perfectly suited to work on a particular project. The clearer you are about what your school can offer, the more likely businesses will partner with you.
  5. Think outside the box. Partnerships should not just be focused on public relations or recruiting. Think further than that. Explore how you can engage businesses in developing the graduates they want to hire. Partnerships are an opportunity to provide unique learning and research opportunities to your staff but also to contribute to the success of the businesses themselves. Explore a range of options beyond just asking for money. Companies are willing and eager to do more than that.
  6. Be open and willing to participate. Despite being responsible for training business graduates, business schools speak a different language and have a very different culture than businesses do. Come into conversations ready to speak their language, to understand your partner’s viewpoints, and to translate when necessary. Business doesn’t always understand how academia works may consequently set seemingly restrictive conditions about the partnership. Start off by understanding clearly why both parties are involved and what they hope to get out of the partnership, and be open to discussing mutually beneficial ways to making that happen.
  7. Set objectives and clear deliverables. It is crucial to communicate clearly right from the start about what the purpose of the partnership will be. Who exactly is involved? What are their responsibilities? How much time and other resources are required to make this partnership work? When will the group meet and share updates? What are those updates? What is the format of those updates? What is the final deliverable(s)? What happens after that? Don’t wait to “feel things out” before establishing these end goals; it’s better to have to make adjustments to an existing plan than to risk looking unprepared without one.
  8. Celebrate successes. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day aspects of a project. Be sure to celebrate success as a way of promoting your partnership internally and externally but also of building additional support from the partnership team and all stakeholders involved. Find ways for different groups—faculty, students, staff—to get involved.
  9. Share lessons learned. Some partnerships will be successful, others less so. Take time during and after projects to take note of lessons that have been learned, what could have been done better, what worked well. Gather these inputs from the partners as well. Share these lessons internally to help develop new partnerships across the institution. Understand what the value was not just for the university but for the business partner, as well, and explore ways you might partner on new projects.

Business partnerships take time and effort to develop, but the result can yield years of mutually beneficial opportunities.


Giselle WeybrechtGiselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker on sustainability. Her most recent book is The Future MBA: 100 Ideas for Making Sustainability the Business of Business Education. Follow her at project-insideout.com and on Twitter @gweybrecht.

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