Leveraging Opportunities Through University-Industry Collaboration

manufacturing2by Carlton Chen, Chairman, WHCC Manufacturers Roundtable and Managing Director of SinApac Group LLC of West Hartford

On June 19, 2013, over 40 participants attended a Manufacturers Roundtable meeting at the UConn-Greater Hartford Campus to learn how universities collaborate with Connecticut-based industry to work on advanced technology projects. 

Dr. Mike Accorsi, Senior Associate Dean of the UConn School of Engineering, served as moderator for a panel representing industry and academia.  From industry were Martin Seifert, President of Nufern Inc. of East Granby, Agnes Chau Klucha, Engineering Manager of the Pratt & Whitney Engineering Innovation Center of East Hartford, and Michael Gamache, President of Carlyle Johnson Machine Company of Bolton.

Representing academia were Dr. Baki Cetegen, UConn Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and Rita Zangari, Executive Director of the UConn Office of Technology Partnerships and Licensing (TPL).

The panelists initiated the roundtable by briefly describing some of the university-industry collaborations that their organizations have been involved in.  Dr. Accorsi summarized various types of collaboration, including senior design projects, summer internships and collaborative research projects.  He said that these types of collaborations have been ongoing at UConn with numerous Connecticut companies for many years.  

The industry panelists described how they identify and select specific projects that can best be performed collaboratively with universities.  They also shared some of their best practices that have been developed for working collaboratively with universities.  Then, from both the industry and university perspectives, the panel discussed the benefits and challenges of collaboration.  

Ms. Zangari said that UConn holds over 300 patents in its name and described the approach used to manage new innovations developed through collaborative projects.  A lively discussion ensued regarding how intellectual property rights are protected and provided to enable partners to utilize new technologies.  One of the challenges identified was that students, particularly PhD candidates, need to publish their research, but industry is averse to having their proprietary work published. They noted that this issue is overcome by agreeing to limit disclosure of competitively sensitive information in all publications at the onset of the project.   

Professor Cetegen said industry-academic collaborative research projects typically cost $50,000 per year to support a graduate student. However, he noted that a participating company becomes the beneficiary of UConn’s talented faculty and support, helping to ensure success. This support network, he remarked, is not ordinarily present when a company performs a project completely in-house or with an outside vendor.  Most companies initiate collaboration with UConn by sponsoring a senior design project, which costs $7,000-$10,000 per project. Last year, the School of Engineering had about 100 senior design projects that were sponsored by companies.

Mr. Seifert said that the appeal of working with a university like UConn is the branding and access to advanced technology.  Ms. Chau Klucha said she liked the “out of the box” thinking and the notion that her company is helping to develop a new generation of inventors and talent.  Mr. Gamache said he liked the idea of working with UConn students because those who are local tend to stay after graduation. 

Ms. Zangari said that one of the key benefits of collaborating with UConn is that it operates three technology incubation programs in Connecticut – Farmington, Avery Point and Storrs – to focus on biotechnology, advanced technology and manufacturing.  She also spoke about the building of a new UConn Technology Park with its first workspace, the Innovation Partnership building, to be ready for use to promote and house industry partnerships by 2015.  She said, “The new Tech Park will offer shared space and state-of-the-art additive manufacturing equipment for faculty, existing businesses, researchers and students to work together to create solutions and products that will propel the Connecticut economy forward.”

This Manufacturers Roundtable meeting was jointly sponsored by the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce (WHCC), Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, New England Spring and Metalstamping Association (NESMA), and Triumph Group, Inc. of West Hartford.

The WHCC Manufacturers Roundtable’s mission is to promote manufacturing capability and provide a forum for the sharing of important, useful information for its local manufacturing community.  It meets several times a year to discuss topics that are relevant to its members’ growth, competitiveness and profitability.  They share concerns, review opportunities and work together to help revitalize its local manufacturing base.

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