Cooperating to innovate: the university-business relationship


Cooperation between universities and business has been a path explored by developed countries to increase their competitiveness through innovation, yet still little explored and filled with obstacles in countries of emerging economies like Brazil. In order to allow a reflection on the subject, I will publish here on the website of the Mackenzie Center for Economic Freedom a series of articles about the university-enterprise relationship as a means of enhancing the innovation capacity of Brazilian companies. In this first article, the purpose is to present to the reader this real and positive possibility of transferring knowledge and technologies between companies and universities. Next, I will talk about motivation and background, how to approach, about the management of agreements for partnerships and the difficulties and facilitators that are present in the university-company relationship. It is hoped, therefore, to contribute to the reflection on the possibilities of approximation and cooperation between universities and companies.

In recent years, a paradigm shift has been observed in the management of innovation of many companies: from a closed model of innovation to an open model. In this model of innovation, the flow of knowledge occurs both in the sense of entry, that is, absorption of external knowledge by the company, as well as in the sense of exit, so as to enable the circulation and diffusion of knowledge to external partners. It also involves the study of the feasibility of development, application, protection and commercialization of new technologies, which can be incorporated into the company's business or open new sources of financial gain in new business models or be directed to existing business models in which innovation. Open innovation can be understood as one that occurs from the participation of external sources, which may involve suppliers, companies from other segments, competing companies, universities and research institutes.

The technology transfer that occurs from the university-business cooperation relationship is the one through which the knowledge generated in the university is taken to the company as a result of the collaboration between researchers of the university and the researchers of the company and that can occur through the cooperation in research projects or acquisition of technologies already developed and made available by the university. It also involves hiring university graduates and perfecting the company's research team through specific courses, postgraduate courses, seminars and other events that enable the exchange of knowledge between university professors and students and the company's researchers.

The relationship between companies and universities in Brazil has evolved and tended to improve. Although there is a clear commitment on the part of some sectors of government to improve this relationship, such as the new Regulatory Framework (Law 13243/166), which has recently come into force, much remains to be done to reduce the barriers of our excessive bureaucracy. This is still a developing process that needs to be better understood and explored so that the proposed benefits are actually used by the business sector and academia. Notably, there is a positive intention of the three spheres, namely academia, industry and government, but discussions about the availability of credit lines and the application of these resources, as well as new technologies developed, competitiveness of national companies and the country.

The agreements of partnerships between universities and companies have increased and gained importance in the agenda of Brazilian innovation, but the main means of knowledge generated in the academy to reach the productive sector is still the recruitment of researchers and students graduates, undergraduate and graduate levels . Also noteworthy, but to a lesser extent, is the research work carried out by students in corporate environments, the consulting services provided by teachers and the academic spin-offs that other companies seek to offer the licensing or commercialization of their technologies developed in environments academics.

The initiative of the universities in seeking companies to establish a cooperative relationship or even commercialization of technologies is still reduced. It is also not common for universities to disclose their core competencies, which could contribute to the specific needs of companies, prevailing the existing contacts in the networks of researchers' relationships or the individual and systematic search of companies interested in finding support in universities for their researches. The proactive action of the universities in the dissemination of their main competences for companies is still very incipient, but that shows itself as an interesting element for the open innovation model of companies.


It is observed that this process needs to be enriched with a greater openness and adequacy of the companies to the use of knowledge from external sources, as well as greater clarity for the universities of the real needs of the productive sector, from the sharing of a management vision of business that the market demands. It does not mean to leave aside the principles that guide the generation of knowledge in universities, but emphasizes the need to recognize the reality of the competitive environment in which companies are inserted that seek to develop their innovations in an open model with partner participation.