How to select your future R&D Partner?

Key tips & Best Practices for Open Innovation


The selection of a future R&D partner, or the creation of a consortium involving several stakeholders in a collaborative project, is a crucial phase.

Structuring and rationalizing such an approach to improve efficiency and limit risk is not an easy task. It’s a recruitment phase which should be approached with the same care as when seeking a new employee.


What is a good partner?


Faced with the diversity of motivations and situations which lead to the launching of a collaborative project, one could conclude that, for each project, there is a different ideal partner profile.

Indeed, integrating a technology into a product which is virtually finished in order to adapt to a specific market, won’t carry the same implications as financing an exploratory academic project whose aim is to maintain one’s position as a market leader. It is therefore appropriate to determine one’s priorities among the many criteria for selecting a future partner.


What selection criteria?






  1. Clearly Express the ultimate aim of the partnership


It’s a preliminary stage. It will form the basis for the main decisions in terms of the type of partners to give preference to, the readiness levels of the research, the required experience, the degree of recognition and the location.


  1. Identifying the necessary scientific and technological skills for the project needs to be done in successive stages


It is very rare to be able to describe one’s needs in precise detail off the cuff. This is accentuated by the fact that companies are more frequently being drawn outside their core profession in order to launch breakthrough innovation projects. In such cases, it is then essential to explore the new field in order to identify the skills and the know-how which are specific to it. Dividing a skill up into sub-skills, exploring comparable domains and sectors, and identifying skills which are related to a target field, are often necessary stages in identifying the ‘project specifications’ for the ideal partner.


  1. Defining the scope of the project


It is essential to take into account the budget and the human resources which will be involved in the project.

The cost structures can be very different depending on the partner profiles being sought out. The need to access public funding, particularly when responding to calls for project proposals, can also impose a number of constraints on the partner profile (academics vs. industrialists, national vs. European vs. international, etc.).

The launch of the Horizon 2020 projects, sponsored by the European Union, is a good example.

The creation of a consortium to take on such a project generally involves bringing together industrial and academic stakeholders from several different countries within the Union.

It is also essential to take into account human resources involved on the project. Does one have the capacity to oversee a project of international scope or should one opt for a partnership which brings with it geographical proximity and linguistic proficiency?

The success of a project can in large part be attributed to the quality of the monitoring and the capacity to regularly recalibrate the project so as not to diverge from the end goals specified at the start.

The profile of the in-house project manager, who must possess a good overview of the project entrusted to the partner without necessarily being an expert in the field, may also therefore be a decisive factor.


  1. Map-out and scout the worldwide expertise.


To identify the expertise (the knowledge) which answers your specific need, you will have to go through a phase of « worldwide expertise scouting » (laboratories, universities, companies, start-ups, researchers). It is exactly the same process as with technologies (technology scouting); you will identify patents and then the owner of these technologies… It is up to you to find the solution to identify the expertise which suits you best.

Expernova is one of these solutions dedicated to this crucial stage. It allows you to identify and map out in a few seconds the best experts worldwide on your research topic. Test Expernova here!

If the future identified partner is in a rival market it will then be necessary to preliminary agreed on the market division…


How do I have to manage my project to ensure a successful partnership?


Based on the testimony of world experts interviewed last July (2015) on their open innovation practices, we retained 3 essential points for the smooth running of a partnership:


  1. Define the partnership strategy


“The basis for the project needs to be sound, and the project needs to be at a stage where all parties in the collaboration add value to help push it forward in a way that none of the parties could do as efficiently or effectively on their own.”

Samantha O’Connor – Executive Director and Head Strategy & Business Planning – Pfizer 


It is important to bring a frame to the partnership, to start on « solid » bases and have a clear vision of the level of participation of each partner. A partnership agreement will help to define all the different aspects (level of implication, budget, management of the intellectual property, planning…).


2. Develop a common vision with your partner


« You have to be similar culturally or be able to adapt »

Steve Bone – Director & Co founder – nu Angle.

Companies work at different paces ; If you are trying to link a company with fast clock speed to a sector with one much slower, they don’t understand what the other is talking about, and the partnership will not work.

3. Establish a relationship of trust and transparency


“For me there are 2 essential and non negotiable elements required to create a good partnership: trust and transparency.”

Richard Peres – Group Innovation Director – Tarkett 


Is the communication transparent in your partnership? Have you agreed on a well defined research plan? Are your objectives obtainable?

These questions are essential for the success of your partnership. You might have to adjust your strategy if this is not the case.

“Mutual respect for what each party brings to the table is key”

Samantha O’Connor – Executive Director and Head Strategy & Business Planning – Pfizer



Choose a partnership model suited to your situation:


There are several possible scenarios and it is important to compare them to find the most appropriate for your partnership: license, purchase of patents, transfers of knowledge, joint venture, contract of collaboration of search, alliance, consortium …


Do not forget to protect your existing know-how!


During your partnership you may be required to share your know-how (e.g. confidential technical information). Expertise that is not protected by a patent is vulnerable. It may therefore be necessary to think of protecting it with a contract of confidentiality.

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