Building an R&D partnership is a complex operation requiring time investments. Whether it is to choose the ideal partner or to implement a methodology to manage your partnership during all its life cycle, it is essential to identify some key success requirements.
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. You will commit for a number of year, thus the partner choice is crucial.
Structuring and rationalizing such an approach to improve efficiency and limit risk is not an easy task. In fact, 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.
So, how to choose the best R&D partner? What are the mistakes to avoid when embarking on an R&D partnership project?
1/ Overlooking the ideal R&D partner’s specification definition
To not choose the wrong track it is essential to give a frame to your project. To do so, you need t
o precisely define your need.
“If I had one hour to save the world, I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding solutions…”
Clearly express the aim of the partnership:
Your selection criteria will depend on the reasons why you are setting up a collaboration: it can be to maintain a leading position, to overcome a technological limitation, to acquire competences, to adapt your products, to optimize your R&D resources, to reach a new geographical zone (European, international) etc.
Defining your project will allow you to 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.
Identifying the necessary scientific and technological skills for the project needs to be done in successive stages
What skills do you need? 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.
Defining the scope of the project
Depending on the nature of your project, you will also have to take into account mandatory conditions. 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.).
Take into account the human resources involved:
The staffing of skills and resources is an essential criterion in the selection of the partner.
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?
It is important to consider its own resources in order to know its limits but also to define what a partner could bring to the alliance.
2 / Building a partnership with an organization which is too far from your culture
It is necessary for partners to make sure that they have a compatibility in strategic and organizational terms (size, ambition, language, managerial culture, pace, etc.) before entering into cooperation. The distance between the cultures of the protagonists can generate strong incompatibilities and block the mechanisms of decision making and learning.
« 21% of the instability of technological alliances is due to cultural differences »
“You have to be very similar culturally or be able to adapt”
Steve Bone, Director et Co-Founder nuAngle
3 / Establishing an unfair balance of power with your partner
Partnership is a win-win commitment, based on trust and real complementarities.
Is there an « interest » to collaborate for all the protagonists?
The partner must also have an interest in collaborating! The existence of an opportunity to be exploited in common is an essential element of the enthusiasm and commitment of the partner to make an effort to achieve objectives.
Are there complementary skills?
The potential partner must bring complementary skills. Alliances and partnerships allow to gain access to resources and skills that you would not have been able to obtain i.e. technological resources, relational skills, networks, experience, etc.
« Mutual respect for what each party brings to the table is key”
Samantha O’Connor, Executive Director and Head Strategy & Business Planning Pfizer
Are the objectives set clear, achievable and each person’s roles well defined?
It is necessary to define a clear and precise framework, a framework of legal cooperation: i.e. obligations of each parties, results exploitation conditions, confidentiality agreement, intellectual property, results measurement, calendar, etc. This allows to raise the difficulties, to observe the reactions of the potential partner and to progressively knowing him. It helps to create a climate of trust over the long term. Indeed, the contracts are not fixed, contract amendment can be established to allow the partners to gradually engage according to the results achieved.
2 pitfalls are to avoid: to create a competitor and to uncontrollably divulge his know-how.
Is the communication transparent in your partnership?
« For me there are 2 essential and non-negotiable elements to create a good partnership: trust and transparency »
Richard Peres, Innovation Director, Tarkett Group
Communication between the two partners allows each party to value their commitment, to make the results obtained visible and thus to maintain trust. Therefore, it is important to set up a communication policy as soon as the project is framed. Frequencies and forms of communication can be defined in the contract (i.e. project progress, coordination between partners, meeting organizations, etc.). It is not excluded to promote and set up complementary informal communication.
A good communication strategy also have to be established internally with your teams to unite them around your project and goals.
4 / Deciding not involving financial and marketing departments in your R&D partnership project
Successful companies enter the market with an innovative product, innovative marketing or innovative management. Alignment with your financial, marketing and R&D departments is therefore recommended.
Marketing department can support the culture of innovation in your organization and play a key role in the development of new products (market research, target audience, etc.).
Financial department will be indispensable in the project budgeting and cost control. Indeed, the R&D budget is often divided into several budgets (research, development, innovation) and it can be difficult to maintain a balance and control between all expenses.
5/ Thinking that your project should be led by a scientific expert
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. There is no need to understand all the scientific details of the project to understand how to set up and manage an R&D project and its strategy.
« We see excellent scientists working on projects where the prioritization of the project is completely out of their control »
Steve Bone, Director and Co-Founder nuAngle
The project manager will also be responsible to maintain this partnership alive throughout the collaborative project.
6 / Not capitalizing on the knowledge acquired
Documenting and saving all the information relating to the R&D project will allow organizations to develop their intellectual capital, increase their value and be more competitive.
Being able to access the right information at the right time will also enables companies to be more efficient, reduce their costs and save time (find the right information at the right time, reduce error margins, avoid conducting the same research twice, etc.).
In that sense, potential partners with past experience in collaborative projects should be favored in your partner selection. They will help you avoid some mistakes and benefit from good advices.