David Tyndall, Collaborative Real Estate: The value of a collaborative environment
UIDP’s Community Partners are organizations and agencies that are not eligible for general membership, but whose mission and work are complementary to UIDP. They possess skills and tools that are relevant to the UIDP community and that boost our efforts to develop and disseminate strategies addressing common barriers to university-industry collaboration.
We recently spoke with David Tyndall, founder and CEO of Collaborative Real Estate, LLC, about the relationship between multidisciplinary research, innovation, and the value of a collaborative facility environment.
Tyndall is a technology entrepreneur, venture investor, and 20-year veteran of building and maintaining research buildings and innovation districts. He is a frequent speaker and author on effective practices in creating collaborative environments.
UIDP: How does Collaborative Real Estate’s mission align with UIDP’s work to develop innovative approaches and solutions that support university-industry partnerships?
Tyndall: About a year ago, we spent time with a business consulting company to dissect and discuss what we do and what our passions are. Their report to us essentially said, “You’ve been calling yourself a real estate company, but you’re not – you’re a collaboration company that happens to focus on real estate.” That really resonated with me, as our focus is always on people, not inanimate bricks and mortar.
In working with UIDP, we hope to add value by sharing our specialized understanding of how facilities can make the best contribution to collaborations. Buildings are certainly not the most important things in a partnership, but their role is what we’re really focused on. Through UIDP, we want to hear what’s adding value and what’s getting in the way, and hopefully make some useful suggestions from what we’ve learned over the years.
We have effectively been running our own laboratory in our projects at Tech Square in Atlanta for the last 20 years—continuously testing and trying new ideas and concepts. And the other projects we’ve built and managed around the country have all basically been experiments and prototypes. When we started in this world of university-industry partnerships, lots of researchers were still working in single-discipline labs. Then, grants started flowing into multidisciplinary research centers, as people saw it was beneficial to have different perspectives on problems. This ultimately morphed into another idea: if having a physicist and a chemist think about something together is considered productive, what if we took academic researchers and put them together with industry researchers? That multi-dimensionality is part of the evolutionary process we have witnessed firsthand, and it has encouraged us to continuously learn more about how we can adjust the operations of facilities to enhance such collaborations.
As a company, we try to make every facility as much of an intellectual training center as it can be. To us, it’s really not about the building. It’s about what goes on inside the building.
UIDP: What does Collaborative Real Estate want to accomplish as a UIDP Community Partner?
Tyndall: We don’t view our role in UIDP to be that of a vendor setting up a booth to pitch services. That’s not why we’re here. This really is more about harvesting content and data collection for us. We want to be part of these conversations happening amongst UIDP members, and to the extent that we can be the reason behind a beneficial, synergistic relationship—well, that’s just an added bonus. But what we really want is to have the opportunity to get to know members and the people who are charged by either a university or a corporation with the responsibility to make productive partnerships happen. We consider it our purpose to equip partnerships with optimal facilities. The opportunity to see more of those relationships in the wild and to do customer discovery is incredibly valuable for us to better understand their pain points.
To further assist with this, we have developed practices and methodologies to gather data on engagement rates and connections, arising from a belief that interaction and collaboration is less transactional and really more a way of life. We use KPIs because it’s important to chart your progress, to get feedback, and to be reminded that the work we’re doing is having an impactful effect. We’ve advocated having the courage to create a way to be held accountable. And if we can’t convince our client partners that we have taken their facilities and helped them to use them in a more positive way—and with results—then we simply are not doing our job.
Being a UIDP Community Partner is a wonderful opportunity for us to grow and get better and help others along the way. In exchange for us offering up insight that will aid other members, we can uncover the things that get in the way of collaboration in their worlds.
UIDP: Please share a particularly successful project or partnership story that relates to university-industry collaboration.
Tyndall: One example involved two different properties that I developed and managed. It’s one of my favorites, because it involved this multidisciplinary approach.
An aerospace engineering professor understood a problem with failures in jet engines and reached out to mechanical engineering and micro-electronics colleagues to try to develop an approach for a sensor that could live within an operating jet engine—obviously, a difficult environment for equipment to survive.
They began to work on a jet engine engineering problem, but they were located in research buildings that we maintained with life science companies, too. In a series of purpose-less encounters, there was one of those “Hey, have you thought about this?” moments, and suddenly the aerospace folks began exploring ideas with the life sciences professionals. Together they questioned if they could put that sensor into another dynamically hostile environment—maybe, a human heart? Ultimately, this generated a product now produced by a major medical device company. Lives have been saved, millions in royalties have been paid to the institution and its professors, and I am firmly convinced that, without a collaborative environment, they would never have made that connection.
In another very different example, I had a university client with a medical school that needed a new genetic testing facility. Part of the process was to explore options for how state-of-the-art labs should be built and operated. That included examples of university and corporate testing centers. During that process, industry partners saw the value of the university’s testing service enterprise. To make a long story short, I built a new genetic testing building, a testing industry company paid the university $40+ million, and a new joint venture was formed. The industry runs the lab jointly with the university, and the university now gets everything they wanted.
I think the key in all this is to always maintain a vigilant outlook for the possibilities of new and different university-industry relationships. All universities are feeling increasing pressure to diversify their revenue streams. They’re looking for help in realizing value from what may be hidden in their balance sheet or real estate market position. At Collaborative, we try to help them as much as possible, at the very least from a facility and real estate financing standpoint.