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Inking a co-location deal is just the beginning: Now it’s time to keep promises

Excerpted from the May 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can view the entire issue here.

Convincing a key industry partner to locate on campus is a big deal — but then what? How will you prepare to welcome your partner into the campus community? What are the keys to optimizing the benefits of co-location, and developing an even deeper partnership going forward?

In many ways, making that important “sale” is just the beginning — or, in the words of Gregory Deason, senior vice president of alliances and placemaking at Purdue University, “we have key company partners like Saab Aerospace, and Rolls Royce, that interact with Purdue on a variety of fronts; we want to make sure that any promises we may have made that convinced them to be here get met, and that we look for ways to deliver mutual value to the partnerships we have with them.”

“All these projects are so different and unique in nature it’s hard to categorize one size fits all,” adds Aric H. Bopp, CEcD, executive director of economic development and innovation zones in the Knowledge Enterprise Development unit at Arizona State University. “There are some companies we have existing relationships with prior to their location in our Innovation Zone — others, not as much. And some are entirely new to the university. We try to avoid the pitfall of over-promising; we call it managing expectations. These things take time; they do not happen overnight.”

“The way we do it is we put a single person in charge of the relationship — a relationship manager,” adds Kent Glasscock, president of the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization. “Their task is to work with the company to identify avenues of positive engagement which the company wants to pursue, and through the entire process of attraction we’re always focused on the desired benefits of the co-located partner and the university.”

Starting the process early

The outreach considered so important when co-located companies arrive on campus “happens all the way through the process — from first engagement — because that’s our way of doing business,” says Glasscock, “So when co-location occurs, we already have in many respects a roadmap. As the company and we evolve that roadmap, the rules of engagement evolve as well. For instance, say we had a co-located firm and the firm wanted to — which all firms do — assess and attract talent into their company. We’d work with them on internships but do it in such a way that it is designed specifically to address the needs of the company. A fully engaged, co-located company is having a staff intern program that’s 12 months of the year. With an office on campus staffed by people from the company, they can attract interns, put them on real projects the company has, and work in collaboration with others in the company beyond the co-located office on campus or near campus. It’s worked out tremendously well.”

“One of the starting points goes back to understanding where success is most likely,” adds Deason. “A plot of land for a company like Saab could look like many others [on university campuses]. What makes them want to be in this location? It’s a talent question — not just to recruit but to retain.”

In other words, he continues, when he and his team think about recruiting for co-location, they begin by asking what makes the university different — “what we’re ranked highly and known for as a university.” The answer to that question, Deason says, “tells us where we’re likely to find success; we’re likely to go with industries that match up with what we’re good at.”

Bopp reiterates that not all co-located companies are ‘equal.’ “For big partners, proximity matters,” he notes. “They want convenience and community; for internships [for example], being close physically is a benefit.”

The head-scratchers, he continues, are companies that have co-located but are not really maximizing the potential benefits. “Maybe it’s just a real estate deal, and they like that these are attractive places to do business, but it’s a missed opportunity, and I want to target that,” he says.

Excerpted from the May 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can access the complete article and the entire issue here. Other practitioners may subscribe to receive the UIEA newsletter at