Collaboration Between Industry and Universities: How University and Industry can Partner for Success

Joseph Giachino, Andrew Oliver, Robert Gordenker; Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems, University of Michigan, 2214 EECS Building, 1301 Beal Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2122, Telephone: 1 734-615-3096, Fax: 1 734 647 2342, Corresponding Author: [email protected]


This paper discusses different models of engagement between universities and industry and how the WIMS center at the University of Michigan creates successful interactions. Different modes of engagement can include: prototyping at the university, device development at the university, supporting fellowships, gifts to the university, writing joint proposals, inviting industry to research reviews, visits between industry and the university, recruiting students, and consulting.


The key to successful industry-university partnerships is for both to recognize the expectations of each party, the resources of each and the partnership options available. For example in commercialization of technology, both parties need to clearly define and understand where the technology is positioned in the development path (fundamental science, enabling technology, or engineered system) and the expected result from the collaboration (report, prototype, process). There must also be an understanding of the resources, including people and facilities that are available. The Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems (WIMS) at the University of Michigan has used different methods of engaging with our industrial partners to move efficiently and effectively towards meeting their goals. These methods include: prototyping at the university, device development at the university, supporting fellowships and gifts, writing joint proposals, inviting industry to research reviews, visits between industry and the university, recruiting students, and consulting.

First Level Engagement with Industry

WIMS has two levels of membership, a full membership and an associate membership. Associate memberships permit companies to survey WIMS and WIMS research. Twice a year, the WIMS center arranges research reviews, called industrial advisory board meetings, typically attended by one or two representatives from each industry partner. These single day meetings include presentations by the students and faculty and offer an efficient way to learn about the full scope of center activities and facilitate interaction with a large number of faculty and students. Prospective or interested companies can also engage with WIMS at outreach workshops or short-courses. These offer an opportunity to engage with experts and learn the state of the art in specific areas.

Deeper Company Engagement

Deeper engagement with companies is usually associated with a full center membership. The membership allows for royalty free access to WIMS intellectual property for internal use, timely notification of invention disclosures, a seat on the industrial advisory board, the ability to place an engineer in residence at WIMS, and access to staff for projects. The member companies typically use these benefits and interact deeply with the university in one of the following forms:

Prototyping at the University

One service WIMS offers to members is the ability to fabricate prototype devices at Michigan’s Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. The facility is available to outside users and but doesn’t provide multi-step processing for remote users. Also, the facility provides unit process steps but it does not have access to complete device process flows. WIMS has fabricated modifications of WIMS designs for member companies using proprietary WIMS process flows. WIMS has also fabricated devices that have been designed at the member companies. This is not intended as a foundry service but is intended to allow experimentation and evaluation of proprietary designs. It is a valuable service for members who seek to directly leverage WIMS’s intellectual property, for those who want to try a slight variation of the WIMS device, or for those who want to try something completely new. In any case it allows members to take advantage of our facilities, intellectual property, and expertise in the lab. It also means that companies do not have to occupy their employees with the training and lab work associated with microfabrication.

Development of Devices at the University

In this option, engineering teams from the partner company are on the premises of the university. The teams can utilize university facilities and interact with the faculty and staff. The WIMS center, through the engineer in residence program, provides office space and discounted rates at the Lurie Nano Fabrication facility. We have one member company, a Fortune 500 company, who is developing a new product using this model. The company can also utilize sponsored research where there is a formal contract between the university and the company that specifies the deliverables. These sponsored research contracts usually involve only university personnel performing the work.


The industrial partner and the university faculty can submit joint proposals to funding agencies. The center, often acting though the industrial outreach officer, helps to find a match between the interests of the company and the faculty, streamlines the introduction and the proposal process, and reduces the workload for both the faculty member and the industrial center member in responding to proposals including STTRs and SBIRs.

Fellowships and Gifts

Fellowships allow a company to encourage the development of a technology by funding a graduate student who works under the guidance of a professor. Unlike a sponsored research there are no promised deliverables, however the overhead rate and therefore cost is significantly lower. Gifts to professors allow for the exploration of specific areas by the professor. Like fellowships there are no promised deliverables. Both of these avenues are being utilized by member companies to augment their own efforts.


One of the best ways to transfer university technology is to hire the student responsible for the technology. The center helps introduce students and companies, which often happens during the industrial advisory board meetings. The center’s industrial outreach office forwards placement requests from both students and member companies and acts to match students and perspective employers.


Membership in the center allows preferential access to faculty and staff. Some companies greatly value the advice and second opinions that the faculty can provide. This arrangement can be formal or informal. In an informal arrangement, the company asks questions of the faculty member either in person, over the phone, or via email. The types of personal relationships that allow these informal interactions are greatly enhanced by joining the research center. In a formalized consulting role, there is a contract between the faculty member and the company for a certain number of consulting hours for an agreed upon fee. In any case, the function of the research center is to facilitate these interactions.


This paper discusses modes and methods of engagement between the WIMS center and industry. There are two levels of engagement, a survey level and in depth engagement. Some of the ways that companies and the center interact include: university prototyping, joint proposals, student recruitment, fellowships and gifts, and consulting. Additional information on the WIMS Center can be found at This web site has the latest research results as well as information on joining the center.


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