Benchmark analysis of the STIM Consortium Engagement
The Strategic Technology & Innovation Management (STIM) Consortium is an engagement platform, established in 2013 by the Institute of Manufacturing of the Cambridge University, to develop and implement innovative approaches between academics and industries sectors. The purpose of this study is to show how STIM Consortium offers a broad and practical approach to academic engagement (AE) activities creating a unique model of University-Industry collaboration. STIM developed an Open Innovation Engagement platform for the knowledge sharing in which researchers propose to companies the themes of the engagement. This uniqueness makes STIM a novel model of AE and an exclusive tool for public-private engagement research driven.
We gather information from companies and scholars involved in the past STIM programs (2013-2018). The study uses a qualitative content analysis methodology (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1994) for the examination of a phenomenon in its natural environment. The method is appropriate for understanding the "how" and "why" of underexplored phenomena. Primary data were collected during semi-structured interviews to bring out contents without influencing the interviewee; the interviews were conducted in person and lasted on average one hour (min. 30 and max. 90 minutes). Secondary data about activities and companies were collected from official reports and databases. We run two rounds of interviews, the first concerned companies and the second the scholars. In setting the interviews for defining of the AE activities, we followed the Four Central Measures approach (Perkmann et al., 2013; Vick and Robertson, 2018) that identifies the most relevant aspects of the engagement: 1. Activities, 2. Motivations, 3. Barriers, 4. Outcomes. We assumed events happened following the generic AE model (Perkmann et al., 2013) that counts five steps: identification, initiation, coordination, execution, and evaluation.
STIM Consortium is a peculiar model and a unique experiment of open innovation AE platform for its academic relevance, the participation of multiple stakeholders from research, education, and industry, and its focus on knowledge exchange mechanisms from academia to industry.
1. Activities: STIM is a “platform/marketplace” and “self-organizing design”. With its low subscription policy, STIM manages companies’ expectations fitting the nature of industrial research need and offering a “knowledge buffet”. Scholars propose research projects, and managers engage those they like the most.
2. Motivations: Scholars and managers engage for very different reasons, the most important is the self-interest. Managers’ reasons are corporate social responsibility, talent scouting, problem-solving, or networking. Scholars’ reasons are research projects funding, intellectual property development, or executive educational engagement.
a. Trust: STIM does not promote short-term work relations. Its added value lies in the fact that managers and scholars build long-term relations in which both can better meet the reciprocal demands.
b. Firms’ Absorptive Capacity: Managers join meetings as a “knowledge buffet” seeking inspiration, but the lack of the necessary absorptive capacity might lead them to not adequate projects wasting time, resources and opportunities.
4. Outcomes: Identifying the right metrics to determine the level of engagement is still an ongoing activity. First results suggest that a useful indicator for companies is the length of membership and their propensity to renew it. It is crucial to measure the general satisfaction level that companies experience in joining STIM because relevant engagement activities take place after the meetings where scholars and managers get involved in more-in-depth, parallel research activities.
Implications of our analysis are significant both at theoretical and managerial level. On the first side, we identified a new path in the Open Innovation paradigm that goes from university to industry. Scholars propose what research activity is attractive to develop and industries join them. On the managerial aspect, it is essential for firms this sort of AE to ease the exploration phase, to identify new research trend and to evaluate new opportunities. A long-term goal of STIM’s AE Open Innovation platform is to extend the application of the model to other universities.
The major limitation is that the study is still ongoing. Currently, we are analyzing the parallel activities developed by scholars and companies. This is helping us in defining STIM as a new model of engagement. The ultimate goal of the study is presenting a new format of engagement. We are working to complete the benchmarking study here described looking at the full project development to identify the novel approach and to strengthen the theories about the AE. This will enable STIM to be considered an innovative and unique experience. For benchmarking the activities, we are also seeking both to improve the existing assessment measures and to find new metrics.