Collaboration is where it’s at

January 8th, 2018 / By: / My Take

We’re going to start this year out with a one-question test: Name five institutions of higher learning/research institutions that have industry partners. You have 20 seconds. Go.

Done? Maybe some of you named more than five. Maybe as many as 10. With a longer time limit, you might have been able to fill a page without giving it a great deal of thought. Why? Because the relationship between academia and industry is just that prevalent—and important. In some cases, a business will approach a research facility with a specific problem, and the researchers will get to work on solving it. It other cases, researchers will have a breakthrough product or technology and start a new business to develop and commercialize it. We’ve seen these happen countless times.

So, what’s different now? The partnerships are more frequently turning into consortiums, for one thing, with multiple academic and research partners working with multiple industry entities. Even that’s not altogether new, but the push in the area of advanced textiles is dramatic. A high-profile example is AFFOA, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, to “enable a domestic manufacturing-based revolution by transforming traditional fibers, yarns, and fabrics into highly sophisticated, integrated and networked products and systems,” according to the AFFOA website.

Powered by an initial grant from the U.S. Dept. of Defense, and university and industry partners, it was announced in 2016 and is one of the latest members of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) Institutes. This effort is not just impressive because it’s a lot of money (although it is); it’s impressive because of the scope of the participants, and the potential for new entrepreneurs and creative participants in the future.

In fact, there’s a call out right now, for people with “an idea on an advanced fabric product or service that can form the basis of a great company. The “year-long, pre-commercial, part-time program for entrepreneurs … supports entrepreneurs by providing access to a wide variety of resources aimed at building commercial value.” (Visit http://go.affoa.org/afep/ soon; the deadline is January 16.)

But AFFOA is not alone. Marie O’Mahony’s article, “The academia and industry partnership” provides more insight, including international examples of successful partnerships, which she terms “innovation labs” or “centers for innovation.” The conventional wisdom Is that collaboration creates new opportunities for all those involved, and longer term benefits for society as a whole.

The industry is in a position to reach even further beyond itself and forge alliances with businesses in fields that may have seemed completely unrelated a decade ago. The Advanced Textiles Conference at IFAI’s Expo, and the advanced textiles area of the Expo show floor last September, brought researchers, entrepreneurs, students, textile experts, fashion designers, electrical engineers and may others together to discuss developments in smart fabrics, particularly e-textiles. Fashion designers and electrical engineers hanging out together? That’s a new one!

This is just one example, and there are many more. Stay tuned on this site for all the latest developments. Better yet, share your contributions with us!