On working with industry – show me the money

So you want industry to give you a bag of cash… common mistakes

So you find yourself as an academic having the opportunity to do some research work with industry and even better they are willing to fund all or some of your work. So you take that bag of cash and run and… 

Nope.

If you are going to be working with industry you need to be exceptionally carefully about what you need to do and why you are doing it. If the project goes well everyone will appear to claim ownership, if the project goes badly then everyone will disappear and you will find yourself in a big puddle of shit without the right shoes for it. 

The following is not an exclusive list but should act as a guide to getting started – also be mindful that academic cultures vary so much that what makes sense in HUM/SS makes no sense to the hard sciences so seek specific discipline specific advice.

Project sponsor

  • You have clearly defined and agreed the scope of the project – If the Project is about X, then you put in sentences to make clear it is about X and specifically excludes Y
  • You have clearly defined the work packages and associated costs – for example if you are doing field research you have clearly defined how many sites you will visited and how much time you will spend on each visit (you also need to budget for travel costs, transcripts)
  • You have clearly indicated to the sponsors the risks involved and quantified the risks and the ways in which you will mitigate these risks
  • You have written into the contract a right to publish (often after they have looked over something) – I’ve lost track of the academics who sign contracts without reading them properly
  • You are clear about who own which bits of IPR
  • You have checked what the liabilities and penalties are – if they think your agreed deliverable is crap – is the University expected to pay for someone else to complete the work?
  • You are aware of the penalties are if you exceed the deadlines – this isn’t like working with other academics who will shrug if you blow your deadlines, if you agree a deadline either hit it or start communicating early that you will miss it
  • You have agreed how many revisions a client can expect – if you don’t put this in, clients can and will try for endless revisions to a product or service and that leads to function creep where they try and get more and more for no more money
  • you have indicated the indicative length of any reports  – don’t say you will “write a report” because that could mean anything

Internally

  • You have checked with the University that they classify this as either contract research OR ‘pure’ research – if you have no idea what I’m talking about, STOP and go and talk to your research office. 
  • Before you agree a price with the client, you have a clear understanding of what your on-costs are (effectively the base charge that occurs everyday regards of what you do). I have see academics agree contracts without doing this and then realise that they are at least £10,000 out on the budget
  • You have run the costs past an internal figure (research office) to check them
  • You have run the contract (often the client’s standard contract) past your legal team
  • You have worked out how must it is costing to buy you out of other duties (teaching) and that is built into the bid
  • You have it agreed in writing that this money will be used for the purposes indicated. Academics find that they bring in money that buys them out of 10 hours of teaching a week and yet mysteriously their teaching load is the same as before.
  • If you are doing contract research, what is your margin (the difference between the cost of doing the research and what you are charging the client)?
  • What is happening to your margin? The centre will want a cut but if you don’t get to retain any of it for your own (legitimate) purposes what is the point? 

Two final tips: 

1) don’t be tempted to under cost the research to get the contract – you will end up working every evening and weekend to complete the project because you have blown past the contract hours and still don’t have a deliverable that the client will accept. you will also then crash all your other research projects because most journals will not threaten to sue you if you don’t submit revisions on time.

2) at the start, it is common for the client to say ‘The Budget is £50,000’ and then just before you sign the contracts either they (or often) someone else will ring you and play hardball and try and get you to reduce the price claiming the price is over the top for the work – its just part of the game. I once spent four hours on the phone and in the end they got £500 off the work. So it’s worthwhile having both the quoted price and an actual price which is the minimum you would do the work for. 

I’m sure there are hundreds of things that I have missed but this will get you started…

 

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