If one acquired private funding how do they approach their University?

  • Thread starter mesa
  • Start date
  • #1
648
18

Main Question or Discussion Point

If a student acquired private funding and would like to work with their University on a project how would they go about approaching them?

A little background, I am an undergraduate engineering student with 20+ years experience in the business world in HVAC, construction, journalism and bio-fuels feed stocks. An old acquaintance has pointed out a good market for a product that has been out of favor for some time and it seems we can manage a lucrative path to bringing it back to market.

Funding is secured but space and some equipment are required. I already have a good working relationship with many departments at my University so acquiring access to supplemental equipment is not of issue however a space is.

I currently have an old graduate lab that had fallen out of use when our department built a new facility. It has ventilation, sinks, shelf space, good counter tops, etc. but the department in which it is located is a far cry from this type of research so another lab is required.

What may be the best approach to moving forward?
 
Last edited:

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,556
7,448
You will ultimately need to talk to the VP of Research, but your 1st step is the department chair.

You will probably discover that whoever is charged with managing the grant needs to be a full-time university employee, and you will probably also discover that the university will want to take a cut of the grant for indirect costs.
 
  • #3
648
18
You will ultimately need to talk to the VP of Research, but your 1st step is the department chair.
Very good. What items will the department chair be expecting to see when going in for a meeting?

You will probably discover that whoever is charged with managing the grant needs to be a full-time university employee,
Should I approach one of the faculty I know well or are they usually assigned?

...and you will probably also discover that the university will want to take a cut of the grant for indirect costs.
That seems perfectly reasonable considering the use of campus resources (although it is funny to have free use of the same equipment, Professors, and facilities while currently bringing nothing to the table) What is a typical 'cut'?

On another note...
Where's the 'mentor' badge?!?
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,556
7,448
Very good. What items will the department chair be expecting to see when going in for a meeting?
What you plan to do, what's it going to cost, where the money is going to come from, what you need from the department and the university, and how you are going to make sure that he doesn't regret supporting you.

Should I approach one of the faculty I know well or are they usually assigned?
Who knows? This hardly ever happens, so there isn't much precedent.

That seems perfectly reasonable considering the use of campus resources (although it is funny to have free use of the same equipment, Professors, and facilities while currently bringing nothing to the table) What is a typical 'cut'?
It varies. For state schools, it's around 50-60%. That is, if you need a million dollars, your grant needs to be $1.5M or $1.6M to leave you the million after the university takes its cut.

On another note...
Where's the 'mentor' badge?!?
I've retired.
 
  • #5
648
18
What you plan to do, what's it going to cost, where the money is going to come from, what you need from the department and the university, and how you are going to make sure that he doesn't regret supporting you.
So the same as with anything else. That last line of advice would have served me well in my early twenties.

Who knows? This hardly ever happens, so there isn't much precedent.
Surprising considering the contribution to research by the private sector and not for profits. That's where the money is.

It varies. For state schools, it's around 50-60%. That is, if you need a million dollars, your grant needs to be $1.5M or $1.6M to leave you the million after the university takes its cut.
Are these cuts typically negotiable?

I've retired.
Congratulations,
and it is nice to see you are still around.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,556
7,448
Everything's negotiable. It's not clear what you have to negotiate with. There's give and take. What do you have to offer?
 
  • #7
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
6,994
291
Surprising considering the contribution to research by the private sector and not for profits. That's where the money is.
That's a very different scenario from what you described. If a multinational company like GE or Boeing wants to fund a university research program, most likely it will be for a fixed term, have some clear objectives, and the university gets some well defined academic benefits apart from the money, e.g. funding for PhD projects for X people over Y years.

That's not the same as an open-ended proposal to try to develop a new product to make lots of money.
 
  • #8
648
18
Everything's negotiable. It's not clear what you have to negotiate with. There's give and take. What do you have to offer?
A chance for students to work on real world problems in their field of study and get paid to do so.

That's a very different scenario from what you described. If a multinational company like GE or Boeing wants to fund a university research program, most likely it will be for a fixed term, have some clear objectives, and the university gets some well defined academic benefits apart from the money, e.g. funding for PhD projects for X people over Y years.

That's not the same as an open-ended proposal to try to develop a new product to make lots of money.
The companies you mention are there for a profit motive as well. The same goes for 'smaller' (strictly by comparison to a multinational) companies. There are businesses with problems that need solved along with University undergrads who would give anything to get into the game and gain real world experience.

Good profitable businesses typically have great adaptability and when shown a better way (e.g. more cost efficient) to do things they will adopt those practices. And as the technicians say, start with the low hanging fruit.

Either way, your point is well heard, I hope that wasn't too much of a tangent.
 
Last edited:
  • #9
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,556
7,448
A chance for students to work on real world problems in their field of study and get paid to do so.
And every other research project can make the same claim, and they are paying the standard indirect rate.

Oh, and once you mentioned paying students the indirect rate just went up.
 
  • #10
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
6,994
291
There are businesses with problems that need solved along with University undergrads who would give anything to get into the game and gain real world experience.
I can only speak from my own experience looking at it from the company's perspective in the UK, but the university research we fund isn't specific "problems we need to be solved" to develop a particular product. The university timescales (minimum 3 years for a PhD) are way too long for that and we don't have day to day control over what they are doing - the academic content of the PhD has to be at arm's length from the sponsor. It's more aimed at medium to long term (5 to 10 years) new technology acquisition than product development.

Of course a smart student will try to maximize the amount of "real world" interaction they can get from the project (including the chance of a job offer at the end of it!) but some students don't seem to have enough common sense to take advantage of those opportunities - they just want to sit in a corner and produce some beautiful but probably useless theory!
 
  • #11
648
18
...Oh, and once you mentioned paying students the indirect rate just went up.
I understand, so something like this instead:

A chance for students to work on real world problems in their field of study[STRIKE] and get paid to do so[/STRIKE].

And every other research project can make the same claim, and they are paying the standard indirect rate.
Okay, what are Universities typically looking for in a proposal? (aside from what we already discussed) I can think of many benefits for the students; the only other requirements are for space and equipment that is currently not being utilized by the University.

It seems 'wording' is also crucial. In other words, what are some things 'not' to say? (like my snafu with 'paying students')

I can only speak from my own experience looking at it from the company's perspective in the UK, but the university research we fund isn't specific "problems we need to be solved" to develop a particular product. The university timescales (minimum 3 years for a PhD) are way too long for that and we don't have day to day control over what they are doing - the academic content of the PhD has to be at arm's length from the sponsor. It's more aimed at medium to long term (5 to 10 years) new technology acquisition than product development.

Of course a smart student will try to maximize the amount of "real world" interaction they can get from the project (including the chance of a job offer at the end of it!) but some students don't seem to have enough common sense to take advantage of those opportunities - they just want to sit in a corner and produce some beautiful but probably useless theory!
This is certainly short term (>1 year).

The hope is to obtain an unused space, retain access to the campus stock rooms, and borrow a few students from varying departments to work directly with the company and the lab. When the project is complete we move out of the space and the students move on to other things (possibly working with the company).

On another note, I have a couple other questions that you two may be able to answer,
When a project is given the go ahead how is the funding disbursed? As in, who on the project controls the funds? The Professor?

Do campuses usually have an 'in house' supplier to the labs? If not are there companies that campus labs are contractually obligated to use? If the answer is "Typically no..." to these questions do Universities generally run on Net 30 payments for supplies or by payment on delivery?

If anyone else has anything to add please do so.
 
Last edited:
  • #12
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
6,994
291
What's in this for the students you plan to "borrow"?

If somebody came to a grad student with the offer "would you like to work on this fun project for a year - oh, by the way, it won't give you credit towards your academic grades and it won't contribute anything to your MSc or PhD" what sort of response are they likely to get?

You might be able to hire a post-doc for a year, I suppose, if they happen to be "in between other projects" and nobody else wants to hire them - but does the fact that nobody else wants them tell you anything about their ability?

There's a thin line between negativity and realism here - personally I call myself a realist :smile:
 
  • #13
648
18
What's in this for the students you plan to "borrow"?

If somebody came to a grad student with the offer "would you like to work on this fun project for a year - oh, by the way, it won't give you credit towards your academic grades and it won't contribute anything to your MSc or PhD" what sort of response are they likely to get?
I would imagine a not so good although an undergrad would do just fine. These are not terribly difficult problems to solve but there is still a need. Our campus has equipment sitting idle, space that is empty, and students (like myself) that would love to work on a real project.

Regardless it seems like this would make for an interesting experience and if the University has little concern for additional funding then we move forward anyway.

There's a thin line between negativity and realism here - personally I call myself a realist :smile:
Hah! Nicely put :)
 

Related Threads on If one acquired private funding how do they approach their University?

Replies
30
Views
4K
Replies
4
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
1K
  • Last Post
Replies
16
Views
2K
Replies
1
Views
1K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
25
Views
3K
Replies
5
Views
1K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
611
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
3K
Top