Voices from Experts Voices from Experts: Christian Lechner

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In conversation with Engagement Readiness Monitor partners, Christian Lechner offered his insights on university-business cooperation and contributed his valuable knowledge on the topic.

photo of Christian Lechner.

Christian Lechner is Professor of Entrepreneurship at LUISS’ Department of Business and Management and at Luiss Business School. Previously he held faculty positions at Toulouse Business School and at the Free University of Bolzano. In both the universities, he was involved in developing the university entrepreneurial activities, served investment boards, and coached several startups. He launched and directed the Toulouse’s Master Programs in Entrepreneurship and the Bolzano’s PhD in Economics and Management. Furthermore, he developed the Incubator of Toulouse Business School and the Bolzano’s Research Cluster in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. His research focuses on entrepreneurship and growth, entrepreneurial teams, heuristics, outliers and the interface between organizational design and performance.

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What is the main difficulty that businesses and universities face when collaborating?

Universities and businesses do not know each other enough. This lack of mutual knowledge deeply affects their relationship. University needs time to understand the business world, while companies need time to generate and acknowledge the value of collaboration.

University and business have different motivations, needs and goals. The university’s primary driver is to apply theory (and the value generated by the research) to the real world. For businesses, the primary motivator is to stay up to date on new patents and new knowledge. Their goals reflect it: businesses are interested in the know-how, while researchers are interested in the know-why. Looking from the education perspective, Universities usually teach theory with a long-term perspective. When students engage with business, they need more short-term knowledge, especially in those fields that quickly change according to technological and scientific progress.

Engagement often fails due to communication problems when universities and businesses are not fully aware of each other approaches. A key factor that can help universities and companies understand each other is the facilitator’s figure, who negotiates and mediates between their different needs.


What makes an engagement successful?

Engagement readiness exists when there is mutual curiosity. For successful engagement, both businesses and universities have to lack self-esteem. Their motivation has to base itself on the awareness of their limits and their need to collaborate with others to bypass them. They have to be humble enough to accept others’ points of view.

To be ready, universities and businesses need to share their experiences and define a shared knowledge, creating opportunities to get in touch. They have to be close and affine. Establishing goodwill relationships is crucial: collaborations often end too soon, and universities and businesses lose opportunities to explore new subjects. A good strategy is to organize workshops and shared spaces where students, professors, researchers, staff, and companies can know each other.

The existence of culture for cooperation is crucial. It has to be built starting from PhD programs, involving students and not just academics to be successful.


How much is important the environment for engagement readiness?

Big and old universities’ collaborations start through networking, already established relationships and companies attracted by their reputation. Other universities start collaborating through personal relationships. For this reason, it is crucial building a network that facilitates meetings between researchers and companies.

A resource that is important to consider is the local reality in which the university is present. The university’s dimension and the city and region in which it lies deeply affect the opportunity that the university itself has to engage with businesses. Universities located in big cities with large, well-established industrial areas could easily raise funds from big companies and collaborate with several businesses. Instead, other universities are in cities where there are not enough possible partners in their proximity. Thus, it is more difficult to obtain funds and find a business to collaborate with. They have to look farther away, increasing the possible communication problems and the cultural and physical distance between their potential partners. Their opportunities to collaborate decrease, undermining the value that cooperation generates.



Blog editors: Alexandra Zinovyeva (UIIN) and Fleur Schellekens (UIIN)


Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash

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