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Corporate-University entrepreneurship success story – the 5 key ingredients

Friday 07 Aug 20
by Thomas J Howard

From running the DTU X-Tech programme over that last 10 years, I have gained some great insights into what does/does not work when it comes to Corporate-University entrepreneurship collaboration. Despite the issues surrounding COVID19, in the spring of 2020, I had the best experience so far, when Grundfos sponsored at Water-Tech Track under DTU X-Tech.

This collaboration lead to Grundfos acquiring one of the cases and offering employment contracts to all of the team members to incubate under Grundfos’ new Future Lab.  Not bad progress considering the project did not exist and the team members had not even met each other before the start of February 2020! 

Before going into the 5 ingredients that made the collaboration flourish, a quick introduction to DTU X-Tech: Companies submit cases. DTU X-Tech then recruits DTU masters students from the right programmes to fulfil the technical demands of the case. We add in a business student from CBS and an industry mentor to aid the business execution.

The DTU X-Tech Programme

The DTU X-Tech Programme

In the Grundfos case, they sponsored a full track themed “Water”. This meant 5 cases supervised by a leadership team from relevant departments (DTU Environment, DTU Entrepreneurship) as well as Grundfos. Each case was framed in a manner to contribute to Grundfos’ mission to bring 300 mill extra people into clean drinking water by 2030.

5 reasons the Grundfos-DTU X-Tech partnership worked:

1. The right company entry point

While recruitment, brand exposure and university collaboration are always valuable for corporates; these must be considered as mere bonuses. You have to focus on “inside-out” (spinning-out new technology/business) or “outside-in” (acquiring new technology and business). Grundfos entered DTU X-Tech from their Future Options unit. This is a group explicitly looking for possible future acquisitions and interesting technologies that can be bought into their portfolio (outside-in). This meant we had interest in getting the best possible results from cases on all sides of the table taking the outputs seriously and in detail!

2. Startup mindset of incentivization

"Grundfos were not only flexible & fair with the teams they were acquiring, (...) , but also offered support and mentorship for the cases that they would not acquire."

Grundfos took the viewpoint on all cases: “If we want to continue to play we get the opportunity, but if we no longer want to play, then they won’t obstruct or demand anything”. The contracts were well formed to ensure that all involved in the case were incentivized and those continuing to commit after the end of the project would have ownership or financial compensation. A deadline (1 month) after the end of the programme for no/go worked very well.

Furthermore, Grundfos were not only flexible & fair with the teams they were acquiring, stating their studies were paramount importance, but also offered support and mentorship for the cases that they would not acquire. A great display of long term thinking.

3. Leadership team

Dedicated members of staff on both the university side and the corporate side made for smooth collaboration. The water track had an appointed track leader at DTU, responsible for engaging with water related scientists and business developers from DTU Environment. The track leader was the main point of contact with the corporate. On the corporate side there were 2 people mainly involved – one on the weekly management and the other more senior to make the final decisions on no/go.

4. Not impulsive but consistent

A lot can happen in 15 weeks and a lot can change! Having supervised hundreds of DTU X-Tech projects it is clear that you can never write-off a team or cash them in until at least week 10. In the Water track spring 2020, there was a clear front running team who came out more organized and ahead of the others within early weeks. While it was tempting to put additional focus on that team, we maintained fairness and each spread of support and interest to all teams. This paid dividends in the end as the 2 of the 5 teams being considered for acquisition were not the early front runners!

5. Regular points of contact

Last but certainly not least. In DTU X-Tech we state that: “If you have gone for more than two weeks without a meeting with your project team, don’t expect them to be aligned with your goals next time you meet them and don’t expect them to want to re-align!”

Grundfos were in to meet their 5 teams every other week, spending intense time with them to convey valuable technical/business information and to firmly critique the teams and their proposed directions. The key is to treat the students and teams like serious startup companies and expect more from them – this is where the real learning and performance comes from.

AQshare (the company being aquired):

Please reach out to us if you want to find out more about the DTU X-Tech programme:

Danny Grydholt
Thomas J. Howard

DTU X-Tech Programme