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Taking your Ideas Beyond

5 important tips to establish your academic program

When I was 7 years old, I started primary school in Geneva, Switzerland and, each pupil received a Waterman fountain pen to learn to write (penmanship skills). A bunch of years later, I got married and was surprised to be handed the exact same model of fountain pen for my wife and I to sign the wedding documents at the town hall. As of today, one of my favorite fountain pens are of the Waterman brand, offered by my wife in addition to one given to me by my first employer as thank you gift when I left the company.

This example shows how academic and university programs are known for bringing businesses into the future and creating a long term sustainable environment that extends the lifecycle their products. This attractive go-to-market strategy applies to many markets where design and creativity are of the essence (design, art, fashion, design automation and high-tech development).

Creating your own academic program is well worth the effort: here are 5 important steps you need to take for making it a success.

Academic vs. University Program
The reason I have chosen not to limit this article to a university program is because there is a greater value to touch the early years of education rather than focusing on the last 2 semesters of the Bachelor program.
Let’s elaborate: the best minds are at work in the early ages as they are curious by nature and have no pre-conceived ideas about creativity. In addition, this is where discovery and passion builds up into the mind of the young child. STEM and maker programs are all about driving early curiosity and innovation while using simplified and more accessible tools than the ones you might have for trained professionals.
It is also where branding has a greater influence on the students, educators and the parents.
When looking at the university population of students, the most talented are usually already captured (or branded) by your competitors in the early stages of education (they most likely have STEM and innovation programs) and the choice of influenceable students is limited.
For this reason, academic programs are stronger and better suited than solely creating university programs.
On the flip side of the coin, this approach also requires for any company that is trained in providing professionals with tools and technology, to have a parallel suite of simpler products to reach out to young talents and gradually bring them into the “full-blown” tools, at their own pace. It also drives the business to understand the core values of its product and of the enablement tools developed to address the market.
Become a innovation centric company
A culture of innovation and creativity always transpires on the outside as a joyful window for innovators to work with you. It helps to address the changes of generations and how to influence their choice of tools, technology and behaviour (

  • Generation X has been used to cope with a mix of authenticity, tradition and innovation like no other generation before, illustrated with the era in the late 20th century.
  • Generation Y (also called Milleniums) is the one that is merging design with technology into start-ups, they are less brand loyal and are more on the search for the best deals.
  • Generation Z (the one at high school and university now) will revolutionise how we use everyday’s garments, transportation (not just cars), robotics and digital assistants. They are the one that are developing the next generation of consumer, industrial and scientific products that will be used during the next 20 years.

Unless your company has a soul for innovation with a passion for sharing technology, you will have a hard time getting accepted by the next generations of users and customers.
It is an investment, not an expense
I want to demystify, right off the bat, the discussion about return on investment for such program: it does not take 3-5 years to show.

The “old” saying that you have to wait for students to be done with school and be employed to start showing any return is just not valid any longer. Unless your focus is essentially recruitment, this argument is usually the one used to dissuade the investment into the future generations of users and customers, focusing instead on the next quarter’s business for short term revenue.

With the happening of social media, blogging and Maker Faires, students document their work in many more ways to help you benefit quickly from your investment and promote your brand as a leading player for the future. They leverage the Open Source approach and provide the strongest public content to the World (from the out of the box experience to how to apply AI to robotics).
As we say that content is king, a well developed and managed program starts bringing valuable content within 6 months of its launch. To be also considered is the fact that the new generations are always full of creative surprises, including using your product in areas that you might not have though about, with the benefit of opening new market segments to be pursued for business development purposes.

Keep in mind, however, that this investment also requires steadiness and long term vision. Educators and professors are not interested into short term, in-and-out, businesses that think that any excess product can be “dumped” into academia for a quick advertising campaign.
I usually recommend to my clients that such a program must be part of the long-term go-to-market strategy for a period of 3-5 years minimum.
Make it Live
Like any product lifecycle, an academic program has to evolve with your product innovation and live alongside the growth of your business. Furthermore, the fact that young generations are more and more into a “WOW” mode, their adoption of the newest technology or product is a fast-paced endeavour.
In fact, I’d be bold enough to say that your innovation pace must not be dictated by your product development team but rather by the pace of the innovators that shape the world each day.
For this reason, the life of your program and its lifecycle must be adapted to the industry you touch and in alignment with the educators and professors supporting the students in that segment.
As the academic program field tends to be quite competitive, educators and professors have choices, also wanting to be at the edge of new developments. Although academia is not a fast moving segment and programs will stay active for 2-3 years, I encourage you to bring new overlapping educational initiatives on a regular basis to help create loyalty to your brand and build solid, long-term relationships with all layers of the education world.
Focus on relationships
An academia program is to be treated all the same as your distribution channel or any business partnerships you might have: you are part of their ecosystem and they are part of yours. This means that relationship management and accountability on the long-term is critical to the success of your program. Anything less and you are at risk to have to scrap the program anytime there is a budget crunch or a difficult question from your investors.
This also means that you need to have an experienced person to manage the program, a face and a name that educators and professors can call when in doubt or need for assistance.
At the beginning, this might sound difficult as only a limited number of individuals have access to a network of universities, professors and educators. I have seen that companies tend to think that academic program management is a side job, added to someones other responsibilities, like being a brand advocate at the local university. Sorry to disappoint by saying that this is not an academic program; it is an attempt to have a limited relationship with a few professors and/or the educational institutional management team
The investment into an external experienced consultant is probably your best choice for a quick start into this avenue.

You need to have a genuine appetite for running an academic program as many will tell you that it is expensive and that it will take time to bring money back.
I disagree with this notion if you are committed in making it work and align your corporate strategy to leverage the strengths of academia, beyond talent recruitment for your own needs. The winning companies of this world are the good citizen that support tomorrow’s talent and their future customer base. Are you one of them?

About the writer: Flavio Stiffan is a business development specialist with focus on creating market expansion strategies supported by academia programs. He has implemented and managed alliance networks and is at the core of academia relationship management with a network of over 130 universities and 300 technology companies and distributors. For more articles, visit or check out his profile on LinkedIn.

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