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How to stay at the forefront of the innovative development in a competitive industrial market with modest research capabilities? This question chases many businesses executives worldwide, yet, rarely finds satisfactory answers. The Kolektor Group, based in Slovenia is one of those organisations who indeed has discovered the key to success despite limited resources. The organisation has established a perfect balance by integrating a multi-functional university-business cooperation (UBC) in its strategic plan and building strong ties with the local knowledge producers, as the two higher education institutions of University of Ljubljana and University of Maribor.
Back in the 70s, The Kolektor Group was a young and ambitious engineering enterprise that soon enough discovered its own insufficiency in the development of new cutting-edge products. This realization first resulted in creation of a joint venture with a German company to overcome the technological challenges, but appeared to be inadequate to raise the level of research activities for innovation. The need for external scientific cooperation to obtain and utilize new knowledge incited the Kolektor Group to establish university partnerships with the two largest Slovenian universities in Ljubljana and Maribor. These UBC activities helped the Kolektor Group gradually embed open innovation in its organizational identity, which in the long term guided its transformation into an international knowledge-based company over the years.
A hub for knowledge and practice exchange
Unlike many widespread examples of fragmented cooperation practices between companies and HEIs, the Kolektor Group organizes its UBC in a well-structured way. The cooperation mainly evolves around research, education and human resources development. The Group has a modest team of R&D personnel who collaborate with university researchers from faculties of mechanical and electrical engineering, and manage the technology transfer.
The education process at both faculties benefits from close relationship with the industry in practical terms. The company involves university students into activities that include e.g. mentorship programmes, internships, cooperation in bachelor and master thesis projects, and professional excursions abroad. The Group offers a special scholarship scheme, where the student grantees are often employed at the organisation for a limited time and have a chance to secure a full-time position after graduation. With these initiatives, the students gain hands-on experience and enhance their practical understanding of the real life industrial challenges. Besides, in the light of its 50th anniversary, the company has launched the international competition for master students “Driving the Knowledge” to encourage innovative approaches to the industrial challenges in the core areas of the company.
Additionally, the Kolektor Group actively promotes the knowledge exchange among the university researchers and its practitioners. Weekly ‘Friday Lectures’ offered for employees feature the university professors giving the talks on various formats and topics that range from personal development workshops to the presentation of recent research findings. Besides being a lifelong learning initiative, Friday Lectures has become a platform for idea exchange for new joint research projects. These examples show the Kolektor Group values its social capital, thus it regularly encourages the opportunities for communication between the staff of both organizations.
UBC beyond tangible gains
The evidence shows that that the potential of well-coordinated UBC is far beyond better technology acquisition. The cooperation is also valuable for the student and the wider community in addition to the results of direct technological solutions in a form of novel products, licenses and patents. Students multiply their career opportunities through better practical education and exposure to real-life industrial situations. The academics diversify their research experience and benefit from additional resources for conducting cutting-edge research. The employees of The Kolektor Group complement their practical expertise with the input from academia, while better understanding the theoretical underpinnings of the latest research outputs.
To learn more about the Kolektor Group and its approach to UBC, please access full case study here
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