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Collaboration is an increasingly important part of the innovation process. This guide outlines how to source and identify the right type of partner for a collaborative project and how to ensure that you work effectively together.

In brief

  1. Introduction to collaboration
  2. Role of collaborators
  3. What to look for in your collaborators
  4. Where partners are best suited
  5. Finding the right partner
  6. Collaboration agreements
  7. Getting to know each other

Introduction to collaboration

The most critical aspect of collaboration is to establish a team of individuals with the skills, experience and facilities to make your project a reality. Your project team is a key aspect of the success of your project, with collaborators bringing together valuable advice, differing viewpoints and ideas and wider networks of expertise.

Role of Collaborators

Collaborators provide a number of functions, typically: • Idea/concept/IP providers • Research providers of new knowledge and technology (universities, CROs) • Complementary technology or IP providers (e.g. diagnostic platform) • Technical consultancies (development and design agencies) • Service providers (e.g. packaging, sterilization, regulatory affairs) • Suppliers and product production companies • Market access partner (companies with an existing understanding and position with a market) • Other representative organisations (training bodies, trade associations, interest groups, end-user representatives – e.g. Royal College of Nursing) • Governmental, regional bodies, healthcare service providers, and other associated agencies (e.g. HPA).

What to look for in your collaborators

Collaborating with other organisations presents a number of challenges because collaborators have different motives and influences. The art of project management success is to understand these differences and account for them. The trick is to find ways to ensure the motives of the group are united toward a common goal. The following table is a summary of what to expect.

Type Drivers Watch For...
Ideas people Money, fame, wealth... Lack of focus, lack of detail, misunderstanding of processes (formal design, project costs)
Academics Internal pressures to publish their work and, increasingly, attract funding Focus on research with little or no focus on product requirements, project plans, or commercial realities
Companies Making money Overt self interest and sharp business practice
Government and associated agencies Politics, internal bureaucracy, and due process Focus on due process, documentation and policy objectives
Associations and other groups Members, their revenues, and internal metrics Time wasting and talking shop

One of the best ways to assess potential partners is to look at their track record and appropriate experience. If they can’t demonstrate this to you, it is worth reconsidering them as potential collaborators.

Where partners are best suited

The following table aims to provide some general guidance on who goes where in a project. Partners can perform different roles within the supply chain for the new technology/product. Partner type on the horizontal axis, partner role on the vertical axis: There are a number of organisations providing business support services to the Medical and Healthcare sector. These organisations provide access to directories which can be used to conduct searches for potential partners and collaborators.

Researchers Consultants Production Partners Suppliers/Service Providers Companies in the market sector
Research Yes Yes No Maybe Maybe
Technical – Prototyping Yes Yes Maybe Maybe No
Technical – Development Yes Yes Maybe Yes Yes
Production No No Yes Yes Yes
Regulatory No Yes Yes No Yes
Market Knowledge No Maybe No No Yes
Market Access No No No No Yes

Finding the right partner

Finding the right partner can be challenging, but there are useful sources of information, including:

  • Online databases and directories (Trade associations and networks ) – see the references below
  • Trade fairs
  • Scientific and clinical conferences
  • Direct approach to your target partner
  • Collaboration Agreements

    You should support your collaboration with a written agreement to provide clarity and give boundaries to the working relationship. These agreements can take many forms: • Preliminary agreements (e.g. via email or verbal communication) • Starting agreements (e.g. confidentiality agreements, heads of agreements, or memorandums of understanding) • Formal partnership agreements (e.g. supplier agreements and consortium agreements)

    Useful online resources include the Lambert Toolkit, with tools for universities and companies, see http://www.ipo.gov.uk/lambert. You can also find good online contract suppliers such as Contract Store Contract Store or access formal legal support.

    Getting to know each other

    Arguably, the most important aspect of collaboration is good, clear, friendly working relationships, so it is important to: • Visit your partners, get to know them, and their objectives/drivers • Maintain the relationship, take the time to keep in touch – having a chat, drink, or meal with a collaborator helps to build the relationship and develop trust • Keep communication clear and direct – if there are issues to address, keep them out in the open and discuss them in a clear and direct way.


    There are a number of organisations providing business support services to the Medical and Healthcare sector. These organisations provide access to directories which can be used to conduct searches for potential partners and collaborators.

    The Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI) http://www.abhi.org.uk
    Medilink UK http://www.medilinkuk.com
    South East Health Technologies Alliance (SEHTA) http://www.sehta.co.uk
    HealthTech and Medicines KTN https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/healthktn