Interview with the 2018 THA Early Career Researcher Award Winner

Personal Networks and Trust in Public-Private R&D Projects: A Case Study from Spain

Interview with the Author

BSc in Industrial Engineering – MSc in Business Economics
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Year THC attended: 2018 (Manchester, UK)



Summary of Research for Abstract Submitted

R&D public-private partnerships (PPPs), where the public side is represented by universities, and the private side is represented by firms, are determined by both individual and institutional factors.  Such partnerships can be driven by individual and informal factors like personal networks and trust, and are backed up institutionally when formalized.  These university-firm collaborations, as a specific shape of PPPs, are expected to enhance the development of products and processes in firms, which leads to better corporate performance, and should generate benefits on regional development through economic growth and knowledge dissemination.

This study explores the university-firm collaboration phenomenon as a PPP, and considers the case of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and its partnership with Henkel, a German chemicals company, which R&D activities in Spain are based on an open innovation strategy.  Using in-depth interviews of the collaborating parts, data of UAB-Henkel historical agreements and other public sources, this paper studies the role of personal networks and trust in R&D PPPs and how these partnerships have positive impacts on firms, universities and regions, as reflected in the case of UAB and Henkel.

Results show that this collaboration has impacted positively both on the university, enhancing its involvement with industry and its collaborative research activities, and on the firm, allowing the development of new products and technologies that have strengthened its performance.  This interaction, which formally started in 2010 with the placement of Henkel R&D facilities in UAB Research Park in 2010, has generated positive impacts recognised by both the company and the university.  However, the impact of UAB-Henkel partnership on regional development is still in process and remains unclear; nevertheless, this case serves as a pathfinder for future research agreements among universities and firms in Barcelona region and beyond.

Keywords:  R&D Public-Private Partnerships, University-Firm Collaboration; Personal Networks; Trust; Open Innovation; Case Study.

* Paper abstract submitted to THC 2018.


Sergio Manrique


How has award impacted your career?

The ECR Best Paper Award I was granted at THC 2018 in Manchester firstly improved the visibility of my work as it increased the interest of academics attending/following the conference in the work I am doing as well as in the work of my research network (RUNIN Project). Consequently, the award was somehow a good outreach tool for my research work. Secondly, the award allowed me to join the Triple Helix Association as an individual member, which supposed the possibility of strengthening my research network and accessing useful resources and contents at THA website. Finally, I also had the chance of contributing to Hélice, THA magazine, with an interview in which I could discuss some additional details related to the paper I presented at the conference and which possibly helped me to gain some additional exposure.


Would you recommend PhD and Post Students to submit abstracts for THC2019, particularly for consideration for ECR Best Paper Award? Why?

Yes, I would, because I think it is a good opportunity firstly to test students’ work, putting it under the consideration of experienced and recognised academics, and secondly to bring more attention and exposure to their research. PhD students produce good research that many times remain unnoticed, and this kind of awards/recognitions is a way to identify and expose students’ good research work. As a PhD student, there can be many doubts and self-distrust which can result in unexploited opportunities. In this sense, THC 2019 and particularly the ECR Best Paper Award are tools for students to become more aware about the usefulness and value of their work besides the more obvious benefits related to dissemination and outreach of research.


Did attending the THC create collaboration/further research opportunities? What do you feel you gained from THC/THA?

Attending the THC 2018 was a good opportunity to interact with other academics doing research in similar topics as well as with some non-academic actors participating in TH initiatives. The feedback and comments I received during my presentation were very useful and helped me to improve my paper. Apart from being able to disseminate/divulgate my research work and improve my research network, what I mainly gained from THC/THA was exposure and confidence.


Description of current research

My PhD thesis aims at assessing the impact of university-firm collaboration on firm performance and regional development. More specifically, I am currently working on a paper in which I analyse the impact of collaboration with university on firms’ innovation-related financial performance.



Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515


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