Working With Industry

What is Essential

While industry sponsors are an important source of funding for research at MIT, there are a number of things that MIT researchers must keep in mind when seeking funding and developing a project with a for-profit sponsor. Companies should be looking to fund research at MIT that:

  • is ambitious and highly challenging, with potential for important and long-term impact;
  • advances the frontiers of present knowledge;
  • is complex, which may require multi-disciplinary teams;
  • is uncertain in its outcomes, yielding unexpected results that require flexible management; and
  • generates value for both the company and MIT.

Identification of Funding Opportunities

Unlike government and foundation sponsors, companies rarely have open solicitations.  In order to obtain funding from an industrial sponsor, Principal Investigators need to develop their personal networks. 

  • Your departmental colleagues can be helpful in introducing you to certain industries.  It is often through former graduate students or post-docs now working in a company that collaborations are formed.
  • Meeting company representatives at conferences can lead to follow-on research activities. 
  • Becoming visible through presentations, serving on review committees and otherwise engaging with the broader scientific community can help lead to new opportunities. 
  • MIT Corporate Relations aids and directs companies interested in multidisciplinary involvement with MIT.  The Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) [] connects MIT faculty to companies and regional governmental organizations across the globe.

When developing a relationship with an industry sponsor, it is important to communicate that MIT is not a contract research organization but conducts research to discover new knowledge and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. 

Writing a Proposal for Industry

Developing a proposal for industry support is very different from writing a proposal for a government sponsor.  While the writing should still be clear and crisp, the actual content and organization is different. With respect to budgets, industry sponsors differ on how much detail they require; however, you should prepare a budget similar to any other grant proposal and include a standard justification for that budget. With regard to the proposal content, important questions to address are:

  • What is the general purpose of the research?  Provide a one-paragraph, non-technical summary to help OSP understand the purpose and goals of the research, and the benefit to MIT and society at large.
  • Will this research involve collaborations with the sponsor?  That is, will the sponsor be actively conducting research and generating data that you will use as a part of this project?  If yes, draft the scope of work so that it clearly demonstrates what activities your lab will do and what activities the sponsor will carry out. This can be done by simply stating who will conduct which tasks or research activities within the scope of work or it can be organized to separate out each party’s activities.
  • Will any employees from the sponsor be conducting research in your lab as a part of this research? 
  • Will you or any of your students/post-docs be conducting research at any of the sponsor’s facilities? 
  • Will you be developing software as a part of this project?    
  • Regarding materials (compounds, antibodies, cell lines, tissues, semi-conductor chips, etc.):
    • Will you be obtaining any materials from the sponsor to conduct the research?  If yes, you should clearly identify the material in the proposal. 
    • Will you be providing any materials to the sponsor that you develop in the course of the research?  If yes, you should clearly identify the material in the proposal.  
  • Regarding datasets (a collection of related sets of information that is composed of separate elements but can be manipulated as a unit) 
    • Will you be obtaining any datasets from the sponsor to conduct the research? If yes, then please provide additional information about that dataset, including an accurate description of the data. 
    • Will you be obtaining any datasets from a third party in order to conduct the research?  If yes, then please provide additional information about the dataset, including the description of the data and the name of the provider. If you have a Data Use Agreement that was signed in order to obtain the data, please provide that when you submit the proposal. 
    • Will you be providing any datasets to the sponsor that you develop in the course of the research?  If so, provide a description of that data. 
  • Do you anticipate developing any patentable inventions as a part of this project? 

Some companies will want to draft/direct the entire scope of work. This is not acceptable to MIT.  The Scope of Work should be written from the perspective of what the Principal Investigator intends to do, what questions are to be addressed, and what outcomes may be anticipated (not promised). You should generally try to stay away from promising specific deliverables as research is an inherently unpredictable activity. The more specific you can make the scope of work/work plan, the better – general, non-specific activities should be avoided. 

For more information see the Industrial Agreements page of the OSP website.