5 ways to set up partnerships with universities

Universities are a great source of talent. The students can be both potential applicants for an incubator/accelerator program, but also employees of your portfolio companies. Either way, a good community to tap into. On top of this universities are always looking for ways to make the education connected to the real world of startups. Sounds like a match made in heaven: win-win-win. How to make this happen in reality? Based on experience working with universities through various accelerator programs, here are 5 ways to set up partnerships with universities. Usually we have bundled these activities together into a “University Partner Program” making the partnership even stronger and official.

1. Share your mentors to give lectures at the unis

Universities run programs accredited by the government, so they are by design not easy or fast to change to the needs of the industry. This makes the main part of the study program quite static and theoretical. Forward-looking universities are always trying to find ways to spice up their program with guest lectures or other formats of involving entrepreneurs and specialists. Incubators and accelerators have exactly those specialists at hand. Sharing mentors with universities makes it easy for them to get access to the latest on the market. The mentors can add practical aspects to the theoretical studies. And more importantly the students can meet and learn from their role models. Sharing just one mentor for a lecture every month will already be a great start.

2. Ask students to come test your startups’ products/services

For accelerators that have B2C products or content like gaming, students can be valuable test subjects. Ask students to come test your startups’ products/services and give feedback on specific points. We have first had a quick lecture about the accelerator and how to get into the startup scene to inspire and give content. This is then followed by a testing session, where all teams have set up their stations and students move from one to the other. The more specific the things to be tested, the more useful this experiment. Teams can test anything from logos or slogans to onboarding or app mechanics. Feedback processing is key here, so some teams were videotaping the whole process while others got feedback on paper. Doing this every few weeks allows the startups to have access to a constant flow of feedback, so not just useful for students!

3. Offer internship opportunities for students

A part of any university program is internship. Students have to find internship opportunities at startups or corporates depending on their field of studies. So why not offer them an opportunity at an accelerator/incubator? They will get to know a number of startups and also have a glimpse into the accelerator structure. Generalist interns can help set up programs, schedule or manage the training sessions or do research. Students with specific skills, like marketing, programming or similar can rotate between teams and get tasks from different startups. Another option is to assign a few interns to each team specifically depending what they are working on at that moment. This can be organised as a part of the general co-operation with the university or alternatively just through an open call for applications to the position. 

4. Make introductions to your corporate partners

Universities are looking to work with corporates and accelerators often have good access to them through their mentors. Making introductions to your corporate partners may help them build relationships and start co-operation. Corporates often have partnership programmes for startups and accelerators, but also universities. We have also seen regular lecture sessions being set up as a result of some of our introductions. Being a connector is a central role of any accelerator. 

5. Involve them in your events

Open up some of your events to the students from the partner universities. This may include one training session, mentor lecture or webinar per week or month depending on your schedule. Since the sessions are taking place for the startups either way, it requires no extra effort besides emailing the university contact. Going a step further from here, some events may also be open to the larger community you have around the accelerator. This is something that is voluntary, nevertheless a lot of added value to the students who find it relevant to their future career aspirations. Never know, you might even find some interesting future founders among these participating. 

Universities can be very useful partners, so finding ways to include them in the process is important. These were the 5 ways to set up partnerships with universities that have worked in the past. As a result, the community is stronger in the specific country/region. If the accelerator accepts international startups, even better- the community gets an international outlet and the learnings are on a different level.