Partners in research

Why should companies turn to Vlerick for research? “The short answer? Because we’re close to business and we’re flexible,” says Professor Filip Roodhooft, Research Director at Vlerick. But he warns that research for business is not just about patronage or ad hoc contract research. He and research coordinator Nele Costers explain what they’re trying to achieve and how they go about it.

Rigorous and relevant

Filip: “Rigorous and relevant research lies at the heart of our identity as a business school. Using proper scientific methods, we aim to develop practically useful knowledge and deliver relevant results for all stakeholders involved.”

The School’s portfolio in this area can be broadly divided into three categories: academic research, research for pedagogical innovation and research for business , depending on the main stakeholder. The first typically leads to publications in academic journals, and is especially important for international accreditation and attracting talented researchers and faculty. The development of case studies, simulation games and other tools is the result of research for pedagogical innovation. The third type of research, for and in collaboration with companies, represents the biggest share of the research budget.

Spillovers and impact 

As Nele explains, these different categories are by no means isolated. On the contrary, there are important spillovers between them. “Research for business is not only relevant for the company in question, but can result in a PhD, publications in academic journals or the development of pedagogical tools.”

“Above all, we want to have an impact,” says Filip. “What’s important is the quality not the quantity of our research. We’d prefer fewer excellent research projects but with real impact on the business world and in academic and pedagogical circles.” Smiling, he adds: “There’s nothing more satisfying than one of our business cases being used by other business schools, or our articles being cited in other publications.”

Focus

With its research strategy, the School tries to marry academic freedom with research themes that fit with its business strategy. Nele: “We therefore focus on specific sectors or industries, what we call ‘verticals’ in our jargon. Nowadays, these are financial services, retail and consumer goods, health care and small and medium-sized companies.” 

Depending on the topic or subject matter, research is organised in monodisciplinary Centres for Excellence and multidisciplinary Research Platforms. Five Centres for Excellence undertake research in the areas of business process management, career management, people performance, strategic rewards and supply chain management. Filip: “We’ve developed specific expertise in these areas, and we want to nurture that. While Centres of Excellence are confined to well-defined fields of research involving faculty from a specific discipline, Research Platforms provide the opportunity to develop new ideas and concepts in management domains that require a multidisciplinary approach, such as innovation management, entrepreneurship, performance & risk management, and responsible management and business. These are areas that we believe are or will become increasingly important.”

More than research

Filip: “Research for business is about matching our expertise to the demands of the market and is undertaken within the broader context of partnerships with companies, which provide the necessary funding. But it’s not about patronage by a company playing Maecenas; nor is it about contract research where we’re simply being paid to carry out an ad hoc piece of research, without any involvement from the company itself.”

What’s it about then? “We set up collaborations with companies that share our vision and want to invest in a long-term relationship. Within these partnerships, we then formulate a joint research agenda, matching the interests of both the School and the partner company,” Nele explains. “So it’s about co-creation, to use a buzz word. If the company isn’t actively involved in the research, then it’s at least acting as a sounding board.”

Long-term partnerships

Vlerick offers different forms of partnerships, the two most important being a Chair and a Prime Foundation Partnership. Why might a company prefer one to the other? Filip: “It all depends on the desired level of flexibility and the period of commitment. Also, a research Chair is the more internationally recognised format.
“The concept of a Chair is based on a one-to-one relationship between one of our professors and the sponsoring company. It’s set up to carry out research in a specific though broad area of expertise, for a period of at least five years. The research agenda is quite flexible and is developed along the way.” The School currently has nine chairs, which, except for the joint chair on “Doing business in Europe – the legal context”, are named after their sponsoring company.

Prime Foundation Partners make a three-year commitment, with the research topic and detailed research agenda being fixed at the start. These partnerships typically fit into an existing Centre for Excellence or Research Platform. 

Win-win 

The advantages for partner companies are considerable. Obviously, they get niche exclusivity. And not only do they get access to the School’s research output and publications, they also enjoy significant visibility and networking opportunities. 

For Vlerick, the importance can hardly be overestimated. Research for business generates spillovers to other categories of research, but also to the rest of the School’s business activities, such as company-specific programmes. 

Filip sums it up in a nutshell: “The beauty of research for business is that it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

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