School Ties

Cut R&D costs--send your products to college.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the April 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Frustrated by the high costs of ? Consider a collaborative effort with a nearby college or university. It can save you money while you take advantage of state-of-the-art facilities.

Keith Baumm, 30, president of Advanced Composite , a company in Van Buren, Maine, that manufactures composite racing bicycles, uses an R&D alliance between his company and the University of Maine to refine prototypes and develop cutting-edge products. "Obviously, a company of our size [with $500,000 in annual sales] doesn't have the R&D facilities that U-Maine offers," says Baumm.

Advanced Composite Engineering builds prototypes and the university does the testing and analysis. Baumm uses the information for his company, and the school applies it to other areas, creating a win-win situation for both entities.

To forge a similar alliance for your own company, Baumm advises beginning with a clear picture of your goals and the benefits you can offer researchers. Look for institutions doing research in your field, and network until you find a decision-maker. Then present him or her with a concise but thorough plan. "Make them aware of both your intentions and the net benefit to them," Baumm says, adding that while the process sounds tough, a well-packaged presentation can make it easy. When researchers see the benefits you offer them, they'll likely be eager to work with you.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago to write from her Winter Park, Florida, home.

Fair Warning

Providing references for violent employees.

A former employee displayed violent tendencies--or outright violent behavior--on the job. Now other companies are calling you to provide a reference. What do you do?

It's a precarious situation, says Michael D. Karpeles, a partner and head of the employment law group with Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd. in Chicago. Tell, and you risk a defamation suit; don't tell, and you risk being held liable if someone gets hurt.

Karpeles suggests an all-or-nothing approach. Either give minimal information, (name, dates of employment, positions held and perhaps salary, but nothing else) or tell everything. If you take the latter route, protect yourself by having employees sign a release authorizing you to disclose information either when they leave your company or when you're asked for a reference.

Don't try to take a middle ground, Karpeles cautions. For example, you can't say an employee was punctual but leave out the fact that he assaulted other employees on the job. "If you give just the bare bones information, you're not going to get into trouble," Karpeles says. "But if you start providing some evaluative information, you need to include information about the dangerous tendencies of the former employee."

In The Spotlight

Managing negative publicity.

It's not fair, but it's true: Perception of your company can hinge on a single incident. And it doesn't matter what else you've done, says Michael L. Herman, president of Epley Associates Inc., a public relations firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here's how to turn a negative situation to your favor:

  • Think before you speak. Be sure you understand the situation, as well as any other related aspects of your company, before you speak publicly, advises Herman.
  • Provide a frame of reference. "Remember, [people] don't know what you know about your company," Herman says.
  • Don't try to hide. Be honest about what happened, why it happened and what you're doing about it.
  • Get some training in dealing with the media. Your spokesperson needs to look and sound as professional as your best marketing materials, Herman says. Designate and train him or her before any crisis occurs.

Contact Sources

Advanced Composite , (207) 868-9771,

Epley Associates Inc., (704) 442-9100,

Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd., (312) 201-3910, fax: (312) 332-2196


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