By: Linnea Nelson
All companies look to universities for the training and expertise of their future workforce. Yet, many companies, like Premex, a Colombia-headquartered company that specializes in solutions to help their customers to produce “more protein, of a better quality at a lower cost,” and animal nutrition through feed additives, have discovered that relationships with universities can yield much more than access to future staff members. Cultivating a relationship with a university over a period of years can yield philanthropic opportunities, innovative research projects, skilled employees and innovative products.
However, mutually beneficial relationships between a university and a company can be difficult to build and maintain. Both parties must invest resources, time and capital while cultivating trust through consistent communication and positive interactions. Both parties must continue to court each other by finding shared endeavors to pursue, discussing plans for the future and celebrating joint successes.
Premex Establishes Innovation Lab in Durham
Premex, as it expands in the global market, recently established a U.S. base of operations, Premex Innovation Labs, in Durham, N.C. This decision brought Premex Innovation Labs into the heart of Research Triangle Park and placed the company in close proximity to NC State University in Raleigh.
Paula Barngrover, development and innovation director for Premex Innovation Labs, sees the relationship with NC State as a big part of the decision to choose North Carolina as the location for the U.S. headquarters.
“Our focus is on animal nutrition and protein production technologies, and the strong university for those areas is NC State. The university made it easy to interact, and we had good conversations with different faculty members with interesting research approaches,” Barngrover explains.
Our focus is on animal nutrition and protein production technologies. The strong university for those areas is NC State.
Barngrover also sees being a part of Research Triangle Park as the best pathway toward involvement in new agriculture and animal science technologies that will ultimately bring nourishment, through high-quality protein, to more people across the globe at more affordable prices. “If there is any ecosystem that can do it, it is this one, Research Triangle Park,” she states.
Jose Cisneros, international programs director for NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, agrees.
“This is a special area where a lot of things are happening, including NC State,” he says. “We were working with Premex before they came here. The process of finding a location, which is needed at the starting point, we worked on together.” He still communicates with the company as the relationship between NC State and Premex continues to evolve and grow.
Cisneros hopes the relationship can expand into research concerning the business side of an agriculture company, especially one looking to expand its global influence, perhaps by involving faculty members and students in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at NC State.
He is excited about the possibility of future NC State students and interns working with Premex in various locations around the world. “I like to look at things in a very entrepreneurial way, and I am always open to ideas and opportunities. If something new comes in, in a meeting or conversation, an exciting opportunity, I will jump into it right away. That’s how the world moves now. You have to be very flexible and very open,” Cisneros states.
Research Collaboration Paves the Way for a New Relationship
Premex has already engaged with NC State in poultry science research. The company recently sponsored two research projects in the Prestage Department of Poultry Science with the intention of gaining insight into the way particular feed additive, Vitamin Alpha D3, functions as part of the chicken’s physiology. Barngrover elaborates, “We wanted to understand better how our product works in the metabolism of the animal.”
The two researchers Premex chose to sponsor presented project ideas and offers that were particularly appealing to the company. “It seemed like the right thing to collaborate with them. We really liked their research idea,” Barngrover emphasizes.
Research sponsorship, though important, is only one component of the Golden Triangle, a way of understanding the scope and potential of a relationship between a university and a company. The three points of the Golden Triangle include research sponsorship, philanthropy and workforce development.
“When a company balances all three points of the triangle, it reflects an enthusiasm for partnership which will not only create a variety of benefits for CALS but which will also have broader positive impacts across the university,” explains Deborah Thompson, director of partnership development for the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service at NC State.
Beyond research sponsorship, Premex engaged with the university on the remaining two points of the triangle with a gift to Ben Reading’s aquaculture breeding research and the hire of Anne Ballou, a recent NC State graduate.
This is just the beginning of a long, profitable relationship for both of us.
Thompson believes NC State’s ability to touch Premex on all three points of the triangle contributed significantly to the initial success of the relationship.
In this case, a slow approach to cultivating the relationship worked to build trust and foster understanding between the two parties. Both NC State and Premex look forward to this relationship prospering for years to come, so there will plenty of time to embark on more ambitious projects together in the future.
Considering the key role NC State played in recruiting Premex Innovation Labs to NC, Barngrover summarizes, “This is just the beginning of a long, profitable relationship for both of us.”