Industry Affiliates Program: Bridging the Lab and the Marketplace

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Photo: Jason Dorfman

The value of academic research is traditionally measured by its contribution to the world’s inventory of knowledge, through theses, papers, and physical artifacts. At CSAIL, we also view research as a practical matter – placing additional emphasis on designing and building technologies and solutions that have real-world impact. In many cases, this requires establishing partnerships with industry to translate new ideas and discoveries to real products and services in the marketplace.

CSAIL has a long history of working closely with industry. Many of our faculty are themselves founders and board members of technology companies created as a result of their research. Our entrepreneurial attitude fosters innovation and paves the way for strong industry participation and partnership.

Leading companies come to CSAIL to learn about our research, to recruit talented graduate students, and to explore collaborations with our faculty. However, these activities often occur by happenstance. In 2008, CSAIL launched the Industry Affiliates Program (IAP) to take a more proactive approach to working with industry. Through this program, we are able to better provide technology leaders with access to our latest thinking and our deep pool of exceptional human and informational resources.

What companies see in CSAIL – and what CSAIL can do for them Within the first five months of launching this program, 20 blue-chip organizations became CSAIL Industry Affiliates, including the world’s largest laptop manufacturers, the world’s largest software companies, the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer, and the world’s leading World Wide Web search company. “We did not set out to recruit exclusively the world’s leading companies,” says Victor Zue, director of CSAIL. “However, it is apparent that companies with a commitment to being the best – those with long-term vision and a reputation for being forward-thinking providers of very successful products and technologies – believe that CSAIL can help them maintain their excellence.”

While there are numerous benefits to joining the IAP, the advantages boil down to four key reasons:

  • To gain early awareness to the latest research.Through meetings, visits, and a members-only website, companies get a preview of the latest research findings from across the lab. Companies that can access this information before it’s published get a front-row seat to the future.
  • To recruit CSAIL students. Our students are our most valuable assets. They can add substantial value to any company as interns or employees. We post student profiles on the members-only website, and you can meet them during our biannual recruiting meetings.
  • To provide a neutral convening point for exploring technology futures. If you want to bring like-minded people together in a vendor-neutral setting to explore key challenges and technological matters, CSAIL is the ideal place. CSAIL can bring to the table highly qualified thought leaders from both academia and industry.
  • To explore potential research collaborations and sponsorships. For all that the IAP offers, companies can get much more by sponsoring research directly. Being an IAP member allows you to see how we work and what we do, giving you the insights you need to identify research partnerships.

Building tomorrow together
CSAIL can work with companies on a one-on-one basis or as part of a larger lab-wide initiative where our researchers work closely with corporate sponsors to define and execute research themes. CSAIL is more than simply industry-friendly: In recent years our work with industry has accounted for nearly one-third of CSAIL’s total research activities. We are eager to broaden our partnerships with visionary companies representing a wide range of disciplines – from computing and communications to information and services.