R&D public-private partnerships (PPPs), where the public side is represented by universities, and the private side is represented by firms, are determined by both individual and institutional factors. Such partnerships can be driven by individual and informal factors like personal networks and trust, and are backed up institutionally when formalized. These university-firm collaborations, as a specific shape of PPPs, are expected to enhance the development of products and processes in firms, which leads to better corporate performance, and should generate benefits on regional development through economic growth and knowledge dissemination. This study explores the university-firm collaboration phenomenon as a PPP, and considers the case of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and its partnership with Henkel, a German chemicals company, which R&D activities in Spain are based on an open innovation strategy. Using in-depth interviews of the collaborating parts, data of UAB-Henkel historical agreements and other public sources, this paper studies the role of personal networks and trust in R&D PPPs and how these partnerships have positive impacts on firms, universities and regions, as reflected in the case of UAB and Henkel. Results show that this collaboration has impacted positively both on the university, enhancing its involvement with industry and its collaborative research activities, and on the firm, allowing the development of new products and technologies that have strengthened its performance. This interaction, which formally started in 2010 with placement of Henkel R&D facilities in UAB Research Park in 2010, has generated positive impacts recognised by both the company and the university. However, the impact of UAB-Henkel partnership on regional development is still in process and remains unclear; nevertheless, this case serves as pathfinder for future research agreements among universities and firms in Barcelona region and beyond.
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