Building Good Partnerships

At my job, I was frequently asked by external parties what I meant by saying, “Cyclica is a drug discovery partner.” Does that mean we’d like to form a joint venture, share IP, or make an investment? 

My perception of a partnership is straightforward. As partners, if you do well, we do well. If we do well, you will, too. With this mutual understanding, the mechanism in which partnership is formed (e.g. JV, IP-sharing, etc) is less critical.

Having engaged in hundreds of partnership discussions, let me first put it this way - it takes two or more to form a partnership. Not all my partnerships conversations ended up with an agreement, and, at times, a relationship is better off being a transaction rather than a partnership. 

I am here to share a few common traits I found in fruitful, long-term partnerships.

  1. The people. When we look for external partners to take on drug discovery projects, it is not the science or complementary platforms that determine the decision to form a partnership or not. In general, people want to interact with people they enjoy working with. I look for partners who have high integrity and are resilient, resourceful, transparent, and willing to take risks. It takes two to tangle. That said, I trust we are also being evaluated by our partners, so we hold the same bar for ourselves - be good humans.

  2. Transparent and constant communications. Marriage is a common form of partnership. In a healthy marriage, one could pick up the phone and call the partner any time, one feels safe to share joy and frustration, and one would regularly check in with the partner to see if any help is needed. In a healthy business partnership, the essences of good communication are the same. It’s important to communicate expectations, timelines, roles and responsibilities, foreseeable challenges, etc. Notably, in this pandemic where people don’t see each other, it’s better to over-communicate.

  3. An open mind. Things are easy when everything goes well; when things don’t go well, the partnership will be put on a trial. In difficult times, an open mind allows one to see the picture from the perspective of others. As many project managers know, most of the time projects don’t go as planned. Having an open mind means being empathetic and willing to consider alternatives when new challenges arise. After all, we are partnering in the drug discovery space, a field troubled by a high attrition rate. There will be failures and lost investments. An open-minded partnership can absorb failures, incorporate learnings, make adjustments, and move forward. 

Once again, to build a healthy long-term partnership, we have to hold the same bars for our partners and ourselves. Over the past few years, we have turned down partnership opportunities when we felt one or more of the three points were a mismatch between Cyclica and its partner. 

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