Typically, we look at a partnership with a university in one of two ways: It's either a corporate social responsibility play to help a region, or it's a move to gain interns, where the company provides access and expertise in exchange for discounted help.

Some leaders tend to have a short-sighted view of higher education institutions, viewing them as stopgaps before fledgling employees get to make an impact on their companies. Others see them as providers of short-term opportunities, from job fairs to conferences. But the reality is that universities are in the business of helping people learn how to think -- and that's incredibly valuable for any business.

At my last company, we had a lot of success partnering or working in some capacity with the University of Missouri. These experiences had positive company benefits, but more importantly for me, they helped the next generation of leaders, which is an obligation I think all entrepreneurs and leaders have to some extent.  

There's a lot more that a university relationship can provide, especially if you help with a very obvious problem universities have.

Keeping Up With Technology

Think back to what you studied in school: How much is still relevant today? At the pace that skills adapt and shift, colleges and universities can't keep up with the changing demands of the workforce. Technologies and skills that were once highly valued have been rendered obsolete.

On the corporate side, this makes it harder to find the right talent. And there's a real cost behind that: More money spent on recruiting talent and continually having to onboard new hires adds up quickly. In a competitive job market, that can mean high performers are snagged before you even have a chance to talk to them.

It doesn't take a study to realize that the No. 1 skill a student may lack is mastery of the digital technology that today's jobs demand. A university still does a great job of preparing students to handle core principles, group dynamics and critical thinking. All of these are essential skills for members of a team.

But what you can do, as a tech business, is partner with a university to prepare students for what lies immediately ahead. What's in it for you? A pipeline of talent you know, trust and have seen perform with your tools. Beyond that, if you provide a strong experience, you'll have a ready group of advocates to attract future employees.

The best part is that this group of talent won't require spend -- minus the time and effort your team will have to put forward to get students contributing. Over time, this will increase student interest, constantly keeping a deep bench of tech-savvy talent at your fingertips. Plus, there's the added benefit of testing new solutions for your products and services with a group of students, who may have a less straightforward or routine (read: innovative) view of what your company does.

It's a little bit talent attraction and retention, a little bit research and development -- and a huge no-brainer. The university itself benefits by staying up on trends faster, attracting more students who want workforce-ready skills alongside on-the-job training. The school can also find itself with free marketing for its programs and students, increasing other companies' interest in what the school's workforce has to offer.

How to Apply This

For example, I recently was at an event where I heard that Adobe had created a partnership with New York University to establish a new center for the Future of Work. The goal was to have an applied learning approach to solve real-world marketing problems with the latest digital technology. The capstone for the course includes a case competition, in which graduate students develop a digital transformation roadmap for pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

What I liked about this was that the brand had students use real-time data from the Adobe Analytics Cloud. In these interactions, students will learn to derive insights from real-time data and turn those insights into actual marketing strategies. They'll also work with experienced managers, getting insight into what creates a strong customer experience. When I was in school, companies often tried to give interns real-world experiences, but they utilized Stone Age tactics and followed a textbook curriculum that was at least two decades old.

I chatted with Jeff Allen, senior director of product marketing at Adobe Analytics, and he said, "Analytics is at the core of any successful business today -- large or small. As the next generation of leaders is being groomed, ensuring that they have hands-on experiences with data will be critical to the success of their careers post-graduation." I loved the philosophy of valuing understanding real data, whether it's big or small. Some experienced people may think that reading and applying data doesn't apply to them -- they've been around forever, so they know the ins and outs. But having fresh eyes that truly understand this can be valuable to even the smallest companies.

Red Hat's another good example. An open-source solutions provider, the brand launched an "open innovation lab" near Boston University. It established a partnership with the university to enhance education and research related to open-source technologies, along with other emerging tech like machine learning. The partnership allowed the two organizations to do everything from fund collaborative projects to co-lead doctoral and post-doc students. Each entity gets to co-license tech built together, but each maintains the intellectual property it entered the partnership with.

Where Your Brand Should Start

Even if you're not operating at the same scale of the Fortune 500, you can make this strategy work. Identify where most of your company talent comes from, including which degree programs or even which universities have filled your roster.

Then, discover where the technology gaps lie for those specific programs or schools. If you can fill them and add something more current to their arsenal, that's your "in" for starting the conversation.

As a small business or startup, anything you can do to bond with talented students before they graduate is a plus. An even bigger plus is that you won't have to spend as much time training people once they join your company. In a company of 10,000, one slow-moving employee can be absorbed without drastically impacting operations. On a team of five, that fifth employee accounts for 20 percent of your productivity -- you need to know she can hit the ground running.

Identify where a high-potential university needs value, and look for ways to deliver it. You'll probably get even more out of the partnership than the school does.