The smart specialization declared in the European program Horizon 2020, and the increasing cooperation between research and development found in companies and researchers at universities and research institutions have created a new paradigm where many calls for proposals require participation and funding from public and private entities. This has created a unique opportunity for large-scale facilities, such as synchrotron research laboratories, to participate in and support applied research programs. Scientific staff at synchrotron facilities have developed many advanced tools that make optimal use of the characteristics of the light generated by the storage ring. These tools have been exceptionally valuable for materials characterization including X-ray absorption spectroscopy, diffraction, tomography and scattering, and have been key in solving many research and development issues. Progress in optics and detectors, as well as a large effort put into the improvement of data analysis codes, have resulted in the development of reliable and reproducible procedures for materials characterization. Research with photons has contributed to the development of a wide variety of products such as plastics, cosmetics, chemicals, building materials, packaging materials and pharma. In this review, a few examples are highlighted of successful cooperation leading to solutions of a variety of industrial technological problems which have been exploited by industry including lessons learned from the Science Link project, supported by the European Commission, as a new approach to increase the number of commercial users at large-scale research infrastructures.