TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - A new Jaguar F-Type sits in the Jaguar Land Rover Lab in the Pearl District. This test model was modified with a special dashboard for testing the companies infotainment offerings, which are not expected to be in cars for a couple of years.  When Jaguar Land Rover opened the doors of its new Open Software Technology Center in July of 2014, about 40 new jobs came to the still-gritty north end of Portland’s Pearl District.

“We thought that 40 desks would last us for up to five years, but by January of 2015 we’d run out of space,” says Matt Jones, Director of Future Technology at JLR.

By October of 2015, the JLR installation had expanded into additional office space three blocks west, adding 30 more technical positions, plus 36 desks reserved for Jaguar Land Rover’s Technology Incubator project.

Its goal is to develop cutting edge automotive-related technologies that many manufacturer can use — a radical idea that nevertheless embraces Portland's work ethic of inclusivity.

Starting small

The Tech Incubator is based on a simple idea: that startup companies could bring products to market faster with some basic structural support and mentoring from established industry experts. JLR determined to bring selected startups to its Portland development center and offer them physical space, infrastructure, investment, and advice from JLR staff worldwide. All told, companies that earn a position in the Incubator receive a combination of services and cash investment worth up to $300,000.

The first cohort of startup companies began their residency in January of 2016, and have been making the most of their six-month tenure in the Incubator. That round of companies includes ParkiT, which is committed to delivering real-time on-street parking data through a phone app, wearable tracking device maker BabyBit, and Urban.Systems, a company dedicated to managing and streamlining the full range of city services with a single point of contact.

“The Incubator allowed us to move more rapidly, just by having this community and support around us,” says Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of Urban.Systems.

When startups reach the end of their six months in the Incubator, they maintain a close relationship with JLR. Some will even stay co-located within the Portland offices. In addition, JLR is hosting office space for the GENIVI Alliance, a working group within the automotive industry, and to the electric transportation advocates of Drive Oregon.

The next class

JLR has selected three new startups for the second cohort in the Incubator. The identities of the new companies have been revealed exclusively to the Business Tribune.

Sicdrone is developing the next generation of drone technology with an eye towards carrying capacity and ease of use. Potential applications include search and rescue, large-format film production, and agricultural use.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The Sicdrone team in residence at Jaguar Land Rovers Technology Incubator is (l-r) Director of Business Development Cory Nolan, CEO Dan Bosch, and Chief Innovation Officer John Mellesmoen.“It’s early stages right now, but we’re focused on speed, stability, payload, and distance,” says John Mellesmoen, Sicdrone’s Chief Innovation Officer.

Workfrom offers mobile workers access to a database of public and rental working spaces anywhere in the world. From coffee shops with wi-fi to specialized meeting and studio spaces, Workfrom offers the ability to locate and reserve spaces and utilize community knowledge about those spaces.

“Workfrom is really focused on being responsive to the needs of people who are working outside of a traditional office,” explains Darren Buckner, Workfrom founder and CEO. “There are a lot of people out there looking for spaces to get work done. Our product is the largest search engine for workable spaces around the world.”

The third new company in the Incubator is carfit, which has developed a sensor that monitors the bumps and shimmies of a car as it drives, and helps identify the source of the vibration.

“We are mixing technologies coming from the Internet of Things and the science of automotive noise, vibration, and harshness to help people diagnose and predict potential issues with their cars,” says carfit executive Nicolas Olivier.

Still growing

Today, JLR’s engineers and the startup personnel in the incubator are working in a building under active construction.

“In June of 2016, we’re bringing in another 60 desks, and by the end of this year, we’ll have 48 more desks,” Jones says. “We’ll have almost 200 JLR and Incubator desks in Portland by the end of 2016.”

Although some of those desks will be made available to outside companies and non-profits doing automotive-related work, JLR is planning to use most of those workspaces to expand its operations.

“We’ve got 80 new tech jobs, and we’re actively recruiting. We are looking for app developers and software architects to work with Jaguar Land Rover future products and with the companies in the incubator. This year we’re also taking on interns for the summer through WorkSource. We really appreciate anyone going to the JLR career site and applying if they’re interested,” Jones says.

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