How Beaverton, Ore. is boosting budding open source businesses


Author: Jay Lyman

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Home to Linus Torvalds’ employer Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the base for major manufacturing and research operations of IBM and Intel, the city of Beaverton — about 20 miles west of Portland in the so-called Silicon Forest — is ready to harness the openness backed by prominent local players and produce new ventures focused on open technology.

The Silicon Forest also is the location for other internationally known IT players as LSI Logic, Tektronix, Merix, and Epson. Intel, in fact, is the state’s largest commercial employer; superstar athletic outfitter Nike isn’t far behind. Now with the OSDL and a new incubator-type venture, open source is finding a welcoming environment here in the Pacific Northwest.

Open tech, new center defined

What exactly is “open technology?” According to the executive director of the new Open Technology Business Center in Beaverton, LaVonne Reimer, open technology is: “a term for computing and business strategies in which we share core technology.”

Reimer called the center the first and only place bringing together the best minds in the business to explore the benefits of open technology. She indicated the Beaverton business center would focus on and fund different aspects of business and provide space for startups, technology with which to experiment, and an executive program for open tech entrepreneurs and those who surround them.

Reimer told ITMJ/NewsForge the space available through the center’s ventures and entrepreneurs-in-residence programs would provide low-cost, flexible leases to startups. She said there were already small companies signed up — from across the country — for the center’s Innovation and Research program and its ventures-in-residence, including a three-person outfit known as Stunt Computing — a producer of software and hardware for organizations running multiple machines on Linux. While a new facility may allow the center to grow after the end of its lease on its current space, the OTBC is now aiming to support 15 to 18 companies, Reimer said.

Reimer said the center will be selective with its support, indicating that a solid business plan and executive team are required. The new center’s director said Stunt Computing, for example, is the project of two promising entrepreneurs and Steve Langasek, a Debian release manager. “He has credibility,” Reimer said.

While the new open tech business center does not yet have candidates for its executive institute — intended for advisors, educators, consultants and investors — Reimer said groups or companies can apply to participate at the center by submitting an executive summary, overview of proposed business and team profile at this email address.

Launched with $1.2 million from Beaverton, the center will have three to five new OT companies on board when it opens Feb. 1, organizers said. OSDL and Beaverton officials both indicated that larger endorsements and support of the new business center are also forthcoming.

Not ‘Open Gates’

Originally billed as “an unprecedented plan” that had been “code-worded: Operation Open Gates,” the unveiling of the OTBC in Beaverton does have significance in a region rich in hi-tech know-how and resources. But the city is still struggling to provide the jobs and investment needed for a robust local economy.

An announcement of the announcement caused some confusion earlier in January, but the actual news out of Beaverton was more focused on linking the resources of the region and promoting open technology together. Speakers at the event included IDC analyst Jean Bozman, who was brought in to display IDC research indicating Linux and open source software — servers, desktops, and packaged software — will be worth $36 billion by 2008. The analyst told ITMJ/NewsForge the collaborative aspect of open source is a good fit for Beaverton’s business center and indicated the core of Linux and open source developers and innovators in the region would likely spin off a number of important and useful technology ventures.

First of many?

Among the speakers at the announcement of the OTBC was OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen, who held up the latest BusinessWeek with Torvalds pictured alongside a penguin on the cover. Cohen called the center “something we can all get behind,” and indicated OSDL would like to see similar centers open all over the world.

“Portland is quietly becoming the center for open source leadership,” Cohen said, adding that while open technology has been available in business R&D centers, it was now time to “unleash it on the world.”

Cohen, who recently outlined OSDL’s global efforts, added that officials in Beijing have expressed their support for open source and open standards efforts and “recognize the importance of a network of global, open technology standards.”

Cohen indicated Beijing, Beaverton, Bangalore, and other places starting with “B” were all interested in stimulating their respective local economies with local development efforts, local language, and local support, all of which could happen with open tech.

Governor gets to business

The unveiling of the OTBC also included some words from Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who is a big backer of economic development and strength through technology, particularly open technology and nanotechnology.

Kulongoski said given the Portland region’s existing players and investment in technology and efforts such as OTBC, the area will be able to emerge as the center of the open technology industry.

“This is new technology, he said. “I believe funding this is part of a larger expansion.”

Kulongoski, who is recommending $2 million in “gap funding” in Oregon’s next state budget for new technology ventures such as those out of OTBC, said companies such as Intel, IBM, and Unisys combined with open technology were key ingredients in “the next great wave of technology companies in Oregon.”

“This region’s soil is rich in open technology resources,” said Kulongoski, who also announced a planned open tech roadmap from the state’s economic development leaders.

After the press conference, the governor told ITMJ/NewsForge he is hopeful the legislature will recognize the state’s opportunity in open technology, stressing that he is interested in moving beyond research and development.

“I’m interested less in research, and more about development and commercializing this technology,” Kulongoski said.


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