Onboard Dynamics is trying to bring to market an engine that would make it much more convenient to power vehicles on natural gas. The dual-function engine has drawn $6 million in federal energy-innovation grants since it was conceived by OSU-Cascades engineering professor Chris Hagen.
The technology wouldn’t exist without the university. And the company wouldn’t exist without Rita Hansen and Jeff Witwer, entrepreneurs who formed the company and brought additional funding.
“We used to joke with Chris about how he’s hemorrhaging ideas all the time,” Hansen said. Hagen’s energy systems laboratory could be a major source of intellectual property as OSU-Cascades grows into its role as a four-year university, Hansen said, but those ideas need a friendly landing pad if they’re going to power the Central Oregon economy. “It has to have a community that will foster it and get it into a company.”
OSU-Cascades hopes to cultivate more such symbiotic relationships with its Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, which is slated to open by the end of the year in remodeled space at the Graduate Research Center on SW Columbia Street. OSU-Cascades hopes to hire in the coming months an innovation center director who will help recruit tenant companies for a January opening, said Associate Vice President of Finance Kelly Sparks.
While Onboard Dynamics began with a faculty member’s idea, the innovation center will be designed to support entrepreneurs who live or want to live in Bend. The center will set aside lab space for bioscience entrepreneurs, but otherwise it will be capable of serving any industry, from software to outdoor products to health care, Sparks said.
The innovation center will house experts who can serve as business mentors, as well as a yet-to-be determined number of startup companies, Sparks said.
The innovation center will be not far from BendTECH, the co-working space at 1001 SW Emkay Drive that houses several software startups, but OSU-Cascades could fill a different niche, said Yong Bakos, a new computer science instructor who will also lead software training at the innovation center. Software investors tend to support startups that address business or consumer problems, he said, but he hopes the innovation center will attract people who are trying to solve social problems, such as the cost of medicine.
Bend already has a strong culture of entrepreneurship, and OSU-Cascades is one of several reasons companies move here, Sparks said. One obstacle to companies’ growth in Central Oregon, though, is a lack of qualified labor. OSU-Cascades’ growing student population, especially with majors in energy systems engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science with a focus on web development, could help solve that, she said.
When Tech Soft 3D bought an office building on Chandler Avenue, CEO Ron Fritz said he had no idea OSU planned to build a four-year institution across the road. Tech Soft 3D, which has software development teams in Berkeley, California, recently made the Bend office its headquarters, and Fritz foresees OSU-Cascades students and graduates becoming interns and employees. “In general, we think it’s positive,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version erroneously stated that OSU-Cascades’ Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship is hiring a director to recruit tenants for a January opening. Associate Vice President of Finance Kelly Sparks said she hopes to hire a director in the coming months for a January opening. The Bulletin regrets the error.