The name W. L. Gore & Associates might not immediately ring a bell, but chances are you’ve probably used a product or two in the past that had the Gore name on it. In addition to creating Gore-Tex, a line of fabrics that keep us warm and dry in the outdoors, the company also has a hand in medical devices, air filtration, durable computer cables, and a host of other products too numerous to mention. In fact, Gore technologies are so ubiquitous that they’ve gone into space, to the summit of Everest, across Antarctica, and just about every other remote corner of the globe. Recently, the team at Gore has turned its attention to helping tech start ups by offering its considerable engineering and design experience in an effort to improve wearables, smart fabrics, health sensors, and other emerging technologies.
Located in Santa Clara, CA the Gore Innovation Center was launched back in 2017 to give the company a permeant presence in the heart of Silicon Valley. The center is co-run by Linda Elkins and Paul Campbell, both of whom have years of experience in helping to bring innovative products – across a variety of industries – to market. Elkins has been with Gore for much of her career and is serves as the Innovation Center’s Chief Technical Officer, while Campbell, who has worked with such companies as Hewlett Packard and Philips Healthcare, wears the mantle of Chief Innovation Officer. Recently, Digital Trends had the chance to sit down with both of them to learn more about Gore is up to.
“The Innovation Center is all about reaching out to Silicon Valley,” Elkins tells us. “We wanted to expand our portfolio and open new avenues to Gore products of course, but our goal is to help start ups to find solutions to the various challenges that they face.”
To assist in that process the center was built from the ground up to be a cohesive environment that fosters collaboration between the staff and potential Silicon Valley partners. The space is open, modern, and comes equipped with a prototype lab that uses laser cutters, 3D printers, and other high tech tools to turn concepts into reality. The idea is for start ups to consult with Elkins, Campbell, and the rest of Innovation Center staff on how they can work together in mutually beneficial ways, tapping Gore’s vast resources to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals.
“We have the ability to explore ideas from prototype to a well thought out final product,” Campbell says. “It’s fun to see a potential partner’s eyes light up as the possibilities of what we can do together start to become clear.”
Elkins and Campbell tell us that the Innovation Center gets inquiries from tech start ups via its website, although there has also been a steady stream of referrals from venture capitalists and investors as well. The center routinely plays host to regular round table discussions, meet ups, and pitch events too, which give entrepreneurs a chance to meet with the staff directly. Once both sides express an interest in working with one another a meeting is set to begin exploring ways they can collaborate.
After the usual round of NDAs and confidentiality agreements are signed, the real work begins. The start up often provides an inside look at its plans and may discuss some of the challenges that it faces in terms of research and development. The Gore team will generally ask a lot of questions, take copious amounts of notes, and offer some thoughts and insights on how the two companies can work together. From there, the partnership can take a number of forms, ranging from simply suggesting Gore products that could be used to overcome a challenge to completely co-developing and releasing a new product together.
“Our first priority initially is to protect a potential partner’s IP,” Campbell says. “After that, as we work together more, we explore whether or not a partnership makes sense.”
Gore’s catalog of materials, fabrics, sensors, and other technologies is so vast that no on person has a full grasp on everything that the company has to offer. In order to work around that challenge, Campbell tells us that software developers created an AI that can analyze the needs of a particular client, scan the Gore product database for the best options available, and recommend solutions to fit their specific needs. Once that information is provided, the client can then work directly with Gore engineers and designers to see if the products that the AI selected are a good fit and make sense for the particular application.
From there, the team at the Innovation Center – working closely with the start up company – goes to work on building a prototype. Using the high-tech tools found inside the center’s lab they begin the process of taking a nebulous idea and turning it into a working product. Further testing and refinement brings that prototype even closer to becoming an actual production model. The most promising concepts are sometimes sent on to Gore’s East Coast facility where they are scrutinized by the company’s engineers, who often offer further tweaks and recommendations.
Obviously Elkins and Campbell can’t tell us exactly who they’ve been working with, but they’ve already seen a number of exciting projects come through the doors at the Innovation Center. Those projects have ranged across a multitude of industries including health sciences, medicine, aerospace, automotive, and numerous others. Several of those collaborations have even led to full-blown partnerships including one with a company called Bonbouton to co-develop a smart fabric that can be used to detect changes in body temperature and its impact on a person’s health. A similar development agreement is in place with a start up called Kenzen as well. In this case, the two organizations are working together to create a comprehensive health monitoring system that uses Gore fabrics and materials to make it more efficient and comfortable to wear.
Designed to move fast and remain nimble, the Innovation Center currently employs just six people. That staff has been highly productive however, taking a burgeoning relationship with a partner from its earliest stages to working prototypes in just a few months time. That fast turn around has allowed the team to work at the “Speed of start ups,” as Elkins describes it, often going from an NDA to actually getting started with a collaboration in just a single day.
The Innovation Center’s role goes beyond just fostering potential partnerships between Gore and local start ups however. Since its inception, the company has used the space to host networking events, round-table discussions, and pitch meetings too. These gatherings have served to not only introduce the center’s staff with potential partners, but to allow attendees to meet, connect, and explore ways that they can work together as well. In this way, Gore is building a community around the center that should continue to pay dividends for years to come.
“Gore has been called ‘pound for pound the most innovative company in America’,” Campbell says. “We’re looking to build on that heritage with what we’re doing at the Innovation Center, both now and in the future.”
Based on what they’ve done so far, it seems that Gore’s legacy is in good hands.