Thales Courts Academia, Startups with xPlor Program

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Thales USA is teaming up with academia and startup companies to gain an edge on new technology, said one top executive.

Earlier this year, Thales launched an innovation center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project has been dubbed xPlor and is a way for the company to take the pulse on what’s new in the industry.

“The idea behind that is to ensure that we are in the flow of all of the good innovation that goes on in the U.S. in small enterprises, with major institutions like MIT and Stanford and spinoffs of young companies and entrepreneurial organizations that we can partner with in some capacity and leverage across our businesses in the U.S.,” said Alan Pellegrini, president and CEO of the company.

Through xPlor, Thales identifies new technologies and interesting small businesses. Once located, Thales looks to partner with the startup by making an investment in the entity or licensing the company’s technology.

“We have a small group of very entrepreneurial people at Cambridge that are searching for these opportunities and connecting them with the chief technology officers around the [Thales] group,” Pellegrini said.

The project originates from the belief that the greatest innovation in the world is going on in the United States, he said during an October media briefing with reporters at Thales’ Clarksburg, Maryland, factory.

“As big as we are … as smart as we are, we can’t invent it all,” he said.

xPlor can be used throughout Thales USA’s divisions, Pellegrini said. For its defense and security sector, Thales wants to look at a variety of technologies including big data and augmented reality, he said.

Pellegrini noted that more non-traditional players are entering some of Thales’ markets. He pointed to Elon Musk’s SpaceX business, which builds space launch vehicles, as one example.

“We don’t build space launch vehicles per se but you can imagine that people that do, organizations that do are a little bit concerned that an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley is able to come in and grab a big chunk of that,” he said. “That’s going to be the way of a number of our markets, and we’ve embraced that and we want to be part of it. We don’t want to fight it.”

Innovation is happening at a rapid pace, he noted. Unless companies adapt and stay on the cutting edge, they “are going to fall behind quite quickly.”

Topics: Business Trends, International, Science and Engineering Technology

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