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Jaguar Land Rover goes all ‘Dragon’s Den’ with its ‘Innovation Incubator’ tech program

Jaguar Land Rover is branching out from making cars to fostering tech startups.

The British automaker will launch an “Innovation Incubator” program next month in Portland, Oregon, to encourage new developments in automotive infotainment tech.

JLR Engineering Director Nick Rogers describes the program as a “Shark Tank/Dragon’s Den”-style competition, in which startups will be invited to pitch ideas and win the company’s support.

That includes a space in the new Innovation Incubator center JLR plans to build in Portland. The carmaker will also recruit 50 more engineers to work directly with the startups brought into the project.

JLR hopes this approach will help it cast a wider net in its search for the next big infotainment MacGuffin, attracting newer and smaller companies that might not normally work in the car industry because of lack of experience or resources.

The program officially starts this May with an “outreach” to U.S. universities. JLR says it will select around 120 startups to work with over the next decade.

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JLR says it’s already run a pilot version of the Innovation Incubator program, which led to a collaboration with a startup called Vonsor.

The Vonsor system is supposed to allow drivers to take video using cameras mounted inside and outside a car, then edit them on the in-car touchscreen and share via social media. Hopefully not while driving, though.

As cars become more and more like smartphones on wheels, it makes sense for carmakers to develop a relationship with the tech startup strata that has done so much to drive the development of other digital technologies.

Ford has already attempted to court startups with its OpenXC platform, which was intended to make third-party app development for the company’s Sync infotainment system easier.

This model of carmaker-startup cooperation could continue to grow as car companies look for even more connectivity, while tech companies look for even more outlets for their digital wares.