Could practical applications of virtual and augmented reality be the next big market for Portland startups?

We’ve seen it time and time again. The next big thing. Web, open source, cloud, mobile… And time and time again, Portland, with its early adopter culture, has been at the forefront of nascent industries, patiently waiting for their markets to form. I’ve been waiting to see what the next big thing might be. And with today’s news from RealWear, I’m inclined to think augmented reality may be the next industry that Portland is known for.

RealWear, Inc., the leader in knowledge transfer and training platforms for the connected worker, announced today an $80 million Series B financing round. RealWear will use the funds, which are a combination of equity and debt, to continue market expansion and accelerate its platform development. RealWear teamed with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to architect an investment syndicate led by Teradyne, Inc. (TER), a global leader in industrial automation, and includes Bose Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures LLC (QCOM), Kopin Corporation (KOPN), and investors from JPMorgan’s (JPM) Private Bank.

From its inception, RealWear has focused on products that are specifically designed for the connected enterprise workforce to improve job satisfaction, productivity and, most importantly, safety. Its industrial hands-free wearable computers enhance, rather than diminish, a worker’s situational awareness while delivering vital information on-demand in the harshest of environments.

When you couple the growth of RealWear with other local companies — like early entrant Object Theory; Streem, another practical application of AR technology; and Torch, an editing environment for applying AR; and virtual reality companies like The Wild, that are delivering practical applications of VR — it’s got that feel that it might just be a trend.

A trend that would follow a familiar Portland pattern. A pattern that goes something like this: Portland’s culture of curiosity — an almost academic pursuit — leads folks to a shiny new technology. After mucking around with the technology folks discover that it’s not ready for prime time and that its early iteration is rife with problems. Portland gets bored and moves on to the next shiny object. While Portland is mucking around with the next big thing, the previous shiny object matures into an actual market. Recognizing the market has formed, Portland says “Remember all of those issues we had with [insert technology here]?” and goes about building a solution that couples past experience with state of the art to form new solutions, frameworks, and platforms, thereby striving to create the best solution possible for helping others build the things they’re hoping to build. Our culture of curiosity followed by our culture of craft.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The growing prevalence of XR companies finding success has me thinking that this pattern might be repeating itself. It will be interesting to watch where this goes.

For more on the RealWear announcement, see the coverage:

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