EXCLUSIVE: Kroger teams with UC on Innovation Hub lab

Steve Watkins – Staff Reporter, Cincinnati Business Courier

Kroger Co. is teaming up with the University of Cincinnati to run an incubation lab at UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub.

Downtown Cincinnati-based Kroger (NYSE: KR), the nation’s largest operator of traditional supermarkets, will use the space to come up with new innovations and improve what it already has developed. The company has become known for its innovation prowess, developing high-tech advancements such as temperature control systems, digital shelving and its “Scan, Bag, Go” technology that allows customers to scan grocery items as they shop. 

“Our goal is to put that technology in the 1819 Innovation Hub, not just to enhance those products but to potentially come up with new innovations,” Chris Hjelm, Kroger’s executive vice president and chief information officer, told me. “Whether it’s raw innovation or enhancing our current products, either way it’s a win.”

Kroger will have people working full time at the 1819 Innovation Hub, which is named for the year of UC’s founding. 

Hjelm said Kroger will probably have a lab leader and a couple of project managers there at any given time along with other people working on projects. It will have research and development engineers and software developers working in the 2,500-square-foot space. They’ll be joined by 10 to 15 UC students, in many cases co-op students and interns, as well as faculty. Hjelm expects Kroger to do a lot with machine learning and artificial intelligence in the space.  

The partnership means UC students will get valuable experience.

“They’re going to be working on real-world problems and challenges,” David J. Adams, UC’s chief innovation officer, told me. “One of the things we hear from students is they want more real-world experience. This will provide that.”

The 1819 Innovation Hub is located on Reading Road, just south of Martin Luther King Drive in a former Sears store. Its tenants include P&G, Cincinnati Bell, Village Life Outreach Project, the P&G-backed Live Well Collaborative and UC’s Office of Innovation. The building opened Monday when the fall semester began. It features classrooms, multipurpose rooms and a 12,000-square-foot makerspace.
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