The biggest problem facing start-up companies working in virtual reality (VR) is finding the money to fund their projects. VR is expensive, and to get an experience made requires high-end PC’s or laptops, expensive head-mounted displays to test prototypes on, developers that comprehend videogame engines such as Unreal or Unity and with no real proper distribution model for 360 films that can be monetised, the waves are rather rocky and VR is a risky investment. VRFocus speaks to Thomas Gere, there CEO of the Realities Centre in London about investment for VR projects.
Those who are on the ‘in’ within the VR London scene are aware of the Realities Centre, an incubator space for augmented reality (AR) and VR. The Realities Centre has two different spaces dedicated to new immersive technologies. The first centre is located near Moorgate and focuses on training as well as remote collaboration for corporations, whilst the second is based in Huckletree West in White City, which helps content creators in the creative sectors. Since its opening last year, the Realities Centre has hosted 18 events. Each event focuses on a particular aspect such as retail or artificial intelligence (A.I.) and links a hackathon as well in order to feel what developers and investors are interested in. This puts Thomas Gere in a position where he can see what investors are looking for and where technology is lacking.
Gere explains that in the last two years he grew frustrated with so many events around VR being so broad, with no real focus to expanding or building upon the existing VR hardware and software. With the Realities Centre he has built a community of over 150 developers, the involvement of 25 corporate companies and over 30 mentors. It doesn’t stop there. The Realities Centre also have an acceleration programme called the Vision Programme. This has been specifically created to improve VR and AR experiences by bringing together innovators that work in the medical (medtech) or financial (fintech) industries. Together with start-up companies they share their knowledge on machine learning, computer vision and A.I. in order to help incubate ideas and potentially spin off new technologies. The programme is starting later this year and in Q1 of 2018. Besides the hackathons and events, the Realities Centre also have academy courses which help introduce the concept of augmented reality (AR) and VR to individuals and organisations at all levels – anybody who is interested in making VR or AR applications. They are also starting Microsoft Hololens courses, to futureproof developers and other businesses for mixed reality (MR).
What are investors looking for?
When it comes to B2B investors are looking for any type of technology that is involved in training and education. This is cross media and can range from areas such as medical to engineering.
For longer term projects, investors are looking for applications in retail and mixed reality. In other words, the future of user experiences, lighter head-mounted displays, hardware technology or cloud computing.
With regards to content, investors are looking at serialising content that can bring in brand loyalty or returning customers. This can be five to ten episodes that have interactivity inside of them and can bring people wanting to come back for more.
Where can UK companies find funding for their projects?
At the moment it is easiest to get money from the US when you are based in the UK. Most early stage investment come from companies such as BoostVC or the VR Fund. It’s taking a little longer to gain traction here in the UK, because going through the traditional routes of finding investment in Tech or Media do not comprehend the technology as it is disruptive or think it’s still too risky. Gere admits this is slowly changing and is happy to see that Digital Catapult and the Arts Council have started to acknowledge the new forms of content with the Creative XR Programme that offers £20,000 (GBP) to fund a prototype in immersive technology. At the moment this is a small step into the right direction, Gere explains that in Europe and specifically France finding public funding is a lot easier to find due to its structure.
How much can I ask for funding for a VR project?
Besides the £20,000 offered in the Creative XR Programme mentioned above, it’s good to start with £100k – £200k in the UK. This is through traditional early stage VC’s. Gere says that Angel Groups are not interested in AR and VR, but their funds might be interested. If a project is over £300k it will require going across the Atlantic and bringing in several investors.
The Realities Centre have been working together with various investors in the US, sharing pitch decks and aiding companies that want incubation with the Realities Centre. Gere says that he has also been working to get Chinese investment. The first centre is located in a Cocoon building owned by the Chinese – and China has a long history of investing in media companies.
Find out more in the video below, where Gere discusses the future for investment next year and how SteamVR is the key to making your VR experience cross-platform.