Ten startups graduate from virtual reality-focused accelerator

by Joseph K. Clark

Ten immersive technology startups have graduated from Digital Catapult’s fourth Augmentor accelerator program after developing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (XR) tools for a range of sectors.

Digital Catapult is an advanced digital technology innovation center that aims to drive early adoption of emerging technologies by UK businesses, focusing on how these technologies can promote competition, boost productivity and grow the country’s economy.

reality-focused accelerator

The 12-week Augmentor program is designed to support early-stage businesses developing innovative and commercially orientated immersive technology products.

The 10 companies involved receive investment and industry advice through mentorship, access Digital Catapult’s state-of-the-art Immersive Labs, and are further supported in workshops and office hours. The startups also have access to Digital Catapult’s network, developing connections in the public and private sectors.

“We’ve seen some amazing startups take part in Augmentor since the inception of the program, and it was no different for this edition,” said Jessica Driscoll, head of immersive technologies at Digital Catapult. “The quality of the products and ideas was outstanding, and we are thrilled to have played a role in helping to give these startups a boost towards investment readiness.”

The 2020 program was delivered entirely online – with workshops, mentoring, and networking all done virtually – and focused more on business resilience and exploring funding options outside traditional venture capital pathways due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Program graduates included Manchester-based Evidential, which has designed a “major incident VR training platform” called Evita to help police officers develop the skills needed to respond to severe events. Backed by £1.3m funding from Innovate UK, Evidential has previously designed the AR Golden Hour app, which uses the technology to improve crime scene preservation.

Moonhub has also focused on using VR technology to deliver more engaging employee training, which it does by converting e-learning resources into interactive training scenarios for companies from a range of sectors, including HSBC and Abercrombie & Fitch.

On the other hand, VIKA Books has used immersive technologies to promote British sign language for both the deaf and hearing, making it one of the first companies to use the technology in this way. In its AR storybook Where is the bird?, for example, VIKA showcases 20 typical signs, 10 through AR animations, and 10 through video demonstrations by children from Elmfield School for Deaf Children.

Two of the graduating startups focused on using immersive technologies to drive better remote collaboration. The first was Slanted Theory from Sheffield, a cloud-based 3D data visualization tool called Alaira that uses XR and immersive analytics to enable people worldwide to jointly analyze multiple datasets in real-time. The firm’s goal is to drive a new generation of faster decision-making within organizations.

The second startup was Hove-based Fracture Reality, developing an online mixed reality platform called Join that enables data-intensive users to collaborate remotely. It includes immersive 3D features such as gestural sketching and avatars alongside traditional online meeting controls and is currently being used by more than 20 clients, including Audemars Piguet and L’Oreal.

Two other startups, Emperia and Percept Imagery, have also developed VR and AR shopping experiences, with the former focusing on improving the way products can be seen online in 3D for luxury retailers, and the latter developing an AR platform called Sprie to allow shoppers to try products in the real world before buying them.

The final three startups were: Retinize, which uses immersive technologies to create fast-turnaround animation software; Overview Ark, which has made a tool to build 1:1 replicas of live music shows without the need of programming knowledge; and MagicBeans, whose Roundhead platform allows users to create “shared audio experiences”.

While most of the startups that have been through Augmentor came to the program with no previous investment, the 26 firms from the accelerator’s first three years have raised a combined total of more than £7.5m in private investment of £4.3m in grants.

These include Home, which works with major brands including ASOS and H&M; Bodyswaps, which received further funding and support from HTC Vive XG; Gravity Sketch, which recently raised almost £3m; and Artificial Artists, which received £500,000 investment from Mercia.

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