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At Investor Event, VR Startups Brace for Slow Growth

"We've been telling people, 'Be a cockroach. Don't die.'"


“You guys are nervous. Stop being so nervous.”

That, spoken to a panel of venture capitalists, was part of the lead-in to a pitch session for virtual reality startups yesterday in Mountain View, Calif. The speaker, UploadVR co-founder Nick Ochoa, was directing the investors’ attention to a statistic from a new report being prepared by his site and Greenlight VR: Out of 164 VCs who had invested in VR companies to date, 142 of them had done so only once.


But in conversations with both investors and the ever-colorful and frank founders of VR startups at the event, a clear consensus emerged: All involved are going to continue to be nervous until the immersive technology has a real install base. Until then, many advised patience — and resilience.

“I see lots of founders comparing themselves to founders they know in other industries,” Boost VC partner Brayton Williams said. “But there’s no market there yet. We’ve been telling people, ‘Be a cockroach. Don’t die.'”

The big players in virtual reality — such as Facebook, Google and Sony — are under little pressure to realize immediate returns on their investments because they have substantially larger businesses to tend to. But for the startups at Monday’s event seeking funding, the presumptive eventual triumph of VR was their only hope.

“We will probably see lower adoption than everyone expects in the next year or so, but it will pick up,” Second Life founder Philip Rosedale told a group of founders. “My advice is, don’t overspend right now. Stock up for three or four years.”

Rosedale, who left Second Life maker Linden Lab in 2010 and now leads a new, VR-focused virtual world project called High Fidelity, acknowledged the parallels between the overrun of hype for his earlier work and today’s buzz around VR as a whole. But he, like several others at the event, prophesied with confidence that the nascent technology would be as transformative as the Internet or mobile phones.

In the short term, he added, the winning companies will be those that leverage the new technology to “add more value for fewer people.”

It may be no surprise, then, that mixed in with the scale-minded gaming and entertainment pitches were more narrowly focused startups like Vivid Vision, which claims it can cure lazy eye with VR software, and DeepStream, which is exploring how the tech can be applied to therapy for chronic pain. PeriopSim, a Vancouver startup for training surgeons and saving hospitals money, won the end-of-day prize: A seed-stage investment from Boost.

So, that’s one company that can now afford to be slightly less nervous. Only a couple hundred more to go.

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