At major tech companies, virtual reality is all the rage. But it’s often seen as a stepping stone to something bigger: Augmented reality — tech that doesn’t just build a virtual world, but layers a digital one on top of the physical one.
It may be timely, then, to back startups building AR stuff.
That’s the plan for Super Ventures, an incubator-cum-investment fund that launches today and claims to be the first solely devoted to AR tech. The fund pledges to back startups “that give people superpowers by augmenting the human experience.”
Its calling card is the deep experience in the budding field that its four partners bring.
“There’s no one playing in this space that has this sort of background,” said partner Matt Miesnieks, who most recently led a VR and AR research team at Samsung. Joining him are Ori Inbar, who started AR company Ogmento that changed its name (to Flyby Media) then sold to Apple; Tom Emrich, a wearable tech veteran; and Mark Billinghurst, an industry researcher and peer of Doug Bowman, the expert Apple recently hired.
Their pedigree underscores that Valley giants are investing resources into the tech. Microsoft has an AR product in HoloLens. Google is exploring the space with its Project Tengo mobile tech, a stake in stealthy startup Magic Leap and whatever comes next for Google Glass.
Yet Super Ventures’ few investments so far also indicate that it’s not just a Valley race, but a globally competitive field.
The firm has backed Waygo, which creates an app that translates Mandarin, Korean and Japanese text in the real world in real time. The startup has held partnership talks with several Asian tech companies, said Miesnieks. The other startup is Fringefy, a visual search engine company based in Tel Aviv.
A third funded startup, yet to be named, is working on computer vision tech for vehicle fleets. Miesnieks said the investment vehicle would primarily back companies with enterprise applications. That points to the expectation of the business potential for AR, which is estimated to create a market four times larger than virtual reality.
“VR is isolating. It’s something that you do in your bedroom,” said Miesnieks. “[AR] lends itself to everyday utility.”
The firm’s initial fund is small ($10 million) and arriving as the tech market looks ready to contract. But Miesnieks stressed that small investments were best for these type of companies now. And he claimed that, despite the dampening climate, it’s an opportunistic moment for most variations of AR tech.
Not all, though. Even for an AR-only fund, there’s still residual concern over the most prominent example of AR, Google Glass.
“I wouldn’t fund anyone building smart glasses today,” Miesnieks said.
Why? “Because of the glasshole effect,” he replied. “And the technology isn’t good enough to get around that.” (Update: Miesnieks clarified that the firm is reluctant to back consumer smart glasses, but would certainly fund enterprise products.)
Here’s a video from Fringefy, one of Super Ventures’ investments.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.