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Ten startups graduate from virtual reality-focused accelerator

Startups focusing on building new immersive technology products have completed Digital Catapult’s Augmentor accelerator programme

Ten immersive technology startups have graduated from Digital Catapult’s fourth Augmentor accelerator programme 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 centre that aims to drive early adoption of emerging technologies by UK businesses, with a particular focus on how these technologies can promote competition, boost productivity and grow the country’s economy.

The 12-week Augmentor programme 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, gain access to 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, allowing them to develop connections in the public and private sectors.

“We’ve seen some amazing startups take part in Augmentor since the inception of the programme, 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 programme 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 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Programme 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 serious events. Backed by £1.3m funding from Innovate UK, Evidential has previously developed 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.

VIKA Books, on the other hand, 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 everyday signs, 10 through AR animations and 10 through video demonstrations by children from Elmfield School for Deaf Children. 

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

The second startup was Hove-based Fracture Reality, which is 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-turnround animation software; Overview Ark, which has created 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 startups that have been through Augmentor came to the programme with no previous investment, the 26 firms from the accelerator’s first three years have gone on to raise a combined total of more than £7.5m in private investment and £4.3m in grants.

These include Holome, 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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