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Perspectives from four startups on VR landscape, product development and evolving ecosystem 

Since catching consumers’ fancy with those cool and intuitive headsets a couple of years ago, VR and augmented reality (AR) technologies are breaking new grounds marked by their immense potential to transform consumer experiences. According to researchers, the global VR market is expected to reach $40bn by 2020.

India is home to a growing number of upstarts in the VR industry. VR Startups have made a promising start with the continued support from the ecosystem. Immense opportunities await them to offer immersive and fully interactive experiences in industries as diverse as healthcare, education, tourism, sports, fashion and manufacturing.  

The Intel India Maker Lab team reached out to a few VR entrepreneurs in India to get a peek into their entrepreneurial journey, product innovation and their perspectives on the ecosystem.

Excerpts

Hemanth Sathyanarayana

Founder and CEO, Imaginate

From a simulator to 3D meeting solution, Imaginate has an array of VR and AR solutions for real estate, ecommerce, healthcare, defence, entertainment and education. It also has to its credit contributing to the design of Indian Army’s first AR simulator. Among many awards, Imaginate is the recipient of TiE Top 50 Startup award-2017 and NASSCOM’s most Innovative and High Potential Product award for 2016.

Product Development Experience

Be it education or construction, the scope for VR is wide. Everyone is excited about it, but when it comes to hardware, few people want to go in depth. People are still wary about what they can do with VR. The VR engineering space is not matured yet, as lots of changes are underway. Deriving best value from AR/VR requires seamless combination of hardware and software. As large companies are still figuring out the best hardware for AR/VR, we see potential customers cautiously adopting it.

My Entrepreneurial Learning

In this space, it is very important to listen to customer. We need to know who our customers are, understand their requirements, challenges, know their affordability for adopting at scale and then go for a solution. I may be excited to sell our solution, but I would take a step back and understand the market well before venturing into it.

On Ecosystem Collaboration

It will take at least two more years for the VR market to fully mature. From India standpoint, availability of hardware is yet to pick up pace. In US or China, getting access to latest hardware is not a challenge. Unlike there, hardware is highly expensive in India. We end up paying significantly higher to procure or test application on the existing hardware. The government must give subsidy for the startups and ease their expenditure on hardware.

Varun Priyan

Founder, VRNext

Launched in 2015 by Varun Priyan and Sephin Thomas, VRNext has two market-ready products and is currently developing Augmented Reality games and Virtual Reality financial solution for a leading bank in India. Their client list includes the likes of Vodafone, Kalyan Developers. Their products include Android-based interactive VR walkthrough for real estate. They also have developed one-of-its-kind complete AutoVR showroom for a leading automobile company.

Product Development Experience

VR/AR is still in its early stages in India. However, this year we have seen a drastic increase in interest. More and more people and companies want to try out AR/VR. However, one of the key challenges in product development is acquiring skilled resources. As the exposure is limited, startups have got to explore new avenues and acquire or build the right capabilities.

My Entrepreneurial Learning

Finding success is much easier as a team. In my 2 years of running a startup, I've understood that entrepreneurship is much easier when you’re not doing it alone. You need partners whose skills complement yours and whom you can trust completely. It makes the difference between big success and small, or between success and failure.

On Ecosystem Collaboration

As a startup, we don't have big marketing budgets and we are always looking for opportunities to showcase our products. Startups need more avenues where they can interact with others in the industry to get feedback, mentorship and funding.

Parveez Nasayam

CEO, Xenium Digital

Xenium Digital has introduced technology-based interactive promotions to the market. It has been providing engaging experience to a world class clientele such as Mercedes, Yahoo, Tata, Google, Vodafone, Zee TV, Star India, etc.

Product Development Experience

VR is an amazing technology in terms of its capability to offer digital and immersive experiences. It has been transforming and getting better by the day. The potential for fully immersive advertising experiences is exciting but will require significant consideration for user experience and quality of ads. We are extremely focused on how our product will transform customer experience, be it in gaming, advertising or realty, sports or healthcare.

My Entrepreneurial Learning

We have been exploring opportunities beyond our scope of technology and geography. There is help around, but we need to find the right one. Xenium has a presence in Singapore, and it is interesting to see how the Singapore government welcomed our idea and extended support. It was a similar experience in Netherlands too.

On Ecosystem Collaboration

The hardware startup ecosystem in India is far from matured, especially in the area of virtual reality. VR is being adopted in numerous industries like healthcare, automotive, retail and e-commerce, military and defence, yet the product development continues to be an arduous task. It is not like developing an app. The ecosystem must have the necessary expertise and come together to create a platform to enable startups in their product journey.

Ashwani Garg

Founder, Kalpnik

Kalpnik aims at revolutionizing the way people experience remote places and events virtually. With patent pending technology, the Kalpnik team is working hard to bridge the gap between dreams and reality to allow people to experience places and events in an immersive and interactive manner.

Product Development Experience

VR Product development is an iterative process as you are trying to create a new experience and in most verticals there aren’t many prior examples that you can learn from. Guidelines for what an engaging immersive experience should be and how end users should interact with the medium are all still at very nascent stages and therefore requires experimentation. At Kalpnik, it has taken us a year to imagine and reach the experience that we feel good about.

Marketing, especially in consumer segment is very challenging, because consumers don’t know what VR experience is and therefore don’t ask for it. Usability issues with headsets further add to the problem. Standalones such as recently announced Facebook Go will address some issues but consumer education will require more engaging application and industry wide effort.

My Entrepreneurial Learning

Disrupting and challenging established ways of doing something is incredibly hard. While it is important to listen to feedback, it is equally important to not get disheartened by rejections that are bound to happen when you are attempting something that has not been done before. You need to build supportive team and partners, something I have been very fortunate with and enjoy small successes along the way.

On Ecosystem Collaboration

We are still in early days for the VR technology. Quality and usability of headsets, price points, developer tools are all rapidly evolving to make the adoption easier. In general, ecosystem has been very helpful. Funding and support for disruptive ideas with longer time horizons is still a challenge but we are making progress. Local arms of MNCs and associated accelerators can provide proactive handholding and support to accelerate startups in new technology areas like VR that are still early at global stage. Government support in opening access for content will also play a key role in accelerating our product.

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