Meet the Top 8 XR Companies Trailblazing in Higher Education

The Top 8 XR Education Prize Finalists took the big stage in Los Angeles last week to compete for cash prizes up to $250,000 funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The XR Edu Prize is an innovation competition designed to accelerate the most promising companies operating at the intersection of postsecondary education and virtual, augmented, or mixed reality (collectively, “XR”). XR Edu is part of the broader $1.5 million “Algorithm for Change: AI/ML & XR Access to Education” competition hosted by the NYU Social Entrepreneurship Program and Techstars.

In designing the Challenge, I was especially excited about the potential for XR technologies to improve affordability, accessibility and learning outcomes in higher education. Our Top 8 Finalists pitched a diverse array of XR solutions tackling these issues and more.

New-York based 3D Bear kicked off the competition pitching their augmented reality learning platform for 3D modeling.

Next up was Silicon Valley-based Pat Inc. pitching their joint venture with Singapore-based V-KAIWA for language learners to practice conversation in simulated real world scenes.

Brooklyn-based WondaVR presented an online platform for anyone to create highly immersive learning experiences and share it easily on all platforms.

Followed by Detroit-based Alchemie pitching interactive digital learning tools that fuse commercial game design and data analytics to provide engaging, real-time feedback for students and instructors:

Philadelphia-based Lovoco pitched a live demo of Stenopoly – the first instantaneous bilingual subtitling augmented reality software enabling captions for visual learners, comprehension for global communicators, and higher learning outcomes for students:

Los Angeles-based Embodied Labs presented immersive tools that allow professional and family care partners to embody the perspective of an older adult, and use the insights they learn to transform their organizations and communities.

Santa Monica-based Emblematic Group pitched REACH, a platform that makes it easy to create, distribute and experience volumetric AR/VR/XR, that will revolutionize massive open online courses for post-secondary students of all backgrounds:

Austin-based Interplay Learning presented a VR training solution for “hands-on” vocational careers including electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians.

Judging for the pitch competition was led by four esteemed leaders in XR, venture capital and education: Hamet Watt, Board Partner at Upfront Ventures; Ted Schilowitz, Futurist at Paramount Pictures; Joanna Popper, Global Head of Virtual Reality for Location Based Entertainment at HP; and Troy Williams, Managing Director at University Ventures.

Judges and other leaders in the L.A. tech community had the opportunity to demo the Top 8 technologies during the XR Edu Afterparty.


Without further ado, I am pleased to announce the 3 cash prize winners:

$30,000 – 3rd Place: Emblematic Group

$100,000 – 2nd Place: Interplay Learning

$250,000 – Grand Prize: Embodied Labs

I am incredibly optimistic about the future of higher education with these visionary entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation. Very special thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their generous financial support; Techstars and the NYU School of Entrepreneurship for co-hosting; University Ventures, Women in XR and Two Bit Circus for your partnership; and Felice Shimmel for your masterful Event Coordination. Last but not least, thank you to everyone in the LA tech community for your participation and support!

 








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Announcing the XR Education Prize Challenge

Today I am pleased to announce the XR Education Prize Challenge (“XR Edu”), an innovation competition funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the most promising companies innovating at the intersection of postsecondary education and virtual, augmented, or mixed reality (collectively, “XR”). XR Edu is part of the broader $1.5 million “Algorithm for Change: AI/ML & XR Access to Education” competition hosted by the NYU School of Entrepreneurship and Techstars, in partnership with University Ventures, Two Bit Circus and Women in XR.

Click here to apply to the XR Education Prize Challenge.

Teams participating in the XR Edu Challenge will compete for the following cash prizes:

1st Place: $250,000

2nd Place: $100,000

3rd Place: $30,000

Submissions will be judged by a panel of prominent leaders in XR, venture capital and higher education. The Top 8 Finalists will be invited to compete at the XR Education Summit live pitch event, hosted by Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles. Prize winners will also be considered for additional convertible note funding up to $150,000* from University Ventures, the leading venture capital firm focused on higher education. The purpose of the XR Education Summit is to facilitate engagement and collaboration among industry leaders in XR, higher education, and venture capital. Attendance is mandatory for finalists, and travel expenses will be covered by the program.

Applications will be open through June 1, 2018. For information on application instructions, eligibility and scoring criteria, please visit the XR Education Challenge webpage.

My ultimate objective in leading this Challenge is to catalyze innovative solutions to address unmet needs in higher education. Affordability, quality, accessibility, and graduate employability are some of the most significant challenges facing higher education today. These issues are magnified for students pursuing post-secondary education from low income, inner city and remote communities. I believe that XR technologies have the potential to address these challenges through cost reduction, digital delivery, and the experiential nature of XR.

I have spent the last year developing an investment thesis around human-machine interaction and the future of work. As automation, robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to displace hundreds of millions of jobs over the next decade, now more than ever we need adaptive training methods to help people prepare for the new economy. XR offers compelling opportunity for last-mile training models that connect education to employment, and enable real-time skill development.

Examples of XR education solutions include VR learning simulations for medical, industrial and emergency responder applications. VR training for surgeons and first responders allow trainees to practice new skills outside of a high-risk, high-stakes real-world environment. AR and MR data visualizations and digital overlays provide pre-professional training tools across diverse industries including civil engineering and construction, manufacturing, automotive, and defense. Experiential learning such as VR foreign language immersion has the potential to accelerate conversational fluency. The examples described above are just a sampling of potential applications for XR education; I am eager to see what additional novel applications will emerge during the Challenge.

For more information on the XR Education Prize Challenge, please contact Lara Jeremko at lara.jeremko@techstars.com.

*Funding from University Ventures is not guaranteed and subject to mutually agreed-upon investment terms between University Ventures and Finalist company management.








Why I’m Excited About XTech and XR

It seems like every day there’s a new form of digital reality. Virtual. Augmented. Mixed. Lightweight. Just this week, VR Digest coined the term “XR” to encompass all of these technologies, and I think the name aptly fits.

XR is part of a broader movement of new technologies improving human performance and experiences. Experiential technology (“XTech” for short) refers to opportunities emerging at the intersection of hardware, biosensors, AI and neuroscience.

I’ve been spending the last few months at Techstars building our strategy around XTech and human-computer interaction, and have been blown away by the conversations happening in this category.

I’m particularly fascinated by XTech’s potential to democratize experience and performance across massive industries including entertainment, health & wellness, learning and enterprise.

Experiential entertainment aims to improve the way we experience life and derive enjoyment. Technologies in this space are leveraging XR to provide compelling multi-sensory experiences to consumers.

Imagine people in markets around the world having access to life-like experiences in travel, live music, sports and remote areas of nature. Imagine immersive news and storytelling with the potential to convey empathy and compassion like never before, at a time our society needs it more than ever.

Advances in brain-computer and muscle-computer interfaces are creating new frontiers in cognitive and physical performance. EMG biomechanical analyses have the potential to enhance physical capabilities and prevent injuries for manual workers and athletes – professional and recreational alike.

Brain EEG sensors and neurosignaling tools have the potential to improve cognitive function and mental health for every person on the planet.

VR immersive learning environments are providing realistic training simulations to effectively prepare professionals operating in high-risk situations, such as military, medicine, and first responders.

VR simulations for public speaking and professional sports games are preparing presenters and athletes for high-stakes performances.

In the workplace, visual collaboration tools imagined in Hollywood movies such as Minority Report are now fully functioning in board rooms. Social robots are now in homes and hotels assisting people with service needs and safety monitoring.

While many of these solutions require significant investment or access to high-end research labs, I am passionate about making these technologies accessible to mass consumer markets. For this to be possible, costs need to be drastically reduced across the entire value chain.

To this end, I am very interested in enabling infrastructure plays including compression, data storage, battery efficiency and streaming technologies. Alternative consumption models, such as location-based activations and VR arcades will also help bring these technologies into the hands of more people.

At the forefront of the XTech movement is JAZZ Venture Partners, a San Francisco-based VC firm dedicated to unlocking human potential. JAZZ coined the term XTech and has been an indispensable thought leader for my own musings and explorations in this space. JAZZ recently led the Series B round of my favorite experiential entertainment company, Two Bit Circus, also a Techstars Ventures portfolio company.

JAZZ also organizes the XTech Expo, the world’s leading experiential technology conference. This year’s conference will take place March 14-15 in San Francisco. The conference schedule is stacked with innovation leaders across VR, film, gaming, human performance, and more. I’m emceeing the Expo’s Startup Showcase and incredibly excited to demo new XTech experiences.

If you’re like me and eager to participate in the conversation around how XTech will shape the future of humanity, let’s connect! Tweet me @larajeremko with your favorite XTech startup idea and I’ll send you a discount registration code.

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