For this technology feature Business Leader has teamed up with SETsquared to give readers an insight into how different technology advances are changing the way business is being carried out.
What trends are happening around Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in a business context?
John Collomosse: “We work on new technologies that will be applied to the creative industries such as Performance Capture Technology – which can be used in the film sector. This new technology will allow you to capture a 3D model of a performance and use that as a digital asset in a computer game or virtual reality experience.
“It’s an exciting time to explore immersive technology like AR and VR, as you have equipment like the headsets, but there is very little content, and we see this as a way that you can bridge that content gap and create highly immersive experiences.
“We’re also doing lots of work in blockchain, which is something people typically associate with cryptocurrencies, but has applications beyond finance such as tracking IP rights and content. This will allow you to trace content back to its origins so you can make better decisions about whether you trust the content.
“Fundamentally, immersive technology is a new way of storytelling,and there are real world applications already in fields such as training and the heritage sector.
“It’s also worth noting that one of the features of being based in Guildford, is that it’s the centre of the UK games industry, and you could say the industry was born here with Peter Molyneaux and Bullfrog. “There are huge companies involved in the sector based here like EA and Epic, and lots of SMEs too.”
Rupert Howe: “Our application is a writing and delivery tool for producers and writers so they can map out non-linear stories.
“There is potential for an explosion in non-linear stories, but they are very hard to create, and this tool helps to do that. It is similar in its impact to what WordPress did for websites.
“People come with great ideas but can’t see an output, and they go through a horrible technical experience, and what they get out the other end isn’t what they expected. VR and AR and new technology can change this and transform content creation.
“In a broader sense, I would say that people are giving up on immersive for entertainment and using it for enterprise instead – museums, health and training for example.”
Dominic Deane: “Our story is interesting because we are using AR and VR as a tool in our business. We have been around for eight years and provide in-house for Fortune 500 companies around the world. Primarily this is for presidents and vice presidents in large global companies.
“The training we provide is intensive and covers subjects like innovation and Industry 4.0 – these are transformative ideas that businesses need to adopt if they are to stay relevant in this fast-changing world.
“The challenge has always been how do you deliver that training most effectively and also how do you scale-up and scale-out their learning? We’ve done this by utilising AR and VR through a produce called GEMBA. It puts users in an immersive environment where they can be put on a production line or a process and be hands on with the training and immersed in it.
“It also answers the problem of how you convey the knowledge that a handful of people have in a company to their hundreds of thousands of staff. VR and AR allows you do to that quickly and effectively.
“You often hear about this technology being a fad, but it isn’t if it is actually responding to a problem or challenge that a business has. I believe we’re a way off from it being used in a personal capacity because putting on a headset is intrusive, but in a business space – where you are often trying to find space for clarity and focus – it allows you to do this. The direction of this technology is towards the enterprise space.”
Rupert Howe: “I saw a very good example of this at the national gallery. It was busy room at a conference but with a headset on you can shut out and have the curator talk about the painting or a monk talk about the religious significance. It’s about being in a busy space and being able to immerse yourself in the moment.”
Janosch Amstutz: “We work in multiple sectors and we create content for creatives and license our products to them. What we’ve seen in the last five years is a fundamental issue with AR and VR at an early stage.
“This is because companies were overpromising and underdelivering on experiences because of three major barriers to mass adoption of this technology, which is that content creation is very tedious, the data sizes required to created good content, and the hardware required to deliver it.
“In last two years, many companies in the sector have been addressing those pain points, unlike the Silicon Valley model, where you try and create the most futuristic experience as possible and one day hope it is adopted.
“We’ve seen a few earlier companies have failed due to that reason. BLIPPAR, for example, failed because they created a solution that the market hadn’t caught up with yet. It’s good to see that these pain points being addressed, and people are taking a step back and looking at how this technology can solve business problems.”
You mentioned Blippar, which is valued as a Unicorn, and received lots of funding. Has its failure made investors more cautious about this sector?
Janosch Amstutz: “There is definitely more discussion around this now as lots of money was invested, but it didn’t yield any results. Attracting investment in this sector was still an issue last year, but people are starting to see more deployments that are sticking now, so they are willing to invest in them again.
“Niche industries like education, health and training are the ones where you are seeing how it works and working with the tech long-term.”
Charlotte Randall: “I would say that investors backing away from technology businesses. We have seen a slowdown in the levels of investment that are available. The success of failure happens in the last 10% and is around the accuracy part, and this means that as well as great technology you also need the people element in place and it needs to solve a market problem.”
Jeremy Brassington: “There is a lot of talk about content and technology, but how many people are thinking about the accessibility of that content with people with disabilities? I believe that is important.
“On the funding question we’re raising in a difficult market which is EdTech. We rely heavily on ourselves and angel funding. We have a built a web-based app programme that helps students who have learning disabilities to make notes.
“Our biggest problem is how do we scale this up. Now we are finding that institutions are coming to us and we want a system for every student.”
Steve McCarthy: “We are a digital innovation agency, and if you look at the idea of Martec’s Law and believe technology is changing exponentially but organisations are changing much slower, then we try to bridge the gap in between.
“We work with big blue-chip companies such as Toyota, and we look at what problem they have and come up with a technology-based solution to try and solve it.
“We’re tech agnostic and the word ‘need’ is very important for us. We start with the customer and user pain first, and then build the tech around this. It sounds obvious, but this can often be overlooked when there are lots of nice shiny technologies that are available on the market.
“This is where the future for this technology lies, and it means that any industry is up for grabs in regard to its deployment.”
Do you find it easy to attract the skills you need to grow your businesses?
Dominic Deane: “We have had challenges in London because you’re fighting everyone for development talent.
“To counter this, we have leveraged a group up in the North East as there is a VR and gaming hub. We have built a team up there around the higher education centres as in London it’s a financial fight to get specific talent you need. For us, it’s about working with universities and ecosystems.”
Stavros Paschalakis: “Getting the right development talent is always a challenge, but having links with universities helps a lot. Brexit does worry me slightly though, as more than half of people that worked in visual atoms were in Europe.
“I do hope we can still find the talent and can retain the talent without subjecting them to months of waiting times and paperwork.”
How can incubators and support groups help emerging tech businesses?
Stephen Mayers: “SETsquared is a partnership with five research intensive universities, and is the world’s leading University business incubator. We have raised over £2bn of investment for our companies and to date we have supported more than 4,000 companies and created thousands of jobs. We have business acceleration centres at each of our universities and I run the Scale-Up programme which provides investment support for companies developing their R&D growth strategies.“
Chris Pett: “I am an Entrepreneur in Residence for SETsquared at the University of Surrey and I work with a dozen start-ups. They are all at different stages of development. Currently we have 60 start-ups being incubated, a mixture of residential and virtual members.
“My role is to help them see the bigger picture and opportunities they have, and form networks with business partners and to also find niche areas where they can build their company.
“Ultimately, we boil it all down most important thing, which is helping them to distinguish between investors and customers and help them learn the difference. It’s about telling the right story about their product and idea in the right context.”