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SVVR 2017: For Trailblazers, by Trailblazers

Grab tickets to the Silicon Valley VR Expo, kicking off March 29-31.

SVVR 2017 is less than a week away, and with an exciting roster of speakers and demos across all major industry verticals, with 100+ VR/AR companies represented, it’s slated to be a star-studded gathering of VR experts. In preparation, VRScout‘s Malia Probst spoke with SVVR Co-Founder Karl Krantz for next week’s episode of the VRScout Report, where they discussed the SVVR expo, what’s exciting about this year’s edition, and its roots as the first VR meetup in America.

This year’s conference takes place March 29-31 at the San Jose Convention Center.

Among an ever-increasing roster of VR conferences, SVVR distinguishes itself in several key ways. Foremost, this is intended as a professional gathering rather than a place for the public to try out VR for the first time—a place where top professionals can gather for high-level conversations, collaboration, and networking.

“One thing that makes our conference different is that everybody there is in the industry,” said Krantz. “We are a pure professional industry trade show—everyone in there is either a developer, or they’re there for biz-dev, they’re trying to invest, they’re trying to figure out how VR impacts their own business. If you’re in the industry, it’s the best networking in VR. We get told this all the time—so many people tell us this is their favorite conference.”

One such person is indefatigable podcaster Kent Bye, host of Voices of VR:

If you can only go to one VR conference this year, then go to SVVR.

Bye will be delivering a keynote at SVVR, as will Nonny de la Peña, CEO of Emblematic Group, Tony Parisi, Head of VR and AR at Unity Technologies, and Rikard Steiber, SVP of VR at HTC. Unlike many trade shows, SVVR emphasizes building a space where attendees actually have time and space to try out demos and engage with each other.

“One thing you’ll notice is: it’s not super densely crowded at our events—that’s by design,” said Krantz. “We’re very aware of the exhibitor to attendee ratio, because VR demos are very inefficient—it takes 10 minutes to try a VR demo. We want an environment where you can actually try things, where you can talk to the people you want to talk to—I think that’s more conducive to a conference where business gets done.”

To ensure that business gets done, SVVR is curated to function as a space where VCs, entrepreneurs, and developers (who make up 60 percent of attendees) from around the world can connect with each other.

“[We bring] amazing investors,” said Krantz. “We’re in Silicon Valley so we have all the investors come to our show—at least ten percent of our attendees are investors.”

And in the interest of making sure all sectors of the industry are sharing ideas with each other and attendees, the SVVR team ensured that they included all major VR verticals in the form of four tracks: Education, Medical, WebVR, and Developer.

“We cover all verticals because I don’t think VR is ready for us to be building walls here,” said Krantz. “We need to build bridges across these verticals. Some verticals are going to solve one problem, or solve something else, and we need to share that knowledge. There’s just too many unknowns in VR and too many and unsolved problems, so we need to bring together different cultures, different verticals, get everyone together in the same room talking, and cross-pollinate. That’s going to push things forward a lot faster.”

In service of making this cross-pollination, SVVR included representation from VR communities from Japan, Korea, and China.

“One thing we focused on this year is making it international,” said Krantz. “Diversity is so important, diversity of approaches, and different cultures offer different approaches. This year we’re bringing in pavilions. We have a huge contingent from Japan, another pavilion from Korea, and another pavilion from our partners from China.”

Here’s a peek of the far-reaching topics at SVVR 2017:

To boot, there’ll be location-based and out-of-home tech like arcades and Vsports.

This might seem like an insane amount of work to produce—it is—the dedication grows from a deep love Krantz and co. hold for the progress of VR and the VR ecosystem.

“We are a community focused industry organization; we’re dedicated to accelerating the growth of a healthy diverse VR ecosystem,” said Krantz. “One of my biggest fears is that one single company will own VR and be kind of the gatekeeper. I don’t think that’s good for anyone. I think that would be terrible for humanity if you carry it forward decades. VR is a really powerful technology; it needs to be carefully thought through as we integrate it into our lives.”

And if anybody has experience to make a claim like that, it’s Krantz, who has been fascinated with VR technology since getting a Commodore computer as a kid. But the real story behind SVVR begins with Second Life.

Second Life really changed my life,” said “I found communities in there, friends in there—it really was a second life for me. I lived in Second Life when I was not at work, it really impacted me.”

Krantz was so inspired by what Philip Rosedale had been able to create in Second Life—a true virtual community—that in 2012 he resolved to leave his job working in enterprise telepresence (a choice inspired by ‘Founding Father of VR’ Jaron Lanier) in NYC and head for Silicon Valley.

“I realized, okay, I’ve got to get out to Silicon Valley—I was living in New York at the time—because virtual reality is going to happen soon, it’s inevitable,” said Krantz. “Nobody thought that was really the thing at the time. They thought, ‘Ah, we tried that, it didn’t work.’”

Krantz’s instinct turned out to be right—for more reasons than one.

“My intention actually was: I’m going to work for Philip Rosedale, because he’s creating the future! He knows what’s up,” said Krantz. “And so, I got out to California and I thought, I’ll just go join the local virtual reality meetup, because I had been going to tech meetups in New York, and I just assumed that was a thing in Silicon Valley; it’s Silicon Valley, of course they have that.”

But, as the story goes: they didn’t. Enter: SVVR. And the timing couldn’t have been more ideal; the Oculus Kickstarter had been gaining steam in the broader community.

“We timed our first meet up just as the first DK1s were shipping so that a whole bunch of people could come together and try those DK1s that everybody was so excited about, and we grew it from there,” said Krantz. “We were trying to find a place to have it where we wouldn’t be embarrassed if only five people came, we were hoping for 20 people. But we also wanted something that was kind of significant—I’m kind of into historical significance—we actually hosted it at the Computer History Museum because they have on display the very first HMD, the Sword of Damocles as it’s called, Ivan Sutherland’s prototype.”

The concerns about attendance turned out to be misguided. Not only was the little room packed to capacity, Nate Mitchell, a co-founder of Oculus flew up to demo content and hardware nobody had seen before.

“So we rented a little classroom there to have the very first meetup, we thought maybe 20 people would come,” said Krantz. “We actually filled the room to capacity; we had 75 people there. Actually, everybody in that room is now running a VR company or a VR VC, or somehow involved in the industry, it’s kind of amazing. We go back and look at those pictures and we can identify almost every single person and what they’re doing now, they’re all doing things in VR—they were all just waiting in the background for VR to happen, and the second it did they all dove in.”

SVVR continued as a monthly meetup until on the one-year anniversary meetup, where they up and decided they’d throw a conference.

“We said, ‘Hey let’s throw a conference, the first VR conference!’—and it really was the first VR conference—there had been some in the ’90s but they all fizzled out by then,” said Krantz. “And because we had this great community that we’d been building every month, we threw the first VR conference, and we’ve done it every year since; we’re now in our 4th annual conference.”

Krantz still can’t believe how rapidly the industry and community have progressed since then—a community that he was instrumental in building. He can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to encounter VR for the first time with all the developments that have come since his first experience four years ago.

“I am so envious of people that get to try VR now, for the first time!” said Krantz. “I remember the first time I tried the DK1 I had tears in my eyes, I was so excited, I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s real!’ It was such an emotional experience. But…I can’t imagine somebody who comes to the SVVR conference for the first time now, and they put on an Oculus CV1 or the Vive in roomscale, and walk around, and have hands…and all the things we’re starting to be able to do now…eye-tracking, facial-expression tracking, haptics, and exoskeleton gloves, there’s some many cool things right now! I’m very envious of that.”

SVVR is an iconic institution in the history of American and international VR—and SVVR 2017 is set to be their most historic yet. A listing and schedule of talks and exhibitors are already available, with more being added daily in the days leading up to the expo.

Get your tickets here. VRScout readers can use the code VRSCOUT@SVVR2017 to save $200 on general admission, $50 on expo-only admission, and 20% on standard exhibitor packages.

VRScout is proud to be a media partner at SVVR 2017.

About the Scout

Jesse Damiani

Jesse Damiani is Editor-at-Large of VRScout and the CEO of Galatea, a writing and project management tool for immersive storytelling. He's also Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University Press) and the author of @endless$pectator: The Screens Suite #loliloquy (BlazeVOX, 2017). Other writing can be found on IndieWire and The Huffington Post.

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