Last year, Rothenberg Ventures announced River, the world’s first dedicated Virtual Reality Accelerator. Today, in a grand reopening of sorts, they pulled back on the specificity of that description with the announcement of a new class of startups and a revised name: the River Program.
Get in the Current
That’s the River Program’s new motto. The old motto was VR: The Greatest Thing Since R, but they’re repositioning themselves more broadly as a community dedicated to building and supporting Frontier Tech. In addition to virtual and augmented reality, the new nomenclature encompasses artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, computer vision, space, drones, quantum computing, nanotech, and any future budding tech along the fertile plains.
But for now, every startup in the new announcement still seems to be rooted in VR and AR, with footholds in some of these adjacent tech categories. You can see the full infographic here, but the short story is they’re expanding their footprint and hedging their bets. It’s what they do.
Don’t Call it an Accelerator
I’m still pretty sure Mike Rothenberg decided to call it the River Program instead of an accelerator so that the rest of us can stop asking him what the difference is between acceleration and incubation, but he says it’s because they want to be able to include the best and fastest-growing startups regardless of their stage.
I had the opportunity to meet a lot of the River staff last weekend at their racing event in San Pedro. They invited me to their tent and offered me free beer.
Full disclosure: I drank the free beer.
Since then, I’ve been talking with Sophia Dominguez, author of the newsletter All Things VR and the River Program’s new entrepreneur in residence. Her job will be to make sure this new roster of startups gets the most out of their time in the River Program. She couldn’t be happier about it, and promised to check back in periodically and let us know how the companies are progressing. She was also proud to share that about a third of the companies listed below are female founded.
Along with the subtle rebranding, Rothenberg Ventures is upping the ante since committing $1 Million to River earlier in the year. The firm is now committing $10 Million to the River Program over the next year. So without further ado, here is the latest group of startups to get some of that frontier money.
River Program Startups
GeoCV is a mobile solution for capturing 3D objects and spaces with any phone or tablet. GeoCV’s product will automatically transform 3D scans of spaces or objects into 3D models. In anticipation of 3D sensors becoming available in smartphones and tablets in 2016, GeoCV is building a hardware agnostic solution that will capitalize on the 3D sensor industry.
GeoCV has a seven member team based in Moscow. Its founders, Anton Yakubenko (CEO) and Gleb Krivovyaz (CTO), have been working together for over nine years in 3D computer vision. The team aims to become the default solution for individuals and businesses to transfer the physical world to virtual reality.
Cerevrum combines cognitive neuroscience, data-driven machine learning, and innovative game design to create immersive educational VR experiences. Its creators operate under the assumption that today’s brain training often elicits placebo effects over substantive cognitive improvements. By contrast, Cerevrum claims to provide scientifically validated learning experiences across all viable VR platforms.
In addition to his time at River, Aldis Sipolins (CEO) is also pursuing a PhD in Visual Cognition and Human Performance. Natasha Floksy (CCO) is a game industry veteran and a Mobile VR Jam AR/VR silver medalist. The two founders have spent the past year collaborating on VR research.
Retinad is credited with building one of the first analytics platforms for virtual reality developers and is now working on building the first viable VR advertising network. Retinad’s platforms provide metrics on app install ads, interactive advertising, visual surveys, and heat maps from immersive experiences.
Anthony Guay (CTO) spent three years as a software director at Binaloop Software. Samuel Poireri (CEO) previously built Yagi Card in partnership with Mt. Gox to create the first Bitcoin debit card. The founders have been working together for more than two years.
Vicarious Surgical integrates virtual reality with surgical robotics, working to create a technology more capable than existing solutions at a lower price point.
Founders, Adam Sachs (CEO) and Sammy Khalifa (CTO), were roommates at MIT and previously worked together at Apple on iPhone design and manufacturing. Both have backgrounds in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering.
inVR’s platform enables creators to easily convert 3D designs into virtual reality experiences across all platforms. inVR aims to be the leading platform for 3D VR, which they believe provides more immersive experiences than 360 video.
The founders, Eyal Erez and Alexander Krasij, met two years ago at Disney Mobile while working on the mobile game, Temple Run: Oz. Eyal has worked for many years in VFX/Animation and understands the challenges of bridging the gap between offline 3D Animation and real-time VR. Alex has been involved with independent game development for the past 10 years, recently creating a game device called TRIPAD. These two were the first to show up to camp, arriving a full week early. I spoke with Eyal last night, who was still trying to catch his breath. He had this to say:
As soon as we heard that we got accepted into River, we hopped on the plane to work out of their office in preparation for TC Disrupt. We were amazed by the amount of support that was offered to us during the time spent there.
Rival Theory is an artificial intelligence company in the entertainment industry. Rival Theory creates narrative experiences in virtual reality that focus on interactions between human participants and AIdriven characters. Rival Theory strives to fill VR worlds with authentic, emotionally relevant, personal and meaningful experiences and empathetic, compelling characters.
The founders, Bill Klein and Amanda Solosky, have been working together for the past five years and have built what they believe to be the premier artificial intelligence and character engine on the Unity 3D game engine. Used by over 50,000 developers and studios, their technology has been used by game developers like Square Enix, for cinematic experiences in Hollywood and media outlets such as NBC Universal and Showtime.
VRChat is the social platform for user-generated immersive worlds in virtual reality. Through custom avatars, engaging input, and a diverse community, anyone with VR hardware can access a range of social environments and experiences. VRChat’s Unity customization workflow enables users to rapidly create social VR environments.
Founders, Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudrey, are both game developers. Jesse has been in the gaming industry for fifteen years, previously running his own gaming company. Graham previously worked on mobile games at GREE and Zynga.
OBE Immersive is an immersive input solution that enables users to interact with virtual environments. OBE’s SDK can easily be programmed into any application to provide full body vibrations, biometrics, audio, temperature and haptic game controls.
The co-founders of OBE, Linda Lobato (CEO) and Antonio Perdigón (Creative Director), have worked together for seven years as founders at Machina. Linda was named to Forbes Mexico’s 30 under 30 and featured as one of Intel’s MakeHers. Machina products was best known for creating The MIDI Controller Jacket, called “The Most Beautiful Wearable Tech” by Wired UK magazine in 2014.
Temple Gate Games is a studio determined to develop the best game content in VR. Serial game jam competitors, the five member team joined forces to create Bazaar, a magical flying carpet game for GearVR.
The team is composed of AAA vets, including Tod Semple, creator of Plants Vs. Zombies, Theresa Duringer, creator of Cannon Brawl, Jeff Gates of Spore, Patrick Benjamin of SimCity, and Ben Rosaschi, polish master from Zynga. They’re tackling gaming’s newest frontier with a commitment to quality, multi-platform development.
GetVu builds hardware agnostic AR software for smart glasses. GetVu aims to build a robust AR platform for deskless workers. GetVu’s first application, a warehouse supply chain solution, automates manual pick and pack processes.
Passionate about futuristic technologies, founders, Santhosh Chandrasekar, Sundar Viswanathan, Venkat Su and Rakesh Ramaswamy, began working on AR three years ago in Bangalore, India. GetVu was one of the world’s first companies to bring hand gesture control (Leap Motion Sensor) into an AR applications.
Adawarp is a robotics company that uses virtual reality to control robots remotely. Adawarp’s robots mirror user actions to provide a humanizing solution to long distance communications.
Based in Japan, Adawarp is run by Tatsuki Adaniya, a VR UI/UX designer, and Fantom, a highly skilled embedded systems engineer.
Fringefy uses computer vision to address the large gap between how we think and how we search. Using proprietary landmark and urban recognition technology, Fringefy visually indexes public data points to build the world’s largest GeoVisual repository.
Based in Tel Aviv, the founding team, Amir Adamov, Assif Ziv, and Stav Yagav, have extensive backgrounds in computer vision, machine learning, and mobile development. Assif Ziv’s worked as a full stack developer for corporations such as HP. Amir Adamov was a flight instructor that used augmented and virtual reality visual systems for ten years. Stav Yagav has been programming since he was 14 years old and later studied computer vision at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
VrTV is building a platform for streaming 3D content in real time. By streaming data over videos, VrTV is able to stream all content natively. The company also provides an authoring tool so that users can collaborate on native streaming VR content.
Co-founders Benjamin Cooley and Carlo Morgantini previously worked together in the Zynga Shared Technology Group. The duo built front and back end technologies used internally for Zynga’s game development teams.
You can see these River companies in action starting this weekend at the TechCrunch Disrupt VR Pavilion. For any questions regarding the River companies or community, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.