Smartphone applications with face filters, 360-degree marketing videos and gamified virtual reality experiences are part of the new media field that aims for the digital to become spatial and touchable in the future. The joint VR/AR growth program between Finnish Virtual Reality Association FIVR and Demos Helsinki enables companies to experiment with VR technology.
After decades of trial and error, virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR) have finally matured in the fields of art, entertainment and industrial production. Often the three technologies are called extended reality, XR.
A large number of new forms of service and an entire industry have begun to grow as the XR technologies become more common. This is reflected in the development of XR content in major technology and software companies and marketing agencies in Finland.
Startups as service providers
Micro-sized startups are perhaps the most important factor in the immersive technologies' innovation field. Their activities are aimed at developing artificial reality experiences for the consumer and business markets. Various games, tools and customer experience-enriching applications are already being developed in Finland with an eager and fearless gait, ready to explore the possibilities and challenges of the new technology.
A challenge for an XR startup is finding its own profile from the service field, and providing the services to customers. Plenty of potential customers exist, but most of them are hesitant about going to the XR market or designing new service concepts that use the rapidly changing technology.
Often a small startup company is responsible not only for the service, but also for selling the whole vision. The customer must be convinced of the benefits of and uses for the new technology before they can get into the design of the project. Startups find it difficult to reach out to large customer companies, too.
FIVR and Demos Helsinki pilot workshops
The XR growth program, co-directed by FIVR and Demos Helsinki and funded by the European Social Fund, aims to meet this challenge, among others. Twelve workshops will be held over two years. The workshops target to create XR prototypes, new customer relationships, and collaboration models between large client companies and small innovative startups. Facilitators work in the project between companies and startups, helping both parties to achieve their own and shared goals.
Startups as expert partners for companies
When it comes to starting new pilots, it is important to find a curious and brave client company that needs help in conceptualizing XR content. A month-long XR pilot is a suitable time, as it does not require an extended commitment to the new XR technology.
As a subcontractor, a startup is an ideal partner for a large organization to showcase the status and meaning of XR technology in a nutshell. The problem is finding a partner and building trust: How to find exactly the right startup among hundreds? How is it possible to know that the outcome is of high quality, especially if the customer does not have the experience of either software production or XR technologies?
XR workshops allow one to quickly access to the future technology in the form of a concrete case that has been tailor-made to suit the organization's needs. When the customer's needs are known, FIVR and Demos Helsinki look within Finland's extensive XR field for a startup whose expertise is best suited to the requirements.
In addition to quality monitoring and project management, the facilitators' task is to help setting targets and negotiating contracts. Communication between large and micro-sized companies operating on different fields and in different ways may be challenging. Facilitators narrow down this gap in perspectives and help in creating common goals from a neutral point of view.
New knowledge and inspiration
To this date, there have been three XR workshops and three more are currently running. The results have been versatile and encouraging as the program has progressed. The three workshops have generated a recycling game developed by Avains Oy for Lassila & Tikanoja, an interactive 360-degree video trailer developed by There Is No Spoon for the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, and a report by Deeptale Oy on the long-term potential of added reality in the learning materials for SanomaPro.
New partnerships between small and large companies have delighted both sides. A great number of new information and inspiration about the possibilities of XR technologies has emerged, and three startups have been able to develop completely new product and service concepts for new customers. There’s always a need for new innovations within the growing technology field, but creating them is challenging if demand and supply do not meet. Neutral partners will continue to be in demand for guiding the startups and large companies to realize their common goals.
Santeri Suominen, FIVR
Olli Sinerma, FIVR
Leena Alanko, Demos Helsinki