VR chair startup raises funds, as pandemic boosts prospects for VR and gaming

Roto VR, startup which markets an interactive, ‘360 degree’ chair, has raised £1.5 million in a funding round led by Pembroke VCT. Others in the round include TVB Growth Fund, managed by The FSE Group.

The chair is designed to make VR more accessible to a mass audience, many of whom have turned to VR and gaming to while away the hours as much of the world is locked-down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in 2015 by video games industry veterans, Elliott Myers and Gavin Waxkirsh, Roto VR is an interactive chair that addresses the physical problems of consuming VR whilst seated, such as motion sickness and tangling cables, whilst also enhancing the immersive experience with haptic / vibration feedback in the chair.

The Roto chair is motorized and can auto-rotate to wherever the user is looking, allowing for 360-degree viewing, and thus allows the user to stay in the VR simulation for longer periods of time.

The inbuilt desktop also supports input devices such as a keyboard and mouse which means it can be used in 360-degree desktop computing.

“Most people sit down to watch movies, work, play games and browse the internet whilst seated and we see no reason why the exciting new medium of VR will be any different,” said Myers.

The product is compatible with most VR Head Mounted Displays and is also compatible with all movies and games, as well as additional accessories such as racing wheels and joysticks.

The company is due to launch the consumer and office version of Roto imminently. In addition, it will be marketed to cinemas and arcades.

Andrew Wolfson, CEO Pembroke Investment Managers LLP, said: “In Elliott we have found an entrepreneur who has solved a problem for the VR market with a solution that addresses the physical issues encountered whilst consuming VR content, as well as significantly enhancing the experience. We see future customers coming from both the B2B and B2C markets, in fields such as experiential attractions, home, cinemas and shopping centres.”

What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?

There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that takes the form of a multiple choice question — asking who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO but: C) COVID-19.

There’s likely more than a grain of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is pushing a lot of metaphorical buttons right now. ‘Pause’ buttons for people and industries, as large swathes of the world’s population face quarantine conditions that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic activities are suddenly off limits.

Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over time. The world as it was, where mobility of people has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and indulged wanderlust — may never return to ‘business as usual’.

If global leadership rises to the occasional then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we structure our societies and economies — to make a shift towards lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical meetings do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from home that number suddenly seems vanishingly small.

COVID-19 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis when many people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours.

Hence the reports of people stuck at home flocking back to Facebook to sound off in the digital town square. Now the actual high street is off limits the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind.

Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose already, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about building features that nudge users to ‘mark yourself safe’ during extraordinary events like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks. (Or indeed why it encouraged politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy.)

In less fraught times, Facebook’s ‘purpose’ can be loosely summed to ‘killing time’. But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack.

Over the years the tech giant has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social heap — including spying on and buying up competition, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been pulling off this trick, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; A pandemic is nature’s dark pattern design.

What’s most interesting about this virally disrupted moment is how much of the digital technology that’s been built out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through just such a dystopia.

Seen through this lens, VR should be having a major moment. A face computer that swaps out the stuff your eyes can actually see with a choose-your-own-digital-adventure of virtual worlds to explore, all from the comfort of your living room? What problem are you fixing VR? Well, the conceptual limits of human lockdown in the face of a pandemic quarantine right now, actually…

Virtual reality has never been a compelling proposition vs the rich and textured opportunity of real life, except within very narrow and niche bounds. Yet all of a sudden here we all are — with our horizons drastically narrowed and real-life news that’s ceaselessly harrowing. So it might yet end up wry punchline to another multiple choice joke: ‘My next vacation will be: A) Staycation, B) The spare room, C) VR escapism.’

It’s videoconferencing that’s actually having the big moment, though. Turns out even a pandemic can’t make VR go viral. Instead, long lapsed friendships are being rekindled over Zoom group chats or Google Hangouts. And Houseparty — a video chat app — has seen surging downloads as barflies seek out alternative night life with their usual watering-holes shuttered.

Bored celebs are TikToking. Impromptu concerts are being livestreamed from living rooms via Instagram and Facebook Live. All sorts of folks are managing social distancing and the stress of being stuck at home alone (or with family) by distant socializing — signing up to remote book clubs and discos; joining virtual dance parties and exercise sessions from bedrooms. Taking a few classes together. The quiet pub night with friends has morphed seamlessly into a bring-your-own-bottle group video chat.

This is not normal — but nor is it surprising. We’re living in the most extraordinary time. And it seems a very human response to mass disruption and physical separation (not to mention the trauma of an ongoing public health emergency that’s killing thousands of people a day) to reach for even a moving pixel of human comfort. Contactless human contact is better than none at all.

Yet the fact all these tools are already out there, ready and waiting for us to log on and start streaming, should send a dehumanizing chill down society’s backbone.

It underlines quite how much consumer technology is being designed to reprogram how we connect with each other, individually and in groups, in order that uninvited third parties can cut a profit.

Back in the pre-COVID-19 era, a key concern being attached to social media was its ability to hook users and encourage passive feed consumption — replacing genuine human contact with voyeuristic screening of friends’ lives. Studies have linked the tech to loneliness and depression. Now we’re literally unable to go out and meet friends the loss of human contact is real and stark. So being popular online in a pandemic really isn’t any kind of success metric.

Houseparty, for example, self-describes as a “face to face social network” — yet it’s quite the literal opposite; you’re foregoing face-to-face contact if you’re getting virtually together in app-wrapped form.

While the implication of Facebook’s COVID-19 traffic bump is that the company’s business model thrives on societal disruption and mainstream misery. Which, frankly, we knew already. Data-driven adtech is another way of saying it’s been engineered to spray you with ad-flavored dissatisfaction by spying on what you get up to. The coronavirus just hammers the point home.

The fact we have so many high-tech tools on tap for forging digital connections might feel like amazing serendipity in this crisis — a freemium bonanza for coping with terrible global trauma. But such bounty points to a horrible flip side: It’s the attention economy that’s infectious and insidious. Before ‘normal life’ plunged off a cliff all this sticky tech was labelled ‘everyday use’; not ‘break out in a global emergency’.

It’s never been clearer how these attention-hogging apps and services are designed to disrupt and monetize us; to embed themselves in our friendships and relationships in a way that’s subtly dehumanizing; re-routing emotion and connections; nudging us to swap in-person socializing for virtualized fuzz that designed to be data-mined and monetized by the same middlemen who’ve inserted themselves unasked into our private and social lives.

Captured and recompiled in this way, human connection is reduced to a series of dilute and/or meaningless transactions. The platforms deploying armies of engineers to knob-twiddle and pull strings to maximize ad opportunities, no matter the personal cost.

It’s also no accident we’re also seeing more of the vast and intrusive underpinnings of surveillance capitalism emerge, as the COVID-19 emergency rolls back some of the obfuscation that’s used to shield these business models from mainstream view in more normal times. The trackers are rushing to seize and colonize an opportunistic purpose.

Tech and ad giants are falling over themselves to get involved with offering data or apps for COVID-19 tracking. They’re already in the mass surveillance business so there’s likely never felt like a better moment than the present pandemic for the big data lobby to press the lie that individuals don’t care about privacy, as governments cry out for tools and resources to help save lives.

First the people-tracking platforms dressed up attacks on human agency as ‘relevant ads’. Now the data industrial complex is spinning police-state levels of mass surveillance as pandemic-busting corporate social responsibility. How quick the wheel turns.

But platforms should be careful what they wish for. Populations that find themselves under house arrest with their phones playing snitch might be just as quick to round on high tech gaolers as they’ve been to sign up for a friendly video chat in these strange and unprecedented times.

Oh and Zoom (and others) — more people might actually read your ‘privacy policy‘ now they’ve got so much time to mess about online. And that really is a risk.

*Source is a private Twitter account called @MBA_ish

VR workplace training startup Strivr lands $30 million Series B

Virtual reality has been two years away from mainstream adoption for the past six years. In that time, huge companies have made big VR bets only to walk away, countless VR startups have faded or flared out and investment has slowed significantly.

Building an attractive VR product for large enterprises to train employees remotely has remained one of the few major areas of opportunity, one that has been largely dominated by Strivr, which just locked down new funding bringing their total funding to $51 million.

The VR training startup has closed a $30 million Series B round led by Georgian Partners, a Canadian firm that hasn’t been very active in the AR/VR space. CEO Derek Belch says the company ended up pitching a few dozen firms in this raise, and that while the feedback was “overwhelmingly positive,” there were certainly some skeptics.

“Everyone knows that VR has been slower to adopt and tougher to anticipate,” Belch told TechCrunch.

While AR/VR startups seemed to be raising money left and right in 2016 when Strivr closed its seed round, the market is much sparser in 2020 after years of missed estimates and a relentless parade of shutdowns.

While consumer VR startups have almost unilaterally struggled to get off the ground in recent months, there has still been movement among enterprise offerings. Earlier this month, a competing VR training platform, Talespin, closed $15 million in funding. In late January, enterprise AR/VR teleconferencing app Spatial locked down $14 million. HaptX, which makes a high-end VR glove for enterprise use cases, nabbed $12 million in December.

Landing post-Series A funding has remained a tough challenge for VR enterprise startups where players are often positioning themselves to be judged in relation to their VR peers rather than to a Salesforce, Box or Atlassian.

“Nobody can get beyond a pilot program,” Belch said. “Investors want to know how real this market is and where the target is.”

Strivr emerged from Belch’s research at Stanford in 2014 as a VR application made to help football players train off the field. Belch had previously been a kicker for Stanford’s football team and his co-founder Jeremy Bailenson led the school’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, a leading research hub that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited while doing diligence on the Oculus deal.

As virtual reality gear was further commoditized and investment in the space grew hotter, Strivr soon pivoted from sports training towards workplace training, pitching their solution as a better way for companies to hand top-down instruction to employees. Their software offering is often a combination of interactive 360 videos and computer-generated scenarios that require more active participation from a trainee.

While other VR startups have pushed to integrate phone or tablet-based experiences, Belch says that he has pushed back on customer requests to move away from headset-only experiences towards phone-based 360-degree videos.

“Those are not our disruption, those are gimmicky and a cheap way to bring a new logo on,” Belch says.

The company’s customer base now includes FedEx, JetBlue, Verizon and BMW. Their biggest get was a deal with Walmart in 2017 that eventually grew into a company-wide rollout across all of their stores, a massive deal that Belch says has been a “blessing and a curse” due to the rollout’s scale.

“You have to be smart in terms of what you do that’s Walmart specific,” Belch told TechCrunch. “They’ll swallow you whole if you let them.”

Alongside the company’s funding news, the startup has announced that they’ve received a patent to use motion data to predict how effective users will be at the real world task post-training. Strivr now has 22,000 VR headsets out in the wild, which Belch says have registered 1.6 million sessions. The hardware is all from Oculus.

Strivr is in the fortunate position of closing this deal ahead of the recent pandemic-related market uncertainty– a situation that has complicated their ability to meet with prospective customers and has raised issues with sanitation that Strivr says they have addressed. While Belch sees this Series B as a validation of the customer feedback he’s gotten, he also knows that the VR industry remains fraught with challenges.

“Thirty million doesn’t last very long if you’re stupid, we’re going to make sure we’re very smart about it,” Belch says.

‘It’s part of my job as a VC to remain calm,’ says Anorak’s Greg Castle

As the venture landscape adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic and seismic shifts in public markets, early-stage VCs are reassessing which bets they’re making, along with questions they’re asking of founders who are exploring bleeding-edge technology.

Anorak Ventures is a small seed-investment firm that bets on emerging tech like AR/VR, machine learning and robotics. I recently hopped on a Zoom call with founder Greg Castle to talk about what he’s seen recently in seed investing and how the sector is responding to the crisis. Castle was an early investor in Oculus; his other bets at Anorak include Against Gravity, 6D.ai and Anduril.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: Has this pandemic affected the types of companies that you’re looking at?

Greg Castle: From my experience as an investor thus far, being reactive as an investor and looking at “hot” areas has a lot of pitfalls to be mindful of. I think a lot of the areas that excite me as an investor could benefit from what’s going on here, those areas including robotics, automation, immersive entertainment and immersive computing.

Just generally, do you feel like a recession is more likely to negatively impact emerging tech more so than other areas?

Second Life-maker calls it quits on their VR follow-up

The game developer behind Second Life has abandoned its grand efforts for a virtual reality follow-up to its early 2000s hit.

SF-based Linden Labs announced today that they’ve sold off assets related of Sansar to a small little-known company called Wookey Search Technologies, which will take over development of the title. Linden Lab will continue developing and maintaining Second Life and it sounds like some of its employees will be joining Wookey. The deal was reported by Protocol.

The game studio had already announced layoffs last month.

Though Second Life has remained in the limelight of popular culture, the studio claimed to still be hauling in substantial revenues from the game in recent years. That said, the failure of Sansar is a disaster for Linden Labs which has focused considerable resources on the effort since it first teased the platform back in 2014.

When the title was announced, VR was at the peak of its hype following Facebook’s Oculus VR acquisition. Though Sansar launched in beta with support for both VR and desktop usage, the slow adoption of VR certainly didn’t help the title’s popularity. The studio’s leadership has detailed in interviews that the majority of Sansar’s users are desktop-based.

Given the evident turmoil at the studio, Sansar’s user base will likely be relieved to hear that the studio did their best to give the title a soft landing, though it’s unclear what resources its new acquirer has access to.

Swiss startup Creal is building display tech for the next generation of AR/VR headsets

After years of hype, the AR/VR space has certainly grown quieter as of late, but some investors are still coalescing behind a vision that the technologies could one day replace mobile if the technical kinks can be worked out.

Creal is a Swiss startup that’s working on some fundamental display technologies that could make VR and AR headsets more comfortable with more life-like optics.

The startup raised a $7.4 million Series A last year from Investiere and DAA Capital Partners. The company announced this week that they received grant funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program to continue working on their light field display tech.

Light field displays are a category of displays that are quite a bit different that anything you’ve seen. While existing AR and VR headsets can show you stereoscopic 3D by displaying slightly different images to each of your eyes, future headsets will allow you to change what’s in and out of focus based on where your eyes are looking. The big optics issue this solves for is called the vergence-accommodation conflict and it allows for interacting with objects closer to your face and functionally makes reading in VR quite a bit more effective as well.

Here’s a “through-the-lens” demo of the startup’s technology from a video posted last year:

There are varying degrees of how the technology is implemented. Magic Leap rolled out a lightweight version of its technology in its headset that leverages a pair of focal planes that are switched between with eye-tracking. This “varifocal” approach is also something that Facebook is investing in, they’ve showcased prototype headsets that allow users to shift their focus between multiple planes.

Creal is having to deal with some of the same struggles as its big company counterparts have when it comes to making sacrifices in order to miniaturize the technology. Integrating their tech into a virtual reality headset is the nearest-term target for the company, though they have ambitions to integrate into lightweight AR headsets within the next several years.

Startups building tech like Creal may be particularly at risk to a global recession, when investment in frontier technologies typically takes a big hit. A prolonged period of economic instability will almost certainly tilt the scales in the favor of big tech companies like Facebook as startups approaching the same advances will likely be forced to push out roadmaps and cut costs in order to survive.

While Oculus has seen some recent success in expanding the VR market niche, augmented reality hardware has been an incredibly tough sell for startups. A number of companies in the space shut down last year, including Meta, ODG and Daqri. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Magic Leap was positioning itself for a sale after raising billions of dollars in funding.

With kids and adults staying at home, are virtual worlds ready for primetime?

We’ve been diligently following the development of virtual worlds, also known as the “metaverse,” on TechCrunch.

Hanging out within the virtual worlds of games has become more popular in recent years with the growth of platforms like Roblox and open-world games like Fortnite, but it still isn’t a mainstream way to socialize outside of the young-adult demographic.

Three weeks ago, TechCrunch media columnist Eric Peckham published an in-depth report that positioned virtual worlds as the next era of social media. In an eight-part series, he looked at the history of virtual worlds and why games are already social networkswhy social networks want more gamingwhat the next few years looks like for the industry and why isn’t it mainstream alreadyhow these virtual worlds will lead to healthier social relationswhat the future of virtual economies will be and which companies are poised for success in this new market.

Given all that has changed in just the last three weeks — who would have thought that large swaths of the knowledge economy would suddenly find themselves entirely interacting virtually? — I wanted to get a sense of what the rising popularity of virtual worlds looks like in the midst of the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Eric and I had a call to discuss this and decided to share our conversation publicly.

Danny Crichton: So let’s talk about timing a bit. You wrote this eight-article series around virtual worlds and then all of a sudden post-publication there is this massive event — the novel coronavirus pandemic — causing a large portion of the human population to stay at home and interact only online. What’s happening now in the space?

Eric Peckham: I wrote my series on the multiverse because I was already seeing a surge of interest, both in terms of consumer demand for open-world MMO games and in terms of social media giants like Facebook and Snap trying to incorporate virtual worlds and social games into their platforms. Large companies are planning for virtual worlds in a way that is actionable and not just a futuristic vision. Over the last couple of years there has also been a lot of VC investment into a handful of startups focused on building next-generation virtual worlds for people to spend time in, virtual worlds with complex societies shaped by users’ contributions.

Talking to founders and investors in the gaming space, there has been a huge increase in usage over the last few weeks as more people hang out at home playing games, whether it’s on the adult side or the kid side.

Most of these next-generation virtual worlds are still in private beta but already popular platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite are getting substantially more use than normal. A large portion of people stuck at home are escaping via the virtual worlds of games.

You wrote this whole analysis before you knew the extent of the pandemic — how has the outlook changed for this industry?

This accelerates the timeline of virtual worlds being a mainstream place to hang out and socialize in daily life. I think people will be at home for multiple months, not just a couple of weeks, and it’s going to change people’s perspectives on socializing and working from home.

That’s a really powerful cultural shift. It’s getting more people beyond the core gaming community excited about spending time in virtual worlds and hanging out with their friends there.

We have seen this most heavily with the youngest generation of internet users. The majority of kids 9-12 years old are users of Minecraft and Roblox who hang out there with friends after school. We’ll see that expand to older demographics more quickly than it was going to before.

One of the complaints that I’ve seen on Twitter is that even though we have one of the largest global human lockdowns of all time, all the VR headsets are basically gone. Is VR a key component of virtual worlds?

Well, you don’t need VR headsets in order to spend meaningful time with others in a virtual space. Hundreds of millions of people already do it through their mobile phones and through PCs and consoles.

This is at the heart of the gaming industry: creating virtual worlds for people to spend time in, both pursuing the mission of whatever a game is designed for but also interacting with others. Among the most popular mobile and PC games last year were massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

Talking about gaming, one facet of the story that I thought was particularly interesting was the fact that gaming was still not that high in terms of market penetration in the population.

More than two billion people play video games in the context of a year. There’s incredible market penetration in that sense. But, at least for the data I’ve seen for the U.S., the percent of the population who play games on a given day is still much lower than the percent of the population who use social media on a given day.

The more that games become virtual worlds for socializing and hanging out beyond just the mission of the gameplay, the more who will turn to virtual worlds as a social and entertainment outlet when they have five minutes free to do something on their phone. Social media fills these small moments in life. MMO games right now don’t because they are so oriented around the gameplay, which takes time and uninterrupted focus. Virtual worlds in the vein of those on Roblox where you just hang out and explore with friends compete for that time with Instagram more directly.

Theater chains like Regal and AMC announced this week that they are entirely shutting down to wait out the pandemic. Is that going to affect these virtual world companies?

I think they are separate parts of media. Cinema attendance has been declining quite substantially for years, and the way the industry has made up for that is trying to turn cinemas into these premium experiences and increasing ticket prices. Kids are just as likely, if not more likely, to play a game together on a Friday night as they are to go to the cinema. Cinemas are less culturally relevant to young people than they once were.

We’ve seen a massive experiment in work from home, which is a form of virtual world, or at least, a virtual workplace. When it comes to popularizing virtual worlds, is it going to come from the entertainment side or the more productivity-oriented platforms?

It will come from the entertainment side, and from younger people using it to socialize, in part because there’s less fear around cultural etiquette compared to people meeting in a business setting who are worried about a virtual world context not feeling as professional. Over time, as virtual worlds become pervasive in our social lives they will become more natural places to chat with people about business as well.

As more and more people are working online and interacting virtually, a big question is how you get beyond Zoom calls or the technology that’s currently in the market for virtual conferences to something that feels more like walking around and chatting with people in person. It’s tough to do without the ability to walk around a virtual space. You can’t have those unplanned small group or one-on-one interactions with people you don’t know if you’re just boxes within a Zoom call or some other broadcast. It will be interesting to see what develops around virtual business conferences that stems from virtual world technology. I’ve seen a few teams exploring this.

Last question here, but we are looking at a major recession in the economy, and so how does the landscape of people earning money from virtual worlds change with coronavirus?

The second-to-last article in my series is about the virtual economies around virtual worlds. Any virtual world inherently has commerce and people have already been making real-world money from games and from early virtual worlds like Second Life.

Both people staying home amid the coronavirus and the recession that we seem to be entering are pressures that will push more people to look online for ways to make money. That will only increase the activity of virtual economies around some of these worlds, whether those are formally built into the game or they’re happening in a gray or black market around the games (which is more common).

Thanks, Eric.

Where top VCs are investing in remote events

The novel coronavirus pandemic has rapidly moved companies into a remote-first world.

Nearly all of the world’s largest events have been canceled, put on pause or pivoted to online-only. In the tech world, event cancellations thus far have included SXSW, GDC, Mobile World Congress, Google I/O, Facebook F8, E3 and others.

As more and more hosts consider staging fully remote events as possible alternatives, we decided to take a deeper look into the venture-backed startups focused on supporting large-scale virtual gatherings, like Hopin and Run The World. To further understand the impact of COVID-19, we asked five leading VCs who have invested in or have knowledge of startups focused on remote events to update us on the state of the market and to share where they see opportunity in the sector:

Sarah Cannon, Index Ventures

Which trends in remote events/conferencing excite you the most from an investing perspective?

Where’s the Zoom of VR?

Remote collaboration tools like Zoom are gathering massive amounts of attention as people begin working from home en masse. But, as with most trends, virtual reality seems to be sitting out this boom.

This should be surprising to absolutely no one, but the lack of widespread adoption is not for lack of trying.

Virtual reality has already had a rough couple of years. Though a handful of startups in the space have continued to raise and find customers, most have done so by either committing to tight niches or opening up their services and minimizing their reliance on VR-only audiences. All the while, investors and founders have been left to wonder whether the “presence” offered by immersing yourself wholly in a digital environment is undone by crude avatars, clunky hardware and lackluster integrations with popular work software tools.

Enterprise VR hasn’t been completely quiet. A number of startups have raised funding in recent months on the premise that the future of work has a space carved out for virtual reality applications. In the collaboration space, VR startups argue that existing platforms are static, dated and leave employees feeling disconnected. VR’s oft-espoused mantra is that inhabiting a virtual space allows people to communicate more naturally.

I recently met with Anand Agarawala, CEO of Spatial, an AR/VR collaboration tool that locked down a $14 million round of funding earlier this year. VR startups haven’t been raising rounds this large lately, but Agarawala has ambitious plans for how his collaboration platform can outdo Zoom.

Los Angeles-based Talespin nabs $15 million for its extended reality-based workforce training tools

It turns out the virtual and augmented reality companies aren’t dead — as long as they focus on the enterprise. That’s what the Los Angeles-based extended reality technology developer Talespin did — and it just raised $15 million to grow its business. 

Traditional venture capitalists may have made it rain on expensive Hollywood studios that were promising virtual reality would be the future of entertainment and social networking (given coronavirus fears, it may yet be), but Talespin and others like it are focused on much more mundane goals. Specifically, making talent management, training and hiring easier for employers in certain industries.

For Talespin, the areas that were the most promising were ones that aren’t obvious to a casual observer. Insurance and virtual reality are hardly synonymous, but Talespin’s training tools have helped claims assessors do their jobs and helped train a new generation of insurance investigators in what to look for when they’re trying to determine how much their companies are going to pay out.

Talespin‘s immersive platform has transformed employee learning and proven to be an impactful addition to our training programs. We’re honored to continue to support the Talespin team through this next phase of growth and development,” said Scott Lindquist, Chief Financial Officer at Farmers Insurance, in a statement.

Farmers is an investor in Talespin, as is the corporate training and talent management software provider Cornerstone OnDemand, and the hardware manufacturer HTC. The round’s composition speaks to the emerging confidence of corporate investors and just how skeptical traditional venture firms have become of the prospects for virtual reality.

The prospects of augmented and virtual reality may be uncertain, but what’s definite is the need for new tools and technologies to transfer knowledge and train up employees as skilled, experienced workers age out of the workforce — and the development of new skills becomes critically important as technology changes the workplace.

Cornerstone, which led the Talespin Series B round, will also be partnering with the company to develop human resources training tools in virtual reality.

“We share Talespin’s vision that the workforce needs innovative solutions to stay competitive, maximize opportunity and increase employee satisfaction,” said Jason Gold, Vice President of Finance, Corporate Development and Investor Relations at Cornerstone, in a statement. “We’ve been incredibly impressed with Talespin’s technology, leadership team and vision to transform the workplace through XR. Talespin’s technology is a perfect fit in our suite of products, and we look forward to working together to deliver great solutions for our customers.”

Talespin previously raised $5 million in financing. The company initially grew its business by developing a number of one-off projects for eventual customers as it determined a product strategy. Part of the company’s success has relied in its ability to use game engine and animation instead of 360 degree video. That means assets can be reused multiple times and across different training modules.

“Creating better alignment between skills and opportunities is the key to solving the reskilling challenges organizations across the world are facing,” said Kyle Jackson, CEO and Co-Founder of Talespin, in a statement. “That’s why it’s critical companies find a way to provide accelerated, continuous learning and create better skills data. By doing so, we will open up career pathways for individuals that are better aligned to their natural abilities and learned skills, and enable companies to implement a skills-based approach to talent development, assessment, and placement. Our new funding and partnership with Cornerstone will allow us to expand our product offerings to achieve these goals, and to continue building innovative solutions that redefine what work looks like in the future.”