Building Idaho’s Virtual Reality community through collaboration

By October 3, 2016News

At High Desert Harley Davidson, 360 Immersive, a Boise video and marketing company, sets up VR headsets to demo a 360 Harley video in the showroom, allowing viewers to ride along Idaho’s mountain roads in a virtual test drive. In a lab at Boise State, several large screens are set up together, curving around to mimic the 360 environment of the photorealistic projects students work on in virtual reality.

In a Bench bungalow, Jay Saenz, founder of the Boise VR Project (now the Virtual Reality Project within the IVRC) brainstorms new ways to get VR into the hands of Idahoans while working on a Unity tutorial for Facebook. In BoDo, Ryan DeLuca (Bodybuilding.com founder) and co-founder Preston Lewis, look at the countdown clock in the office of their startup, Black Box VR, ticking off the days, hours, and minutes until they plan to tear up their gym membership and train only in virtual reality.

Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) is poised to be a $150 billion market by 2020, according to a report by Digi-Capital, and companies across Idaho are starting to leverage this emerging tech opportunity, by either adding to their existing brand or by building brand new companies, putting Idaho on the map for emerging technology and startups.

“There is an amazing opportunity for Idaho to become a huge tech hub in the west,” said Jon Farrell of Villusion Studios, a 360 tour and VR app development company with locations in both Portland and Idaho. “There is a pooling of energy and excitement around [virtual reality],” Farrell added.

According to Jess Whiting, formerly of Startup Grind and now Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Black Box, one of the biggest challenges to building Idaho’s presence in the virtual reality space was lack of collaboration among groups working in the industry. “We have all these great companies,” Whiting said. “But everyone was kind of doing their own thing.”

As a result, the Idaho Virtual Reality Council (IVRC) was born. With 60 founding members, representing over 30 different companies, IVRC’s mission is to bring together people, technologies, and companies to create a thriving VR industry for the economic and social benefit of Idaho citizens and families.

“With collaboration that includes so many diverse and talented individuals coming together to promote not only the VR/AR technology but also social good using that technology, the sky is the limit for where Idaho can go,” said Jennifer Quinn, host of the JennyQ show.

IVRC kicked off on September 13, 2016, and already the organization is putting Virtual Reality into the hands of hundreds of community members. Some of the highlights include partnering with STEMbusUSA to bring VR to thousands of students throughout the Northwest, planning the first VR/AR hackathon in Idaho “Immerse-a-thon,” and bringing the Unity team to Idaho to offer Unity Certification and teach workshops. Additional announcements about exciting partnerships and collaborative efforts are forthcoming.

“This is an exciting time to be involved in Virtual Reality in Idaho,” Whiting said. On a recent call with one of the VR platform leaders, Whiting recalls their reaction to the collaboration between companies in the state. “They were impressed by our efforts. This was the first time they were seeing a community band together for the benefit of AR/VR and the success of those partners as well as the industry as a whole.” She then added, “IVRC is helping position Idaho as a leader in this emerging tech space.”

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