Rothenberg Ventures, the San Francisco based VC firm behind the ‘River’ VR accelerator is opening their doors for a second class of VR startups. The company seeks to invest another $1 million across 10 companies after a successful inaugural class. This time they’re also interested in bringing on companies working in augmented reality.
After making an initial foray into VR by adding AltspaceVR to their investment portfolio back in 2014, the firm took a bet on virtual reality by spinning up the ‘River‘ VR accelerator, a startup-stage investment program that sought to provide 10 companies with $100,000 each, office space in San Fransisco, and regular mentoring from VR insiders, all over the course of three months.
Having actually bumped up that first River class to 13 companies and a $1.3 million overall investment, Rothenberg Ventures is doubling down, now accepting applications for the second River class, into which they aim to invest another $1 million.
The second River class runs from September through November and applications close on July 2nd, though the company says that late applications may be considered. For the first time, the firm says they’re interested in having augmented reality companies join the River program as well.
The company says selected applicants can expect the following from the program:
- Mentorship from top virtual and augmented reality luminaries
- $100,000 investment
- Office space at Rothenberg Ventures Coworking in San Francisco, with move-in available as early as July 2015
- Hands-on demo day in November 2015
- Weekly meet-ups and dinners with River mentors and Virtual Reality luminaries
The River mentors, who regularly meet with participants in the program include an impressive list of names recognizable from the VR community and beyond, including Eric Romo, CEO of AltspaceVR; Maureen Fan, VP of Games at Zynga; Nicholas Dicarlo, VP & GM of Samsung Telecommunications America; David Helgason, Founder of Unity; and plenty more.
We got to see the results of the first River class at Founder Field Day where Rothenberg Ventures showcased the companies that took part in the program, networking them with investors, press, and other entrepreneurs.
River Companies Showcased at Founder Field Day Series:
- Part One – Reload Studios, Totwise, Innerspace, and Emblematic Group
- Part Two – Psious, Deepstream VR, Solirax, and Discovr
- Part Three – Fove, Triggar VR, and Vantage.TV
I recently spoke with Dylan Flinn, the company’s Director of Investments, who has played a significant role in the formation and oversight of the River program. He told me that the companies in the first River class benefited most from learnings in business acumen.
“Virtual reality is the most technically demanding art form, [for many of the River companies] the technical part is down, the art part is down, but past that they’re also building a startup and for a lot of people in virtual reality, it’s the first startup they’ve built,” Flinn said. “So I think that’s the part that most of the companies struggled with. You know, ‘how do we hire people’, ‘how do we talk about our company with different constituents’—like investors, partners, lawyers, accountants, and stuff like that—and we helped them a lot with getting that messaging down, getting that language down, and just being able to… feel like you’re a business owner.”
From the get go, Rothenberg Ventures insisted that those participating in the program would work from the company’s office in San Francisco, and Flinn told me that collaboration among the companies was a big benefit.
“People were able answer questions in real time. So from the development side, like dealing with Unity, dealing with Unreal, and those technical issues, it was great having a pool of talent and resources that could be tapped into,” he said.
Flinn also told me that investment firms are ramping up their interest in virtual reality and that would come along with bigger investments as the industry continues to develop.
“From the 60 or so firms we met with [during River], I’d say 20 firms were very keenly interested in and ready to make their first investment [in VR],” he said. “I think towards the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 you’re gonna see a lot more seed rounds in the realm of $500,000 to $1.5 million for a lot of VR companies and I think you’ll start to see more and more of those being River companies too which is exciting for us.”
Mike Rothenberg, Founder of Rothenberg Ventures, told me that even though he believes in VR, he thinks that looking at the River companies merely as “VR companies” is off base.
“In 1995, you could ask somebody if they’re investing in an internet company… if [the company] used the internet in some way… but that’s a stupid question now; 100% of companies use the internet in some way,” he said. “I think virtual reality is like that, it’s such a new thing to a lot of people that they’re tempted to call the entire company a ‘virtual reality company’, but [these companies] are really solving the same kinds of problems other people are, they’re just doing it in a different and possibly more innovative way.”
Rothenberg also told me some of the types of problems that he’s excited to see solved using virtual reality, and hopes to see such companies in the second River class.
“…fashion-tech, where do we get to see online shopping but actually see it visually, like where’s the online mall? Where’s the fashion runway? There’s a lot of industries that are more interesting to women in general that aren’t touched on as much in VR,” he said.
“I think big categories like travel are kind of infinite, why aren’t there more travel VR companies right now? There should be tons, it’s awesome, we need to see that. I think we need to see more training as well… like why aren’t all auto mechanics learning on VR cars right now? Like now, because that exists and that’s scalable,” Rothenberg told me.
The companies that participated in River also had good things to say about the program, with one founder telling me that “it was the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Disclosure: Rothenberg Ventures covered Road to VR’s travel costs to attend Founder Field Day, during which research for this article was gathered.