Gaming/VR/AR pitch night at Startup Victoria

Building on the successful format that has been the mainstay of Startup Vic‘s regular meetups for the past few years, February’s pitch night kicked off a scheduled programme of thematic events for 2017. First up was Gaming, VR and AR.

Photo by Daniel C, sourced from the Startup Victoria Meetup page

Hosted as usual by inspire9, the event drew a packed crowd, no doubt helped by the impressive panel of judges assembled by the organisers:

Dr Anna Newberry, responsible for driver-assistance technologies at Ford Australia; Stefani Adams, Innovation Partner at the Australia Post Accelerator; Tim Ruse, CEO of Zero Latency; Rupert Deans, Founder and CEO of Plattar; Samantha Hurley, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing Entourage; Gerry Sakkas, CEO of PlaySide Studios; and Joe Barber, a Commercialisation Advisor to the Department of Industry and Science, a Mentor at the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), and angel investor.

Maintaining the tradition of this blog, I will comment on each startup pitch in the order in which they presented.


This niche business offers an event planning app for festivals. At its heart is a tool that allows users to build a 3-D simulation of proposed events, combined with an AI capability to simulate risk management, logistics and team communications, plus a digital time capsule where event attendees can upload photos and other content.

Once licensed to event planners and organisers, the platform charges clients $1 per ticket sale, plus a 2.5% fee on donations and fees for other content and services such as the digital time capsule. In addition, Metavents is building strategic partnerships, and announced a relationship with the Vihara Foundation and its Rock Against Poverty programme from 2018.

All good so far. Then, things got a bit confusing. For example, in addition to festival and event logistics, Metavents claims to offer humanitarian support services in response to natural disasters, and emergency management capabilities for smart cities. There was also talk of a global network (linked to the UN?), and an impact investment fund.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that the pitch was a bit disjointed and suffered from a lack of focus. But the pitch did reveal something of the founders’ core passion, and incorporated some impressive graphics – it just felt like a case of form over substance.

Second Sight

Second Sight is a game analytics service that “unlocks the secrets in player data”, by enriching existing big data sources with social media interactions. It does this by profiling players based on their behaviours, and providing this feedback and insights to game developers and product managers. Focusing on the mobile game market, Second Sight is initially targeting independent developers, and will then move on to corporate game businesses.

Second Sight’s own development path is to build automation tools first, then create a library of tasks and insights. With an estimated 1 million users (based on game statistics), 3 paying clients and another 27 beta clients, this startup is showing some promising market traction. However, there are a number of established competitors, including Omniata (which is more of a general user analytics engine, like Mixpanel or Flurry), GameAnalytics, deltaDNA and Xsolla, some of which offer free user services.

In response to the “ask”, ($500k in seed funding in return for 20% equity), the judges suggested that Second Sight might want to address the needs of a specific game sector.

Dark Shadow Studio

This presentation featured an application called Drone Legion, that merges drone experience with VR. Part simulation game, part training software, it was nice to see a demo of the app running in the background, without detracting from the pitch itself.

A key point made by the presentation is that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which is responsible for regulating drones in Australia, is in danger of falling behind other countries. For example, Drone Legion could be adapted to provide user training, testing and licensing before a customer buys a physical drone.

Although there are drone simulators available via Steam, they are not aimed at the general public. Drone Legion is also compatible with a range of gaming consoles.

The judges suggested that this pitch was more an individual game, rather than a business, so it was suggested that the founders should try to get funding from HTC or Oculus to build their first game. And given that one of the judges works for Australia Post (ostensibly a logistics company with a growing interest in drone technology….), there was the offer of a personal introduction.


Phoria describes itself as an “immersive media business”, offering rapid 3-D visualisation (especially for the property development sector and the built environment),  and other services such as digital preservation.

But tonight, the pitch was about a plan to use “VR for social good”. Under the moniker “Dreamed”, Phoria is developing a niche health care solution, designing “patient experiences” to help them get out of their current care or treatment environment.

Predicated on an immersive therapy platform, Dreamed will offer a distribution service for cloud-based content, designed to be used alongside other, related assisted therapies that feature Animals, Nature and Music as stimulants for patient engagement and therapeutic outcomes. While not exactly a MedTech solution, Phoria’s “IP special sauce” is the use of VR as a constant dynamic feedback loop, which presumably learns from and adapts to user interaction and monitoring of appropriate patient diagnostics.

So, who pays for the service? Hopefully, hospitals will, especially if they can demonstrate reduced therapy costs and patient treatment times. (Maybe there will also be a consumer market alongside existing meditation apps?) But with some early-stage and potentially high-profile research underway via the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Phoria and Dreamed look to be making steady progress, notwithstanding the normally slow pace of medical research. Key to the research outcomes will be user acceptance and ease of service and content delivery, although a large number of unknowns remain in the context of the medical benefits. Meanwhile, Phoria continues to serve its core property market.

Finally, something which I found somewhat surprising, according to the presentation, there is no VR content licensing model currently available. Sounds like a job for a decentralized digital asset management and licensing registry (such as MyBit?).

On the night, and based on the judges’ votes, Phoria took out first place honours.

Next week: The Future of Work = Creativity + Autonomy


Who needs banks? My experience of “We R One World”

This past weekend, I participated in the “We R One World” game hosted by Carolyn Tate on behalf of the Slow School of Business, and facilitated by Ron Laurie from MetaIntegral. The game is an immersive learning experience in the form of a simulated global strategy workshop, based on the work of Buckminster Fuller. I joined a team whose role was to represent the interests of the commercial banks. It was a rather sobering experience, because as the workshop unfolded, it soon became clear that in the context of the game the banks were almost redundant – which partly reflects what is going on in the real world, as banks face increased disintermediation and disruption by FinTech, crowdfunding and the shared economy.

The Fuller Projection or Dymaxion Map

The Fuller Projection or Dymaxion Map

The Premise – Earth as Spaceship

Without going into too much detail, “We R One World” mimics elements of the board games “Risk” and “Monopoly”, and takes the form of a narrative-based hackathon, combined with a meetup and an unconference. Played out on a floor-size version of the dymaxion map, the game also draws on Fuller’s concept that the Earth is a spaceship, of which the players are the crew, and the “fuel” is the inventory of global resources at the crew’s disposal, including people, technology, capital, food, energy, munitions, water, etc. The participants form teams to represent various geo-political regions, supranational NGOs, multinational corporations and banks. The goal is to achieve (through trade negotiations), the best socio-economic outcomes for everyone, with a few surprises along the way!

There is a lot of information to absorb, as well as the structure of the game. One challenge for the players is to not get hung up on the presented “data” (which is more representative, rather than precisely factual). Even though we live with access to real-time, on-line statistics and research, and despite the Internet and search engines, in real life we still experience considerable information asymmetry.

The Prelude – We Are Star Dust

As a prelude, we were shown the documentary “The Overview Effect”, which includes the comment by former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell that we are made of star dust (a now common concept echoed in various songs such as Moby’s “We Are All Made of Stars” or Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, depending on your musical taste/cultural perspective).

It was also a timely connection, given the increased media coverage of space exploration, and Hollywood’s renewed interest in space travel. The recurring theme (in reality as much as in fiction) is that human survival will depend on relocating to, or harnessing other planets.

As examples, in the real world, we have the latest discovery of an Earth-like planet, tweets from Philae on a frozen comet, and the remarkable images from Pluto. While the entertainment world is enjoying critical and popular success with films such as “Moon”, “Gravity”, “Elysium” and “Interstellar” (plus the forthcoming “The Martian”). Even veteran Sci-Fi writer Brain Aldiss has bowed out with his final space novel, “The Finches of Mars”.

The Banks – Increasingly dispensable

But back to the game, and what we might conclude from the outcomes.

From the start, in the role of the banks we had a strategy for encouraging “good” behaviour, and punishing the “bad”. We had a catalogue of regional problems, and a set of possible solutions. “Good” behaviour was predicated on regions finding creating solutions to their problems, based on partnering, prioritization, planning and promotion. “Bad” behaviour might include late or failed interest repayments, misuse of funds (e.g., deploying more military hardware ahead of feeding their population), or actions that led to worsening conditions (increased poverty, hunger and illiteracy, or depleted natural resources).

At the outset, the banks’ role was to manage existing loans (by collecting interest due), and to originate new loans for development and commercial projects. In the initial stages, despite Japan’s attempt to renegotiate its existing repayment terms on the fly, the commercial banks managed to collect all interest due, on time and in full (with a small surplus, thanks to some regions’ lax monetary management). One region paid up without much prompting, cheerfully (or ironically?) commenting that “we must keep the banks happy!”.

However, as the game progressed, the banks were basically ignored, as regions switched their focus to responding to new circumstances, such that the consequences of not servicing their debts seemed irrelevant. Even the risk/threat of bankruptcy did not carry much persuasion, as regions were more willing to find new ways to trade with each other, less reliant on bank capital, and more focussed on alternative value exchanges (part of the game’s secret sauce).

For example, we received only two loan applications throughout the game: one was for a worthy but ambitious development project, but when asked to resubmit the request with some further information, the loan did not materialise; and the other was more in the way of a short-term deposit with the bank, to generate interest income to buy food. Given that deposit rates are low, our response was to suggest using the capital (with additional bank funding) to increase food production, but our offer was declined, maybe because of the need to trade out of a short-term food shortage rather than investing in long-term supply.

Towards the end, the banks were almost mere spectators in the game, and were reduced to protecting their self-interests: namely their capital, and their stalled/stagnant loan assets. If borrowers don’t want the banks’ money, where and what will the banks invest in order to generate depositor, investor and shareholder returns? As one regional participant commented, “we are all bank shareholders”. Just as in real life, we deposit money with the banks, we invest in their financial products (especially through our superannuation and pension funds), and we may even buy their shares and bonds. And of course, following the GFC, many taxpayers found themselves indirect shareholders of banks that were bailed out by their respective governments.

The Conclusion – An alternative approach?

I’m not going to give the game away (you can experience it for yourself in September) but the conclusion and outcome reinforce the view that in order to tackle the world’s problems, we all have to take a different perspective – whether that is challenging existing structures, subverting traditional business models, or questioning our personal motives and objectives. For myself, I recognise that this means an increased awareness of “living lean” (mostly around personal preferences and lifestyle choices), and (multi-)lateral thinking.

For institutions like banks (as well as governments, corporations and NGOs) this alternative approach means re-assessing their roles and contribution (which can also be framed as re-connecting with their “purpose”), remodelling their processes and systems, and redefining the measures of their success. As my team member concluded, “the other players only see the banks as a source of capital, rather than a resource for knowledge, expertise and networks”.


Declaration of interest: I participated in the game at the kind invitation of the Slow School of Business.

Next week: “I’m old, not obsolete”






Analog games – interactive, real-time, educational, creative

At various times this blog has featured articles on analog technology, and the importance of making time for play. My theme this week returns to these topics – and quite appropriately as the holiday season and gift-giving are upon us.

As part of the run-up to the holidays, last week my wife and I were at a local restaurant to meet with friends who were visiting from overseas. Among the party were four children, all aged under 10. Now, I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the situation – friends who haven’t seen each other for a while want to catch up and enjoy some good conversation over a relaxing dinner, and more often than not, the digital pacifier (smart phone, tablet, portable DVD player or games console) will be brought out to keep the children occupied.

Well, I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised that our four younger diners were fully engaged in each other’s company for nearly four hours – and not a screen in sight. Instead, they happily played together with the following toys and games:

  • A board game of Ludo
  • Some LEGO mini-figures
  • A box of alphabet flash cards

They even managed to invent their own game using the flash cards.

I’m not saying that younger children shouldn’t be playing with apps or video games – but screen time has to be used constructively, not as a default setting. I’m also aware that many apps and games can be educational and interactive. But I don’t think we place enough value on enabling and encouraging children to play games in real-time, with real friends, using toys that they can easily understand and control.

On a related note, another friend recently bought his wife a record player, so they could rediscover their vinyl music collection. Their young daughter, on seeing and hearing the gramophone in action asked, “How does the sound come out of those round things?”

How often do children display the same curiosity about how mp3’s or YouTube work?

On that note, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and peaceful festive season. In particular, I would like to thank all my regular readers who have each given me feedback on what they like about this blog, especially those who have been generous enough to either comment on or critique specific content.

Amazon finally comes to Australia; local retailers still want government action on sales tax

A short (and seasonal) post this week, as everyone starts easing off for the holidays.

It may just be coincidence, but about the same time Amazon launched their new Australian website local retailers renewed their campaign to lower the $1,000 sales-tax exemption for online purchases from overseas retailers. And both events came at the start of the Christmas shopping season….

Obviously too early to say which way this will go, but here are a few personal observations:

First, the local Amazon site is limited to e-books, games and Android apps. So, no access to music, television or film content (digital or physical), no sales of print books and no Amazon marketplace. For these products and services, customers are directed to the US site. (Previously, the dormant domain name referred customers to the UK site.)

[Note: neither the US nor the UK sites allow overseas customers to buy mp3 content, but they can download digital music via Amazon’s AutoRip service when purchasing physical goods – confused? Me too….]

Second, prices for e-books on Amazon’s Australian site appear to be comparable to the US store, and presumably include local sales tax (GST) to keep on-side of the local real world and online retailers (as well as the ATO, of course).

Third, the general consensus is that if the $1,000 threshold was lowered or even abolished, the amount of sales tax to be collected would be more than outweighed by the additional costs of processing, administration and remittance (which would likely be passed on to local consumers at a “cost-plus” rate by overseas online retailers).

Fourth, many local retailers who voice their opposition to the $1,000 tax-free exemption fail to understand some of the reasons why local shoppers prefer to buy from overseas online retailers:

1. Price – even if overseas sales attract the 10% GST, in some cases this would still be cheaper than buying locally (especially so when the A$ was above parity with the US$). For example, from time to time, Amazon’s UK store offers free shipping on physical goods to Australia….

2. Choice – many products available from overseas online stores just aren’t available in Australia. This is primarily due to geo-blocking, confusion over local distribution rights, and simple lack of interest in stocking some items for the local market

3. Service – from recent personal experience, buying from a local online retailer took much longer than buying the same product from an overseas site, because the supply chain logistics were woefully inept.

[Note: As a separate but related example, I recently ordered a new iPhone 5S direct from Apple’s local website, and received it within 3 days, including a weekend; whereas my telco provider – which prides itself on its on-line business model and customer service standards – took more than 2 weeks to send me a new nano SIM card….. I had also been told by a couple of local Apple re-sellers that it would take 3-4 weeks to order the new phone, unless I took out a new mobile plan with them – which may say more about Apple’s trading policies than the resellers’ business operations.]

My advice to local bricks and mortar and even some online retailers is to look at their own limitations before insisting that the government amend the GST-free threshold on overseas online purchases.

As for Amazon, I wish them well in developing their local service. Much has been made of the stated intention to focus on Australian titles, and the opportunity for local authors to self-publish via Amazon. But already there have been some rumblings that this new site may cannibalize Kindle sales made via some of Amazon’s local retail channel partners.