On the Marineterrein in Amsterdam this summer rose VR Base – a newly formed accelerator, incubator, community and testbed aimed at the VR sector. The hub wants the Dutch capital to become Europe's VR capital. How to reach that goal?
We talked to the founder of VR Base, Daniël 'Kip' Doornink, and with Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, leader of the Amsterdam chapter of the VR/AR Association (VRARA) – one of the community parties currently residing at the hub.
Although both entrepreneurs have the same goal – to make Amsterdam thé European hotspot for VR activites – they both have slightly other means to do it. VR Base is basically setting up a local Dutch community for support, and attracting notable foreign companies to Amsterdam, to set up their European HQ (hello Jaunt VR). VRARA is all about adding new members to research and global events activities.
First, a little about the background of these two entrepreneurs. For Doornink, starting VR Base was something he grew into. It all began with a fascination when ordering the first devkit of the Oculus Rift via Kickstarter. "When I tried it, I immediately thought: 'this is it'." He then started to organize meetups, which eventually led to the first Dutch VR Days in 2014. "That was a 4-day event which gave me a kick. I didn't want it to last just 4 days, but wanted to do it fulltime." He then quit his corporate job at ING after 6 years (working with lean and agile methodologies) to start his quest. In the meantime, he also works for Videostitch in San Francisco, but he's about to quit there as well to fully focus on VR Base.
Bozorgzadeh is working on a VR startup called Virtuleap, moved specially to Amsterdam just for that, asked the VRARA if he could lead a chapter and is a gifted tech writer as well (check out his article on the Dutch VR scene). You can say both are busy men.
From hobbyism to mature businesses
So why create a central hotspot for VR?
Doornink, who is 3 years active in the VR scene now, acknowledges that the worldwide scene is still a small network. "In The Netherlands, you can still feel a 'hobbyism' community vibe of developers. Which of course is amazing, but eventually you want big VC's investing in European VR companies. Now they are not interested in Europe. There isn't really a market and there isn't really a business model. So you need venture capital. Europe is risk averse compared to the US and Asia. That's because the scene is diffuse, it consists of tiny islands. We want to make one big hub to make it interesting for capital to flow to Europe."
That lack of interest and the search for a viable VR business model means a certain uncertainty, says Bozorgzadeh. "Lots of VR business – most of the time small studios and not-funded startups – are in the hype phase of the hypecycle. Their future is uncertain. So the VR Base or an association like VRARA can help those companies to survive between hype and a more mature state."
Amsterdam or Eindhoven?
So, how to do it?
One of the measures is to stop thinking regionally, something The Netherlands still does. "We need to stop compete on that level", Doornink says. "You must compete against the US and Asia. Because internationally, The Netherlands right now is nothing. We need to act as one country."
Bozorgzadeh found that within the Dutch VR scene, the competitiveness is more subtle than one might think. The choice for Amsterdam as VR hub sounds logical. But for instance Eindhoven is also an obvious choice for a VR hub. It recently opened a VR Experience Center (named the largest in Europe). It's also a booming design city and the 'Brainport' region just screams 'high tech'.
Bozorgzadeh: "Commercially, you have to start somewhere. And to be honest… 'VR' and 'Amsterdam'? That sounds amazing. Eventually it will bleed over to Eindhoven and other cities. The collaboration I noticed is incredible. I see those cities as siblings rather than competitors. That sure struck me, because I always thought it's every hub for itself."
Amsterdam's is great in grassroots, Doornink says. "There's a strong community where VR businesses start straight out of meetups."
VR Base plans
VR Base has big plans for this and next year. By the end of 2016, Amsterdam will be up and running with expansions in Berlin and Paris. In Q2 2017 there will be an Amsterdam accelerator programme for the VR startups, Doornink told. Bozorgzadeh: "It's a success if we improve the concentration of VR activity in Amsterdam, and if we manage to get more deal flows from startups here – both by the end of the year."
What will VR Base look like? "Eventually, there will be a perfect mix of B2C and B2B startups, freelancers, designers and developers", said Doornink. The VR hub will have "all resources in VR you could think of", Bozorgzadeh adds.
VR Base will launch online on October 3. VRARA Amsterdam hosts a launch event on October 13.
Image: Bradley Hook @ Pexels