Georgian Startup Chosen from 7000 to Pitch to Investors in California

Georgian Startup VRex Immersive Inc. has been selected, along with 50 others, out of 7000 worldwide startups to pitch their ambition to investors of Silicon Valley in California. On 14 February, Vrex was accompanied by 49 other startups, and given one minute to pitch to investors. This is a great achievement for them, and for Startup Grind in Tbilisi.

VRex has been an active participant in the Tbilisi Startup Grind chapter and received some seed funding from the Georgian Innovation and Technology Association (GITA). They are expected to expand greatly in the coming year, and GITA are working with them closely.

VRex Immersive Inc. currently uses its state-of-the-art virtual reality technology for tourism development and has a lot of virtual-reality experiences created for Georgian destinations. At a recent international travel show in Madrid, the Georgian National Tourism Association had VRex’s technology on show. It outdid every other VR platform there, and had people forming long lines in anticipation of experiencing it. The Minister of Economy attended and suggested that all tourism centers in Georgia should use their technology to promote destinations.

GEORGIA TODAY caught up with Startup Grind’s Colin Donohue and Vrex CEO Nikoloz Gogochuri for an interview, before they set off to the event.

Colin, please start by telling us about Startup Grind and why you launched it here in Tbilisi

I’m a digital marketer with clients in the US and I figured I would do something useful in the startup community, so I started the Startup Grind. The government's doing a lot of great things here, there are a lot of programs, but at the heart of the entrepreneurial process is a community of entrepreneurs. The idea of a startup was very new when we began; nobody had even heard the word back then! I think we began very successfully, hosting a couple of events which led to some good connections and relationships between people. Recently, we ran a retreat to bring together some of the key startups and some support providers to look at where Georgia has been developing over the last few years. The driving force we came away with was to get some success stories, so I focused a lot of my energy on the process of developing a number of lead startups, showing them ways they could connect with the people they need to.

It became very clear that it's important to connect with resources outside of Georgia because nobody has really grown big technology companies or startups here, so we’re interested in connecting with mentors, which is why we set up a mentor residence program: They come to Georgia, have a nice time, and spend a couple of weeks advising startups.

Why are companies choosing to make startups in Georgia?

Most of the startups that are working with us right now were started by Georgians who grew up here and live here, so to move to another country to start a company is very difficult. Also, Georgia is a nice place to test the market; word-of-mouth has a lot of power here, and it's very cheap. Then there are some people who are starting companies here from other countries; one of the reasons is it's inexpensive and the policy environment is very supportive of business in general, and also people just like it here; there are a lot of cheap countries that are really dangerous or not as interesting, not as beautiful, so this combination of being an amazing, wonderful place with a lot of things going on and being safe and having a good business environment is a winning combination. I think if more people knew Georgia existed, then more would come.

How have moves from local events helped startups to engage globally, particularly VRex Immersive Inc.?

The biggest thing has been being part of the Startup Grind community. We have a local chapter here, which we started as a full chapter in the global system, with chapter directors being invited to Global Conferences. So really, by doing good work and building a local community, I was able to participate with the global community of millions of others worldwide. It's a system based on merit - it's not really who you know: if what you're doing is meaningful and of quality, then you will get support.

VRex are now on the lead of travel marketing VR; nobody else has a better platform that I'm aware of. At the travel show in Madrid, all sorts of people saw it and said they had the best exhibition VR of any other country. Even Israel, who are very technologically savvy, were far behind. The one that Israel had had three stations where you walk between face sets, you look at one place, and then you move to the next one. With Vrex’s, they have different waypoints, and if you look at a spot for about 5 seconds you are transported to another part.

What was the criteria and selection process for the California event?

They took a look firstly at the team, which has been together for a long time, and through a lot of challenges, so they fit that criteria very well. Next was technology – technology-wise, they are ahead of all other VR platforms, as I already mentioned. Traction was the third and mass markets was the final criteria, which they definitely appeal to, working to incorporate VR in the tourism sector.

Nikoloz, why did you choose Georgia as the subject of your VR content?

Not only are we Georgian and love the country, but it's one of the most diverse places culturally and visually in the region. We could have done the same in Turkey, but it wouldn’t have been as good.

Operating in this ecosystem is quite cheap; if we decided to do the same thing in, say, France, I don't know if we could have done it with the money we had. It's easy to do business, it's cheap, and the quality of life is great. It's very relaxed, too.

What feedback have you had from people, particularly in the tourism industry, who have used your technology?

At the show in Madrid, the Minister of Economy came and saw we were the best in the show, out of all the other countries, and he saw potential for Georgia to become best in the world for the VR tourism market. He saw the real effect of how virtual reality can impress people and how it can affect their decision-making. He witnessed several of the users saying ‘hey, I want to go there now. Show me how much it costs!’

To date, we've been to international events in the travel industry and we’ve probably shown our technology to between 5-10 thousand people. Quite honestly, I have a hard time remembering any negative feedback about the experience. Sometimes people come and say they don't like this virtual reality stuff, and they don't want to give it a go, but that's because they've had a bad experience with other VR platforms. Our technology is further ahead than that, and the best feeling for me is when they don't want to give it a go, but they go for it anyway, and as soon as they turn their head, they smile. That's really does it for me.

The real feedback for me is when somebody says ‘ok, how can I book to go there?’ That happens a lot during the travel shows, especially with the general public. In Madrid, most of the people said that they now wanted to go skiing in Gudauri, and that they hadn’t known it existed before. There were a very select few who say it makes them feel dizzy.

Technology is advancing quicker than ever, as are possibilities for companies such as yours. How do you see VRex Immersive 12 months from now?

We always have several different experiments working at the same time; it’s what you do – you find out what you’re passionate about and you filter it down to ‘something which is useful.’ Technology changes so frequently, but our long-term vision is to change the travel industry with virtual reality. We want anybody to be able to use virtual reality to make decisions about where to go, and for people to be able to actually share their experiences in an immersive way. In five years, or three years, or in one year, or even tomorrow, we want to find ourselves connecting people to places through virtual reality. That's what we want, and hopefully we'll be making some money, too!

Tom Day

22 February 2018 19:49