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Could Melbourne virtually be the startup capital of the world?

Thursday, 17 July 2014 | By Kye White

Creating a culture of excellence in virtual reality startups could be the key to making Melbourne the startup capital of the world, according to a team of virtual reality enthusiasts.


Joel de Ross is a founding member of the Australian Virtual Reality Industry Association, and the founder of Lobal, a virtual reality ventures startup, both of which are currently based at the Queens Collective co-working space in Melbourne.


“There isn’t really anywhere in the world that has created something like this at this time,” de Ross says of AVRIA.


“The associations that have existed, have existed since the nineties, and they’ve just sort of plodded along and now there’s been this resurgence.”


The application of virtual reality tech has focused on gaming, but the scope and ambition of what Lobal hopes to offer, is an example of how narrow-minded that view is.


Its application ranges from potential use in the real estate as a property viewer, to the fashion industry, and events management.


de Ross recently visited the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference in the United States and he says it made him realise Melbourne’s potential to become a key player in the space.


“What we’re doing here is quite advanced and the way of thinking about virtual reality is really of a high standard,” he says.


Lobal is creating a virtual reality fashion platform that enables designers and artists to easily showcase their garments and portfolios, and gives labels the opportunity to test garments without having to produce samples.


In the events management space, Lobal is designing a platform which would enable event organisers to select locations from a database, which they hope to create in conjunction with local government and emergency services.


Organisers can then build sets, stages, and whatever else they might need in that virtual environment by selecting objects from a list provided by suppliers. Once they’re done, they can order everything required to build their events in real life.


“What’s really driving our virtual reality festival management system is this database and that’s going to be connecting all these industries into this one system,” de Ross says.


de Ross has been working full-time as the CEO of Lobal for the past three weeks, during which time the company has been negotiating venture capital investment and plans to create a number of new startups on receiving that investment, while crowd funding the projects they believe they can fundraise themselves.


“What we’re doing is creating something that is transferrable across industries and forming new teams and new companies around those specific ventures,” he says.


Of course, all of this relies on virtual reality technology becoming available widely available, which de Ross says should happen by the end of 2015.


Getting the technology in the hands of consumers, and more importantly, on their heads, is important because it’s the experience itself that lends the strongest argument in support of de Ross’ view that virtual reality is the next great technological innovation – a technology he believes can change the world in the same way apps, smartphones and the internet did.


When using an Oculus Rift, the most well-known VR device, you quickly forget you’re wearing what is essentially a bulky, brick-like set of goggles, and are transported to whatever environment it’s presenting to you.


It’s similar to the feeling you get when reading a good book, but there’s no need for a sustained period of focus – just slip on the headset and you’re there.


It’s that feeling, unlike any other, that leads de Ross to believe operating in the virtual reality arena now, rather than waiting until the technology is widespread, is the correct move.


“Part of what our strategy has been is to find everybody that’s in a strong strategic position that when there is mass adoption, they can execute because they’ve been in the scene for several years already,” he says.