Voke, a virtual reality technology company that specializes in live streams of sports and music events, has raised $12.5 million in venture capital, the company confirmed to GeekWire today.
The Series A round was led by Intel Capital, the investment arm of the tech giant Intel. The cable network A&E and Nautilus Ventures also participated, along with the Sacramento Kings NBA team, which first announced its role as an investor and strategic partner in Voke last fall.
Though Voke is now based out of Silicon Valley, its ties to Washington state run deep. The company’s two co-founders, the husband-and-wife team of Sankar (Jay) Jayaram and Uma Jayaram, worked together to found the Virtual Reality and Computer Integrated Manufacturing Lab at Washington State University, before leaving for Silicon Valley.
At the time, both Uma and Jay Jayaram were associate professors at Washington State University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. They went on to co-found several virtual reality companies together, including 3D-4U, a virtual reality company focused on entertainment, which was later renamed Voke.
Because of their ties to WSU, the school was the first place where Voke’s VR experiences were tested, offering a live stream of a Cougars game to fans.
Since then, the Jayarams have been joined at Voke by celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds, including Grammy Award-winning pop star Marc Anthony, who advises the company on its entertainment strategy, and Emmy Award winner Jeff Jonas of Sportsvision, who is Voke’s CCO.
The company also has strategic partnerships with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, as of last fall. The partnership with the Kings, who invested an undisclosed amount in the company, resulted in a VR live stream of the Kings’ season opener against the LA Clippers to fans in Mumbai, India.
The idea for Voke originated in a missed Seahawks game. Jay Jayaram, a big football fan, was talking to Uma Jayaram, who was at the time living in Virginia, finishing her doctorate.
“I really wanted to be in the stadium,” he said in a WSU video about Voke’s founding. “I wished I could be a home, put on a headset, and feel as if I were in a stadium. I froze right there and I knew that was it.”
The Jayarams decided to create a platform that would let fans experience live events in virtual reality from home, an idea that became Voke.
Using a stereoscopic, panoramic camera system, Voke creates a 3D live stream of events that can be broadcast to any VR device. It also offers 2D video streams for mobile devices, tablets, and TV.
The company’s VR live stream offers multiple viewpoints so fans can choose where they want to sit in the crowd and shift instantly from one seat to another. The VR experience can also be paused and rewound, and it incorporates graphic overlays for sponsorship and other game details, like showing first down lines on a football field.
“Virtual reality technologies are developing at a rapid pace and are becoming very affordable and relevant,” said Jayaram in a November news release. “Live event virtual reality will appeal to fans of all demographic backgrounds and change the way we consume sports and entertainment content. We truly believe our technology is setting the bar when it comes to making immersive presence in live events an engaging fan experience, accessible to everyone.”