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The newest HTC Vive, spotted at CES in Las Vegas last week.
The newest HTC Vive, spotted at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Seattle is already a tech and startup hub. But perhaps less known and talked about is how the city is becoming a center for companies and researchers developing virtual reality technology.

Industry experts, entrepreneurs, investors, and other techies working in the fast-growing virtual reality industry spoke today at a Tech Alliance event in Seattle called “Realizing the Potential of Virtual Reality.”

Todd Hooper, CEO of a stealthy Seattle-based startup called VREAL that is building a platform for virtual reality game streaming, is extremely bullish about the VR development happening in the region. He cited “incredibly creative people, incredible technical talent, a great university, and virtual reality pioneers right here in our town.”

VREAL CEO Todd Hooper speaks at a Tech Alliance event in Seattle on Thursday.
VREAL CEO Todd Hooper speaks at a Tech Alliance event in Seattle on Thursday.

“I think Seattle is actually primed for an incredible decade of growth in virtual reality that will exceed anything we’ve seen previously,” Hooper said today. “It’s going to be as big as any of the booms that have rolled over this region in previous years.”

That’s certainly lofty talk, especially given the history of companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Tableau, Zillow, and so many other homegrown organizations that have become technology giants making a worldwide impact in everything from cloud computing to gaming.

But it’s true that there is a bevy of virtual reality activity going on in Seattle, from small teams of entrepreneurs to corporations like Microsoft and Valve that are building both hardware and software for virtual reality.

Some of the new startups include companies like Envelop VR, Pluto VRPixvana, VRstudiosConvrge and Endeavor One.

The Pluto VR team outside of their Ballard offices.
The Pluto VR team outside of their Ballard offices.

Then there are bigger names like Valve and Microsoft that are headquartered in the region and are developing devices like the HoloLens and the HTC Vive. And don’t forget about Oculus, which is headquartered in California but has large offices in Seattle where engineers are helping build the Rift headset and Gear VR.

Microsoft HoloLens.
Microsoft HoloLens.

On the investment side, one of the region’s top VC firms is betting big on virtual reality. When Madrona Venture Group raised its most recent $300 million fund in June, it said VR was one area of particular interest. Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona who also spoke at the event today, told GeekWire last year that Madrona has been “looking at the [virtual reality] space intently for some time.”

“Virtual reality and augmented reality give users an entirely different experience of where they are and what they are doing,” Porter said in June. “A medium like this has the opportunity to change how consumers think about entertainment and how business gets done. We are in the early days, but we think that the higher end headsets coming out over the next year will enable truly remarkable user experiences, which will catalyze a strong ramp of usage and a wave of new applications.”

Madrona Managing Director Tim Porter.
Madrona Managing Director Tim Porter.

Adley Bowden, VP of Market Development & Analysis at Seattle-based venture capital data provider PitchBook, noted today that Silicon Valley has the most virtual reality-related investment dollars out of any region in North America. But he added that there is “a lot of room” to have much of that cash flow into the Seattle region given the infrastructure here and the technical talent.

Charles Fitzgerald, a Seattle-based angel investor, noted that he believes the virtual reality space “is where the Bay Area is not going to do as well as they typically do.”

“Seattle and Los Angeles look like the two poles for virtual reality,” he said. “Almost all the platform stuff is in Seattle, and there’s a huge gaming footprint here.”

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