By Patty Tascarella – Senior Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times
Jun 9, 2021 Updated Jun 10, 2021, 5:33pm EDT
Ekto VR, a startup based on the North Side, has raised $340,000 from Reinforced Ventures, an angel network launched last year by local veterans of Uber, Google and Apple that now stretches nationwide.
The money will be used for product development and hiring, with the aim of launching its partner beta program by the end of 2021. To date, Ekto VR has raised $600,000. It employs seven at present and expects to be at 10 by year-end.
Ekto VR makes robotic boots that match the wearer’s motion in a headset. Product development began about five years ago and it introduced its first commercial product, called Ekto One, last September. Users walk naturally through digital content while staying safe, comfortable and engaged. Companies can use it to train employees as Ekto One enhances the realism of their simulations and allows trainees to focus on the learning objectives instead of navigational controls or workspace size limitations.
Reinforced Ventures founder Euan Guttridge noticed Ekto VR more than two years ago, before he’d even started his angel network. Guttridge was visiting local accelerator AlphaLab and came upon something akin to the stop-motion animated short film, “The Wrong Trousers,” where an inventor develops robotized pants to walk the dog.
“I was walking past their lab and saw what looked like a bunch of crazy guys wearing VR headsets and robotic shoes,” Guttridge said.
Guttridge described Ekto as “the missing link” in widespread adaption of virtual reality for industrial training and gaming.
Guttridge had been head of technical program management — aka self-driving — at Uber Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh before departing in late 2019 to focus on building a new investor group of tech vets from Uber, Google, Apple and local startups to invest jointly in local early stage companies. Reinforced Ventures was announced early last year. It has now grown to a syndicate of 900 investors nationwide who stake companies based here or have ties to the region.
Brad Factor, Ekto VR CEO, described Reinforced Ventures as a value-add investor.
“Even prior to closing their investment, they leveraged the power of their extensive network to connect us with a prominent mechanical engineering director at a top robotics company who became both a formal advisor and major investor,” Factor said in a prepared statement. “As a result, Reinforced Ventures accelerated our go-to-market and propelled our business to the next level.”
Given the pandemic, businesses have learned to hire, train and work remotely and realized the cost savings possible through reducing travel, Guttridge said, creating an “immediate need” in the market for immersive training technologies. Ekto VR’s technology has the plus of working in confined spaces.
As for Reinforced Ventures, it now lists 18 portfolio companies, including locals Gridwise, Locomation, Honeycomb Credit and OtterTune. Other investments are in the San Francisco area, Boston and Toronto.
“Deal flow hasn’t changed,” Guttridge said. “It’s still excellent. There’s a lot of promise with entrepreneurs who are leaving the bigger software and autonomous vehicle and robotics companies in Pittsburgh and building very interesting, credible businesses.”
Read the original article on the Pittsburgh Business Times