Venture capital considers the metaverse

The metaverse has begun to attract investor interest, even as investors grapple with knowing what it is exactly.

When Facebook changed its name to Meta, it signaled its intention to go all-in on the metaverse. The metaverse is one of the most hyped technologies around. But not many truly understand what it is and how the technology can change the innovation game.

Venture capital firms, long working with many of the technologies generally related to the metaverse, are figuring out how to take advantage of its interest and how world-changing it could be.

Speaking at the Sapphire Vision Summit, a virtual event in November, Lindsey McInerney, former global head of technology and innovation at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said the metaverse could mean many different things, but there is one key idea connecting all definitions.

“There is one metaverse, kind of like there’s one internet,” McInerney said. “It doesn’t have to be completely immersive because my version is the merging and converging of the physical and the digital.”

She added that the metaverse would have to involve computers, mobile phones, augmented reality and even some virtual reality components.

Broadly, the metaverse seems to combine the in-person and virtual worlds, something many venture firms have already explored. The notion is that people could interact with a more virtual world and have it affect their day-to-day offscreen lives.

McInerney pointed out that the metaverse could mean many things to start-ups, including the possibility of new avenues for e-commerce and marketing. Through augmented reality and virtual reality, the metaverse can provide opportunities to enhance user experience or make it easier for consumers to imagine how items fit in their households.

Even though there’s no clear idea yet what the metaverse could be, venture firms are already looking for ways to capitalize on its potential benefits and how it can merge with things like web3 and blockchain.

McInerney added that businesses are already seeing an uptick in consumer interest in technologies that can make up a broader metaverse ecosystem. She said NFTs could bring an economic layer to the metaverse.

One firm seeing its potential, despite not explicitly saying so, is Verizon Ventures. The corporate venture arm of the telecommunications giant Verizon sees a big future for hybrid events, even as the US increasingly starts to gather in person again.

Verizon Ventures, however, did not say it is specifically looking for a metaverse play but instead is focusing on taking advantage of the increasing importance of 5G to technology.

Kristina Serafim, managing director at Verizon Ventures, told Venture Capital Journal that they have been looking at early-stage companies working on combining a virtual and live event experience for users.

“The pandemic was definitely a huge trigger and increased the consumer demand for this area,” Serafim said. “We’ve made several investments in the immersive or metaverse space.”

One of the areas Verizon Ventures is excited about is the mixing of virtual and live events. Verizon’s investments in the space include Phenix Real Time Solutions, a live-streaming platform, and sports data for augmented and virtual reality provider Status Pro. Serafim believes there is a lot of consumer interest in hybrid events. She pointed to the growing attraction to Fan Controlled Football, an indoor football league controlled entirely by fans.

Part of Verizon Ventures’ interest in the hybrid or metaverse space is to demonstrate the capability of 5G. Serafim said the venture team works closely with its 5G labs when determining potential start-ups to work with.

Many of these new technologies, Serafim said, were already in the works before the pandemic. However, after many live events were canceled, they saw the chance to accelerate this space. She said the growth of 5G fully enabled the rise of hybrid or even metaverse-related technologies.