VR avatar developer ObEN raises $7.7 mln in China-heavy Series A

ObEN Inc, a developer of 3D virtual reality avatars, raised $7.7 million in a Series A round led by CrestValue Capital, the investment arm of China’s DunAm Group.

Other Chinese investors in the round were Cybernaut Westlake Partners, the U.S. fund of Cybernaut Investment, and Leaguer Venture Investment Co, the venture fund of the Research Institute of Tsinghua University in Shenzhen.

Additional participants included Third Wave Digital, the venture fund of Allen DeBevoise, founder of Machinima, Inc.Dream Maker Entertainment Ltd., subsidiary of S.M. EntertainmentGordon Cheng, CEO of Cameron Pace Group China; and tech incubator Idealab.

Based in Pasadena, California, ObEN intends to supersede the cartoon-like representations VR users currently see. “Specifically,” co-founder and Chief Executive Nikhil Jain told VCJ in an email, “with just a selfie taken on any smartphone and a brief voice recording, ObEN creates incredibly photo-real virtual selves, making VR technology accessible to everyone.”

“VR is poised to become the next significant computing platform,” Jain wrote. “We believe in order to achieve this, VR needs to move from an immersive (but currently isolating experience) to a social experience.” 

ObEN plans to launch its product in early 2017, making the software development kit available to platforms, developers and content creators. At that point, users’ virtual selves will be transportable into any VR or AR environment that supports ObEN’s tech. “And then that experience can be made social.”

With respect to investors, Jain said Chinese backers are further along than their U.S. counterparts in recognizing the potential of VR, “which explains the rapid adoption of VR in China we’re seeing now. For example, VR arcades (brick-and-mortar arcade venues that have VR games) are coming up quickly in China and throughout other parts of Asia.”

“It’s great strategically for us to have those that understand the space investing in ObEN,” Jain added. “Consumers and businesses alike are excited about VR because of its broad potential to be used in so many different ways, and across so many different industries, from education to healthcare to travel to entertainment to gaming. VR enables people to experience an enormously rich and varied spectrum of activities that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

Feature photo is an example of a two-dimensional image being made into a 3D avatar. Image courtesy of ObEN.