The Best VR Startups in 2015 Will Go Pro

What comes to mind when you hear "virtual reality?" For most people, the idea of strapping on a headset that transports the wearer into an alternate reality conjures up amazing possibilities for gamers and movie buffs. Those people are not wrong: VR will eventually change the way we experience entertainment.

But in a way, those opportunities are among the most obvious for virtual reality, which means you can expect a glut of those products from every agency, startup and studio trying to jump on the VR bandwagon. The same thing happened the last time a new platform—mobile—presented a profound change to how we compute. Immersive consumer entertainment experiences will be the mobile photo sharing apps of VR: an overcrowded space with a few winners, a rash of small acquisitions and a whole lot of losers.

Instead, the most interesting virtual reality software startups this year won't really be "virtual reality" companies at all; they'll be startups making amazing tools that just happen to use VR to bring them to life. This has already started to play out in fields like medicine where virtual reality is already being used to train brain surgeons at Mount Sinai.

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The difficulty of creating that content in the near term will also drive up the price of the developers and teams capable of shipping full-stack, content-heavy VR. The high acquihire premiums the market will bear for those teams, combined with the perils they'll face running hits-driven studio businesses, will lead most of those startups to sell out before they have a chance to become big. In the same way that mobile laggards bought app development houses wholesale to ramp up quickly, large corporations flush with cash but short on VR talent will try to acquire their way into the space.

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Frictionless distribution on the Web plus the potential for impressive tools with a big wow factor is a recipe for lots of people bringing their own VR headsets to work, letting pro VR products achieve a level of scale that consumer VR products won’t be able to in 2015.