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XR companies based in Vancouver have skyrocketed from 15 to 200 in just three short years.
A lot has changed in the XR industry since 2017. In teaching hospitals, brain scans have transformed into dynamic, moving holograms. Apps now let individuals walk around the homes of their loved ones without stepping outside their door. Home décor items can appear, life-sized, in a person’s living room at a touch of a screen, before being delivered to their doorstep.
All of those concepts have been developed in one year – in one city.
Vancouver is one of the fastest growing VR, AR, and MR hubs in the world. Nestled under fir tree-covered mountains and bordered by beaches, the city’s urban center boasts businesses that are transforming industries, creating immersive stories, and defining the next wave of computing.
Its expansion is staggering. Just three years ago, Vancouver hosted around 15 XR companies. Now, there are over 200.
There’s more than one reason why the city is exploding with talent. In 1977, Vancouver established itself as a top-flight filming destination, earning the nickname “Hollywood North.” Animators and VFX professionals flocked to the area, helping it to become the third largest film and TV production centre in North America. That expertise led to cross-pollination. Electronic Arts (EA) opened its Canadian arm in the Metro Vancouver area in the early ‘80s, inspiring a raft of world-class games and mobile entertainment businesses. Now, those professionals are moving to XR.
Since last year, the composition of the Vancouver VR, AR, and MR ecosystem has developed dramatically. The city has always shown a strength in creating enterprise, architecture, and data visualization solutions. Over the past 12 months, the number of companies offering those services has almost doubled.
That’s due in a large part to the “collaborative spirit” of Vancouver that sets its ecosystem apart. Last September, two centres – Axiom Zen and Launch Academy – were the sole incubating organizations within the city. This year, seven more hubs have been created to nurture local XR talent. Developments like these have helped the industry grow by 54 percent since 2017.
As well as the scores of new startups opening their doors in 2018, the local ecosystem has seen victories from more mature companies. Finger Food Studios, an XR organization whose clients and partners include Microsoft, Hootsuite, and Cirque du Soleil, was integral in securing $1.4 billion in government funding to boost Vancouver’s digital technology. The Vancouver Virtual Reality Film Festival (YVRFF) – the only dedicated VR film festival in the world – launched its second annual event to much acclaim, while five of the city’s largest XR companies including Archiact and Motive.io were invited to speak at SXSW festival on the rise of VR and AR in Vancouver.
“XR in this city is growing quicker than anyone expected,” says Dan Burgar, president of the Vancouver branch of the VR/AR Association, an organization that connects companies working in the sector across the globe. “Five years ago, the industry was non-existent in Vancouver. Now, with our talent pool and proximity to San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, there’s been a huge uptick in business-to-business development. We’re one of the best places in the world to set up an XR company, and it’s only going to get bigger from here.”
With so many new companies joining the fray every month, it can be hard to keep track of the innovation. Monitoring the growth of the community, the Vancouver chapter of the VR/AR Association – in partnership with the Vancouver Economic Commission, Gowling WLG, and CreativeBC – has created a comprehensive infographic to visualize the ecosystem.
As businesses increasingly choose Vancouver as their home, it’s easy to see how the city has grown to become what could very well be the second largest XR cluster in the world.