LOS ANGELES — What does L.A.’s tech industry grow up to be?
Certainly the market has its fair share of consumer-facing tech firms in e-commerce heavy hitters, such as Revolve, The Honest Co. and TechStyle Fashion Group, along with social platforms in Snap Inc. and Silicon Beach outposts for YouTube and Facebook. However, it’s the proximity to Hollywood that’s leaving a lasting mark on L.A. tech as the industry continues to reflect the intersection of entertainment with technologies such as virtual and augmented realities.
That cross-pollination has had implications for fashion, most notably on the retail side with Culver City, Calif.-based virtual reality company Dreamscape Immersive unveiling its first permanent location at Westfield Century City in mid-December. The company in February tested a pop-up at the shopping center for its immersive “Alien Zoo” experience that allowed people to visit, interact with and explore an imaginary world.
The experience is being done in partnership with AMC Theatres and is to be followed by openings later this year in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Tex.; Columbus, Ohio, and New York-New Jersey areas.
Dreamscape’s team is a reflection of Hollywood merging with Los Angeles tech. Chief executive officer Bruce Vaughn previously served as chief creative officer of Walt Disney Co.’s Walt Disney Imagineering, while co-chairman Walter Parkes is a producer whose credits include the “Men in Black” movies and leading DreamWorks motion picture division. The company is also backed by big names in entertainment, including Warner Bros. and 21st Century Fox.
“We’re at a time when movies and malls are getting a lot of competition from digital distribution. So one way to counteract that is to offer irreplaceable, unique experiences and that idea was certainly embraced by our studio partners and our retail partners,” Parkes told WWD at the time of the Westfield Century City test run. “That’s why the malls that are doing well are as much entertainment centers as they are retail centers.”
Los Angeles made sense as a headquarters for Vntana, which bills itself as a mixed reality company. The company, which raised a seed round two years ago, last month unveiled a hologram concierge at the Mall of America to assist shoppers with holiday gifting. Vntana’s software platform is expected to keep rolling out to other centers this year.
“For us, L.A. was the perfect place to start our business because of that convergence of entertainment, fashion and tech,” said Vntana ceo and cofounder Ashley Crowder. “The studios saw what happened to the music industry when they ignored the tech wave, so a lot of studios have created investment funds and they’re investing in tech companies because they want to be part of this next revolution of augmented reality. On top of that, they have all the infrastructure here.”
Many firms such as Vntana require staffs of 3-D artists and animators to add the storytelling element to the technology. That’s talent that is easy to find in L.A. given the abundance of movie studios in the area. In fact, Vntana’s most recent hire came from Marvel Comics, Crowder said.
The continued intersection of tech and Hollywood will no doubt have implications for the broader landscape, especially as it relates to funding, Crowder said. The market, she pointed out, went from few venture capital funds to a growing number of seed funds. That will evolve with the landscape to the growth of firms providing Series A capital and on as fashion, retail, tech and Hollywood lean on one another locally.
“Media in general is going to be changing a lot,” Crowder said. “The studios are continuing to invest in figuring out how they can create content for these new mediums. The entire movie experience might continue to change and continue to become more of an experience.”