Medill students’ VR startup seeks investors after summer pre-accelerator program

PrydeVR’s Henry Keyser pitches his team’s company at Demo Day at The Garage innovation lab

Henry Keyser, co-founder of PrydeVR, makes his pitch on Wildfire Demo Day at The Garage. (PHOTO/Olivia Obineme)

At the end of the night, two recent graduates of Medill’s Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship program let out a sigh of relief.

After 10 weeks in the Wildfire summer “pre-accelerator” program at The Garage — Northwestern’s hub for student-founded startups — they had completed their final step: the pitch.

At Wildfire’s Demo Day Aug. 24, Henry Keyser (MSJ ’17) presented his company PrydeVR, with his teammates Vijeta Ojha (MSJ ’17) and Chen Chen (Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering) cheering him on. A third MSJ student and PrydeVR co-founder, Qiqi “Vivian” Zhang, also contributed to PrydeVR remotely during her summer quarter in San Francisco.

The PrydeVR team (l-r): Vijeta Ojha, Henry Keyser and Chen Chen at Wildfire Demo Day. (PHOTO/Olivia Obineme)

“The pitch was amazing,” Ojha said of Keyser’s presentation. “The audience was completely engaged.”

PrydeVR is a virtual reality sharing service. “One of the big things about virtual reality is that people don’t clearly understand what it is,” Keyser explained prior to the presentation. “We allow someone who is in virtual reality to show their friends, their subscribers, their viewers what they’re doing on social media, on video platforms, so you can finally show off why you love virtual reality, what’s exciting about it, what’s cool about a particular product, program, app or game.”

Imagine having a coffee date with your geographically distant friend and getting your caffeine fix in the same café, while capturing video of your VR experience and sharing it on YouTube or Facebook. That’s one of the many experiences made possible by virtual reality — and PrydeVR, Keyser explained to the Demo Day audience.

Keyser was last to take the floor at the event, which consisted of 12 student teams pitching to a panel of judges in competition for a monetary prize to kickstart their company. PrydeVR’s technology was developed in the spring as part of Northwestern’s NUvention Web+Media class, under the name ShareVR. Although PrydeVR participated fully in the Wildfire program, it wasn’t in the running for the Demo Day prize money.

Billy Banks, associate director of The Garage, welcomes everyone to The Garage. (PHOTO/Olivia Obineme)

“Pryde was added late to the program, after applications had closed, and was also much further along at the time than the other teams,” said Billy Banks, associate director of The Garage.

“We were placed in the ‘growth’ category,” said Keyser. “We were recognized for our time at NUvention that we were starting on a different footing than the other teams that were starting Wildfire as undergrads.”

According to Banks, it was a mutual decision to focus on helping Pryde attract and pitch directly to the investor community at Demo Day.

“I love what they are doing, and Henry was a huge asset to the program over the summer,” Banks said.

The six-month NUvention class and summer Wildfire program, Keyser said, complemented each other well.

Henry Keyser at Wildfire Demo Day. (PHOTO/Olivia Obineme)

“You’re essentially graded on how well you learn the mechanics of starting a company” in the NUvention class, Keyser said. “NUvention has been great for validating our ideas. Wildfire, however, is a full-time opportunity to start your company.”

The PrydeVR team talking with a potential investor at Wildfire Demo Demo Day. (PHOTO/Olivia Obineme)

Via the Wildfire program, PrydeVR connected with people crucial to a company’s success, from trademark attorneys to accountants. As part of the program, all the participating students attended educational workshops and sessions and could connect with expert advisers.

Applause erupted at the end of Keyser’s pitch. Several people made their way to the PrydeVR table to express their interest in the company.

Mingling with the rest of the teams after the event, the PrydeVR team was found wrapping up a conversation with a gentleman who attended Demo Day, shaking hands and exchanging business cards.

“Yup, that was an investor,” Keyser said.