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Grab your virtual reality goggles and buckle your seat belt!

Think YouTube cubed. That’s what six Vassar students are launching this year with vcemo, a company whose website is designed to serve as a hub for streaming 360° virtual reality videos (prod.vcemo.com).

Sporting virtual reality goggles and hoodies branded with their company’s logo: front, left to right: Harris Gordon '15, Henry Rizzi '16 and Casey Hancock '15; back, left to right: Matthew Griffiths '16, Alejandro Dinsmore '15 and Jarrett Holtz '15

The seeds for vcemo were planted more than a year ago when Matthew Griffiths ’16 was watching a skateboarding video using a virtual reality viewer. Griffiths, a film major, didn’t know much about the mechanics of virtual reality, “but I wondered if there could be a place on the Internet where stuff like this could be seen, and maybe shown in a better way.”

He reached out to two friends who had more expertise in the field, computer science major Casey Hancock ’15 and cognitive science major Harris Gordon ’15, and asked them if there was a site that hosted such videos. “We assumed someone must have already thought of it,” Griffiths says, “so we did a lot of research and we discovered nobody had.”

The idea for creating such a site themselves really blossomed in the summer of 2013 when Gordon met Alejandro Dinsmore ’15, a neuroscience major, at a Vassar “Tech Meet Up” in New York City organized by Alison Lindland, ’00, a Columbia Business School graduate who has held various high-tech jobs over the past decade. “I’d done some work with gaming platforms,” Dinsmore says, “but when we realized there was no place like YouTube for virtual reality, we said, ‘Hey, let’s do it.’”

The idea became a reality last May when Griffiths, Hancock, Gordon and Dinsmore met in the Retreat and filled out the paperwork registering vcemo as a limited liability company (LLC). Later, two other students, computer science majors Henry Rizzi ’16 and Jarrett Holtz ’15, joined the team.

Dinsmore says 360-degree virtual reality streaming has obvious applications in the gaming industry, but he also sees it as a tool for educators, therapists, and those involved in fundraising. “Teaching through virtual reality is a good way for schools to compete for the attention of students who play video games,” he says. “Therapists can help people overcome their fear of flying or of animals by placing them in a safe environment that helps them confront those fears. And studies have shown that people who are immersed in 360 degrees of an event are more emotionally invested and are more likely to donate money to a particular cause.”

The site could even be helpful to college admissions officers, Dinsmore says. “Imagine a virtual tour of the Vassar campus where you don’t just see a picture or a video of a class, you’re sitting in the classroom.”

Now that the company has been formed, the students are engaged in marketing their product. Dinsmore says he’s confident the company will attract investors because it has achieved one of the principal objectives of any high-tech startup company: It got there first.

“Big firms don’t often launch their own ideas because they don’t want to risk a lot of failures, so they wait for other people to come up with the ideas and when one takes off, they buy it,” he says.

Lindland says she’s been following the progress of the fledgling company since she first discussed the idea with Gordon and Dinsmore last year. “Virtual reality technology is huge right now, but it’s not as well defined as other forms of technology, so there’s room for growth,” she says, adding she’s not surprised the project was hatched at Vassar.

“It’s a testament to the type of liberal arts education you get at Vassar that a couple of students can collaborate and tackle what is both a technical challenge and a business problem,” Lindland says. “I wish them success.” 

--Larry Hertz

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, November 19, 2014