Mira, the augmented-reality startup based in Los Angeles, announced last week it raised $10 million in funding led by Sequoia, Happiness Ventures and Blue Bear Capital.
The company has been developing software that aims to streamline workflow and connect supervisors and workers remotely.
Co-founders Ben Taft, Matt Stern and Montana Reed began work on their prototype as students at USC's Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Innovation. At the time, Taft worked at Daqri, an L.A. startup building an expensive AR-enabled hardhat helmet for industrial workers. Stern and Matt had previously helped build Sony's first Playstation VR.
Together, the trio pulled together the money to buy the only developer kit available at the time, the Microsoft Hololens. But the complicated interface and steep price tag meant most businesses couldn't deploy it at scale, Mira's 24-year-old CEO Taft told dot.LA. In 2017, he and his co-founders launched the Prism Pro, a smartphone-powered AR headset costing a fraction of the price of leading devices.
"The point of it was to open up a conversation of why AR is important," Taft said. "And invite different perspectives and people into the conversation who may not have had access or opportunity to participate in that discussion before, when those devices cost $10,000."
The prototype led them to Sequoia and other early investors. For $99, a consumer could pop their iPhone into the device and open the Mira software app to send images and data directly to colleagues across the world who can provide assistance on the spot.
After the launch, Mira heard from consumers using their product for a range of applications, from research to gaming‚ but they saw the strongest demand from a different type of consumer: the enterprise and industrial sectors.
An explosives packaging company in Australia sent Mira's team a letter about gluing the developer kit into a hardhat. The startup's next move was clear — they soon launched a second weather-proof version designed to last in rugged environments.
"They viewed this as an opportunity to provide a hands-free working paradigm to the front-line workforce, to make their work and lives safer, faster and more efficient," Taft said.
Unlike other AR headsets, Mira's is operated entirely by an iPhone. This means consumers don't need to buy a new computer to run the software. Plus, a lot of these big companies already have experience managing mobile devices at scale.
Using the Mira Flow tool, company supervisors can compose and send checklists to machine operators, a process typically done on paper. Once the employee puts on Mira's device, the workflow appears on the screen, guiding them through each step as the camera documents the procedure for their supervisor.
The company's second tool, Mira Connect, allows remote employees to video chat in with operators on the ground and guide them through processes.
"It's like a hands-free FaceTime call with an added see-what-I-see augmented reality element to make things so you can transfer expertise to anyone in the world remotely," Stern said," as if you were standing over their shoulder and guiding them."
And as COVID limits international travel, these industries have begun to rethink communication and problem solving, Taft said. Mira has seen usage spike on the Connect tool.
With the new funding, the company plans to ramp up hardware production and expand its engineering and sales teams in L.A.
"Our sales are growing incredibly quickly this year," Taft said. "We'll be hiring a lot more sales people to continue our momentum and continue to capitalize on gaining the market share that we have been rapidly obtaining over the past six months."
Valence, a tech platform and professional network launched last year that connects Black founders, announced its inaugural funding network Thursday. The list includes investors at top firms including Sequoia Capital, Accel and Upfront Ventures.
"For years, Black entrepreneurs have been told that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, but at the same time most haven't had access to the top networks, the warm introductions, and the mentorship that underpin lasting success in tech. Valence is upending this completely by bringing the top VCs to compete for the best Black entrepreneurs." said Valence co-founder and general partner at Upfront Ventures, Kobie Fuller. "We want to even the playing field with the goal of exponentially growing the number of Black-owned startups that get funded."
Only 4% of VC employees are black, according to a 2018 survey by the National Venture Capital Association, an industry trade group. Just 10% of VC-backed companies in Los Angeles are run by a person of color or a woman, according to PledgeLA.
However, the true numbers are likely much lower because those survey – like all others examining diversity — are self-reported.
Valence also announced that is has appointed tech and entertainment veteran Guy Primus as chief executive officer.
"Facilitating success in the innovation economy is key to Valence's mission. By creating the Valence Funding Network, we are eliminating one of the most formidable structural obstacles to success—the access to venture investors." said Primus.
Here are the inaugural funding members:
- 645 Ventures
- Nnamdi Okike
- Rich Wong
- Ade Ajao
- Elliott Robinson
- Capital G
- Gene Frantz
- Collab Capital
- Jewel Burks
- Concrete Rose
- Sean Mendy
- Defy Partners
- Nabeel Hyatt
- Techsquare Labs
- Neil Sequiera
- Equal Ventures
- Richard Kerby
- First Round
- Josh Kopelman
- Brian O'Malley
- Brad Feld
- General Catalyst
- Peter Boyce
- Hans Tung
- Sarah Guo
- Jordan Fudge
- Spark Capital
- Rebecca Kaden
- High Alpha
- Scott Dorsey
- Mercedes Bent
- Deena Shakir
- Paige Craig
- Charles Hudson
- Annie Kadavy
- Jess Lee
- Sinai Ventures
- Paul Judge
- Union Square
- Kobie Fuller
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