MIT Launches Play Labs VR Accelerator For Students and Alumni

by Alice Bonasio • January 25th, 2017

MIT is partnering up with Bayview Labs and early stage VC firm the Seraph Group to launch a new accelerator dedicated to “Playful Technologies” such as VR and AR. The program starts in the summer and will offer mentorship, facilities and funding to selected start-ups looking to enter that space.

Applications are now open for this first Play Labs cohort, but only if you’re a MIT-affiliated start-up – meaning that at least one founder has to be an MIT alumni, student, or faculty member. Other than that, the criteria stipulated is pretty broad, with consideration being given to companies at any stage (pre-founding, pre-seed, seed, etc.) which come under the scope of what they define as “Playful Technologies”.

So although the focus of the program is certainly on Virtual and Augmented Reality and their related applications, they will also be considering start-ups looking to develop relevant technologies in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Vision and 3d Modeling, with potential applications across Gaming, Healthcare, Education, Manufacturing, Data Visualization, eSports and many others.

“MIT students thrive on innovation and creative exploration, and through Play Labs we will help them move their most imaginative ideas into the realm of the possible,” says Scot Osterweil, Managing Director for Ludus, the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media.

Once applications close on Feb. 20th, a number of start-ups will be selected (somewhere between 5 and 10, although the exact number is “not set in stone” according to their website) to embark on an intensive 3-month stint based at MIT’s campus in Cambridge, MA. Each will receive an initial $20,000 in funding in return for 6 percent common equity, followed by a potential further $80,000 for qualifying graduates.

The program will be led by Rizwan Virk, executive director at Bayview Labs. He will mentor the start-ups alongside other faculty and staff from the MIT Game Lab, which is hosting the program together with Ludus – the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media which coordinates all the various research groups in the institution exploring games and play. It will also have input from the [email protected] group, a student organization on campus dedicated to fostering VR/AR entrepreneurship at the institution.

Virk, who is an entrepreneur and angel investor, says he wishes this type of program had been available when he himself graduated from MIT and was looking to embark on his first start-up.

“That’s why I designed the program in this way, with support from both MIT staff and industry entrepreneurs and mentors,” he explains. “MIT has been the starting point for many successful start-ups over the years, and although recently a lot of focus on playful and gaming technologies  – particularly VR/AR – has been on the West Coast, I believe that the ecosystem around MIT in Boston has great talent and start-up ideas in these areas.”

This is just the latest in a series of VR-focused accelerators and incubators that have been cropping up over the past year or so. These include Vive X (HTC Vive’s own program), Samsung NEXT, our own Upload Collective, and the SXSW Accelerator, which this year has a dedicated category for Augmented and Virtual Reality pitches. And considering the ever-growing interest that VR and related technologies is attracting, it’s probably safe to assume we’ll be seeing more of these in 2017.

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