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Envisioning the future of marketing, virtual tour startup zooms out

Pictured is a screenshot of an interactive walk-through of Little Szechuan, a popular State College restaurant, as seen through Visionese’s virtual-reality platform.
Pictured is a screenshot of an interactive walk-through of Little Szechuan, a popular State College restaurant, as seen through Visionese’s virtual-reality platform. Photo provided

When State College broke the Guinness World Record for the number of ice luminaries displayed in a community at once about two weeks ago, Tim Ko had the best view in town. Then, he shared it with everyone else.

Using a drone and a 360-degree camera on the ground, Ko, 26, created a panoramic view of the ice lantern extravaganza, racking up his own fair share of notoriety on social media. But with Visionese, his virtual tour startup, Ko has plans that extend beyond the lights of South Allen Street. Instead, he wants to put the spotlight on other businesses and organizations that can make use of the immersive technology.

Breaking records is fine, but first he’d like to make it as a young entrepreneur.

“This is where marketing and advertising is heading,” he said. “This is the future.”

Other companies have taken notice. Facebook acquired virtual reality goggles company Oculus VR for $2 billion about three years ago, while Samsung, Microsoft and Google have all poured additional billions into the VR world, which analysts expect to reach more than $133 billion by 2021.

It’s not just tech giants that have gotten on board. Virtual and augmented reality are carving a niche in real estate, auto sales and education — all markets, Ko said, that Visionese can help bring into the future.

“For the university, for instance, we have a lot of students who come from out of state,” he said. “Also for international students or for even some in-state students — they can’t come here easily or maybe they don’t want to spend the money to visit the campus. This can help them make their decision when choosing schools.”

Or find the bursar’s or registrar’s office when they arrive on campus. Looking at them on a campus map is one thing, Ko said, but seeing the real — or virtual — deal is better.

Visionese, which is the only active company in State College to be Google Street View Trusted, has created virtual tours of Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center and Bald Eagle State Park.

In December, the company made its first sale, an interactive walk-through of Little Szechuan, a popular State College restaurant. Within the tour, add-ons within the virtual environment allow users to click for more information. Linked icons for Yelp, OrderUp, Google Maps, a share icon and the restaurant’s website and Facebook page line the left side of the screen.

See today’s menu on the wall? Just click it and it expands. It’s like reading the real thing, sans the paper cuts.

“Especially for restaurants, we can provide all the information you need without actually being there,” Ko said.

Ko, who graduated from Penn State in 2015 with an aerospace engineering degree, left his full-time job in December to pursue Visionese full-time. He made the decision after his company completed the Happy Valley LaunchBox boot camp, an accelerator program for startups.

Now, he’s looking toward the future. He’s hoping others view it through the same VR-ready lenses.

“I think you learn a lot as an entrepreneur,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it.”

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