Laurene Powell Jobs Leads Funding Round in Virtual-Reality Firm

  • Within already has a project playing in Imax’s VR Centers
  • Funding coincides with growing commercialization efforts
Laurene Powell Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective LLC and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings Pte led a $40 million fundraising round in the virtual-reality company Within, joining investors that include Andreessen Horowitz, 21st Century Fox Inc. and Raine Ventures.

The funding brings the total for the Los Angeles-based software startup to $56.6 million, according to a statement Wednesday. WPP Plc, the world’s largest advertising agency, and Macro Ventures also participated in the latest round. Within is already working with companies including Fox, NBCUniversal and Vice Media.

Life of Us

Source: One of Within

Founded by Aaron Koblin and Chris Milk, Within will use the money for development of augmented reality, or AR, experiences -- an emerging form of digital entertainment. The funding reflects growing investor confidence in potential commercial applications for AR and virtual reality, a market that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says may reach $182 billion by 2025.

“In terms of VR/AR content creation, they are our bet and we are extremely excited about teaming with them,” Lars Dalgaard, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said in an interview. “These two guys are the pied pipers that people are following. They have built a real brand.”

Technology and entertainment companies are beginning to develop commercial uses for AR and VR. Apple Inc. is preparing to put augmented reality software in as many as a billion mobile devices this autumn. At the same time, Hollywood studios have been looking for ways to deploy the technology for moviegoers. The funding gives Within the ability to expand and develop new technology and content.

Social Justice

The widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Powell Jobs founded Emerson Collective to focus on education, immigration, the environment and other social justice initiatives. She’s worth about $18 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

With Temasek as a partner, international expansion is on the horizon, and the company will be working more closely with brands to reach consumers, Milk said.

“Our goal is to connect the world through immersive stories,” Milk, Within’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “That includes both developing the new storytelling language in both of those mediums, as well as the technology to support them on a lot of different current hardware, headsets and devices.”

Children using Within’s AR Goldilocks storybook can read a story aloud and see the characters they describe appear on an iPad or mobile-phone screen, superimposed in reality. The technology was featured last month at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Walt Disney Co. has revealed plans for an AR headset that will feature “Star Wars” games, like Holo Chess, the board game with battling holographic pieces seen in “A New Hope.”

Formerly called Vrse, Within adopted its current name in June 2016 when the company completed a $12.6 million funding round.

One of Within’s recent projects, “Life of Us,” is a multi-user experience based on evolution, with viewers developing from amoeba to apes to humans. It can be seen at Imax VR centers, a virtual-reality pilot project by Imax Corp., the operator of large-format movie theaters.

— With assistance by Lizette Chapman, and Alex Webb

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