With $24M Series B, Avegant Prepares to Launch Video Player Headset
Avegant, a Redwood City, CA-based tech startup with roots in Ann Arbor, MI, announced this week that it has raised $24 million in Series B funding. Lian Luo, a Chinese mobile gaming company, led the round, with participation from the Bunting Family Fund and returning investors Intel Capital and NHN Investments.
Avegant’s lead consumer product is the Glyph, a portable, Bluetooth-enabled “virtual retinal display” video player that uses micromirror technology to beam images directly onto a user’s eyeballs, mimicking the way humans naturally perceive light. The result, says Avegant CEO Joerg Tewes, is a sharper and more vibrantly colored viewing experience.
“Unlike a headset that uses LED lights, ours has a screenless display,” said Avegant co-founder and chief strategy officer Edward Tang, adding that the Glyph uses two million microscopic mirrors to achieve this effect. “It gives you a vivid, movie theater experience on the go, and it plugs into any device.” (Check out the video below for more on how the Glyph works.)
Tang and Allan Evans co-founded the company in 2013. Though they met while both were still at the University of Michigan, Evans also worked at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, spearheading research that uncovered many of the core technologies used to develop the Glyph. Meanwhile, Tang helped develop a new electron beam lithography program and fabricated devices for micro-electrical-mechanical systems lab courses at U-M. Tang and Evans hold dozens of patents between them.
Though the company relocated from Michigan to the Bay Area last year, Tang said Ann Arbor was the perfect place to start Avegant: “There’s a great entrepreneurial spirit there,” he explained. “People really understand technology, and there are lots of talented people in the community. The Michigan Angel Fund was instrumental in getting us off the ground, and we still have a lot of Michigan investors.”
After a year spent developing the product, Avegant introduced its early Glyph prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2014. It went on to win a mobile technology award there, and soon collected additional accolades from South by Southwest Interactive, MacWorld/iWorld, and CNN.
In January 2014, Avegant also launched the most successful Michigan-based Kickstarter project of the year—it far surpassed its goal of $250,000, raising a whopping $1.5 million from 3,331 backers—and began tweaking the Glyph to get it production-ready. That process is now wrapping up, Tewes said. Part of the Series B money will be used to finalize the Glyph and ship it to Kickstarter supporters, and the company hopes to receive lots of feedback from them. Avegant expects to begin sending out units this fall.
The company has also formed a distribution partnership with investor Lian Luo and plans to leverage its network of Apple-certified retail outlets to get the Glyph into the hands of Chinese consumer electronics customers. “It really accelerates our go-to-market strategy in China,” Tewes said.
Avegant, which has about 30 employees and plans to hire 20 more by the end of the year, will also use the Series B funding for product development and marketing efforts that target commuters and frequent travelers.
“We have a very compelling product and superior screenless retinal imaging technology,” Tewes said. “We’ll be one of the first, if not the first, with this kind of solution for mobile media consumption. There’s no other thing like it on the market.”