Van Nuys, California
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Interactive hologram hardware and software
Co-founder and CEO Ashley Crowder is unleashing interactive holograms for marketing, education, and entertainment with hardware and software.
Before starting VNTANA, Crowder was working as an engineer at an oil refinery by day and programming light shows for Los Angeles DJs by night. Her passion for the shows led Crowder into holograms, and she quit the refinery to launch VNTANA with COO Ben Conway.
The company's proprietary technology allows for "interactive experiences that wouldn't be possible in real life," she says.
Clients include the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where a permanent installation features holograms of Vince Lombardi, George Halas, and Joe Namath; Nike, which used holograms to design football uniforms for high schools in Texas; Mercedes-Benz, which brought a Roger Federer hologram to the U.S. Open to engage fans; and Marvel Studios, which used holograms to bestow magical powers on moviegoers to promote Doctor Strange in 2016.
With five patents issued and nine pending, VNTANA has a growing cache of IP as an innovator in the hologram space. "We're the only interactive hologram company on the market today," says Crowder.
"We don't really focus on the hardware," she continues. "The primary secret sauce is our software platform. We allow people to easily produce holograms on our hardware or other manufacturers' hardware."
That said, VNTANA makes two sizes of hologram displays: the kiosk-sized Z Display and the Life Size Display for full-scale replicas of celebrities and characters. "We assemble everything at our facility in Van Nuys," says Crowder.
The initial target market was Hollywood, but Crowder says other industries have also proved fertile. "Our first clients were entertainment companies," she notes. "Now we're seeing companies in healthcare, retail, and automotive getting into it."
Automotive marketing is a good match for holograms. "Lexus has been one of our great case studies," says Crowder. A two-week installation at the Staples Center in Los Angeles allowed people to design their dream car as a hologram. "We increased their qualified leads by 1,800 percent."
It led to a three-year contract with installations at 12 locations, and all saw big growth in leads. "Now I know what car you want -- you just designed it," says Crowder.
For retail, it can port a chatbot to a brick-and-mortar shop. "Anybody who has a chatbot, we can take that chatbot and make it the brain of the hologram," says Crowder.
During the 2018 holiday season, the Mall of America in Minnesota did just that to power a hologram of Ellie the Elf, a character the mall co-created with VNTANA. "We helped come up with this character that's very loveable," says Crowder. "It's super easy to change the character."
Holograms for trade shows "is about 20 percent of our business," says Crowder. "It's how we get started with people."
VNTANA rents and sells projection equipment. Pricing varies widely, depending on the length of the license and the size of the display.
The company has "more than doubled every year, revenue-wise," says Crowder. "We're excited for 2019 and we're hiring."
Challenges: "Finding great people to hire," says Crowder. "LinkedIn has been good. Really reaching out to our own network . . . that's the big focus."
Opportunities: "Healthcare is really interesting," she says of VNTANA's key verticals. "All of our healthcare clients found us online this year. We didn't know it was a need."
Most healthcare customers are using holograms for educational purposes at trade shows and other events, and some are exploring the utility of holograms at clinics and pharmacies.
Another opportunity is to become the software provider of choice for the broader hologram market. "We're starting to release our platform to people to create their own experiences," says Crowder. It's a user-friendly, drag-and-drop system that she positions as "akin to the WordPress of the mixed-reality space. . . . We're really excited about where the DIY version of our software will drive us."
Needs: "As a company, when you're growing, you need different levels of things," says Crowder, pointing to outside counsel and PPO-based healthcare. "Do we start bringing in in-house counsel? We're looking at all of these changes you need to look at as you go from a small company to a medium-sized company."