Unisfair, a virtual event provider, raises $10M from Norwest and Sequoia

Unisfair, a company providing virtual hosting for events with attendance running into the thousands of people, has raised a round of $10 million from Norwest Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital, VentureBeat has learned.

Unlike most other virtual-world technologies, Unisfair runs entirely in the browser, and focuses only on events like global sales meetings and job fairs. Like real-world conferences, events on Unisfair typically run at set times for a day or two, and are sponsored by large companies or institutions.

Although it launched its product four years ago, Unisfair has only really seen significant demand in the past year and a half, according to CEO Guy Piekarz. Piekarz says they’ve hosted about 400 events in that time period, with an average attendance of 1,500 people.

Like another business-oriented virtual world we recently wrote about, Qwaq (coverage here), Unisfair has some very recognizable clients, including Cisco, Cognos and Nielsen. In general, the company running the event pays for it, but it’s also possible for event organizers to charge end users an attendance fee.

Although it’s had the advantage of being early to the game, Unisfair will likely pick up some competition in the near future. Corporations like IBM have already tried to hold meetings and conferences in Second Life, but those meetings have generally been failures — Second Life requires a large download and some prior knowledge to use, which is a turn-off for many potential users.

The advantage Unisfair has is ease of use and low computing requirements. When we tried a demo of the platform, it worked very smoothly with almost no learning curve required to navigate a virtual conference (screenshots below). However, other companies are quickly picking up on the need for an easy-to-use interface.

The $10 million funding was led by Norwest, with Sequoia participating. Unisfair’s first round, for $5 million, was provided solely by Sequoia. The company is based in Menlo Park, Calif.

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