London-based augmented reality (AR) “unicorn” Blippar has found a buyer for its intellectual property (IP) assets, nearly one month after the company revealed it had started insolvency procedures.
An investment fund called Candy Ventures, which is an existing Blippar investor based in London, has revealed that it bought numerous assets relating to Blippar, including its name and the platform’s underlying technologies, in addition to the assets of Layar — an AR startup Blippar bought in 2014.
This will form the basis of a new company, also called Blippar, which will focus on developing an AR creation and publishing platform aimed at everyone, regardless of whether they have technical know-how. This will be operated as a software-as-service (SaaS) business, and appears to be based on the Blippbuilder platform launched for third-party developers back in 2016.
The goal of the new business will be to “unify and standardize AR formats,” according to a statement issued by the companies.
“We will bring together all of the invaluable R&D, technology capabilities, and key learnings gained from the past eight years and invest this in what we believe to be our most powerful asset and most sustainable revenue stream,” added cofounder and CEO Ambarish Mitra.
By way of a quick recap, Blippar was founded in 2011 in the early days of Android and iOS. Its first product was aimed at advertisers, who could “augment” real-world objects (such as candy wrappers) with funky animations and videos when users pointed their phone at them. The platform expanded extensively through the years, evolving into virtual reality, computer vision and machine learning, facial recognition, and location-based AR.
Although Blippar let many of its staff go due to insolvency, the new Blippar incarnation will in fact retain many of the original Blippar engineers — and Mitra will continue to lead the company as CEO.
In 2015, Mitra claimed in an interview with the Financial Times that it had spurned an offer from an unnamed company to buy it out for $1.5 billion, which appears to be the basis of Blippar’s much-discussed “unicorn” status. However, at its series D funding round in 2016 it had a post-money valuation of “over” $500 million, which suggests it never really became a unicorn.
The company had raised north of $130 million from such big names as Qualcomm, and back in September Blippar raised $37 million as it sought more runway to reach profitability by focusing on B2B. However, Blippar went in search of “an additional small amount of funding” that was ultimately blocked by one of its shareholders, eventually leading to the company’s demise.
“It was a devastating disappointment when Blippar was forced into administration at the end of last year, but today’s news is a hugely positive outcome,” Mitra continued. “We continue to believe in the future of augmented reality and see a huge opportunity to create the best platform to allow our customers to seamlessly build and publish successful AR experiences, in the same way that WordPress allowed anyone to easily create and publish a website.”
At the time, Blippar revealed that insolvency procedures meant all employees would be let go and its services likely terminated. However, the platform has continued to operate as it works its way through the administration process, though it’s not clear what the transition from the old company to the new one will entail — a spokesperson declined to elaborate on what would be included in a prepared press release.
In many ways, Blippar’s technology was ahead of the curve, and its downfall was that it couldn’t find a profitable market fit. Perhaps it was trying to do too much, and its new focus on being an AR platform for third parties may give it a better chance of succeeding. Either way, some reports project that the AR industry could be worth $113 billion by 2021* — though estimates do vary wildly — so there is a potentially huge market awaiting it.
“The augmented reality market is growing exponentially, and Blippar was an early innovator and leader in this space,” a Candy Ventures spokesperson said. “Rish and the team built a great business, which had to adapt to the challenges of a constantly evolving industry. With the right application of its powerful AR technology, there is huge potential for the new company to drive innovation in AR and position itself at the forefront of the industry.”
*Projected 2021 AR market value updated with more recent data.