Startup Profile: Solace Vision
COVID-19 introduced everyone to the idea of connecting via digital worlds. But even as many begin a slow return to normal, 2020 Syracuse University graduate and Spring 2021 Blackstone LaunchPad Fellow Shawn Gaetano believes virtual connection is here to stay. That’s why he’s building Solace Vision, a no-code tool that helps anyone create a virtual world seamlessly.
We sat down with Shawn to talk about his vision for the future of virtual worlds. Check out some excerpts from our conversation:
How did you come up with the idea for Solace Vision?
I was in high school and one of the news stations was broadcasting that a hospital near where I’m from in Scranton, Pennsylvania was using virtual reality to help burn patients and patients with PTSD. And this story planted a seed, and is where the whole journey kind of started for me.
I went to a small high school, so I didn’t have access to a lot of this tech that I wanted to use. That’s why I ended up at Syracuse. I knew they had a super good information management and tech program that was right up my alley. I wanted to get both the business aspect and the development aspect of things.
Sophomore year I joined NEXIS, which is a tech club. And that’s where it all kind of started. I had a lot of access to all this cool tech that I was finally able to play with. That’s when I started Solace Vision, which was originally a passion project trying to develop environments for people to overcome phobias using virtual reality, same as I had seen years earlier on TV. The first one I built was a fear of heights environment.
How did Solace Vision go from passion project to a business?
I wanted to see how far I could get in teaching myself to develop these kinds of virtual experiences and environments. After a decent amount of testing, one of my friends told me to reach out to Linda Hartsock, who is the Blackstone LaunchPad Campus Director at Syracuse. And she is just so amazing. She gave me all the access I needed to resources, and was always pushing me to sign up for different pitch competitions and stuff like that.
We joined the Blackstone Accelerator in summer of 2020, and we won the whole thing, which was a huge ego boost. We also started getting advisors and mentors, who were connecting us to alumni in the tech space. Everyone was pushing us to take this concept of virtual reality healthcare further.
Why did you eventually pivot away from healthcare?
The issue in the healthcare space right now is funding. It’s really, really hard for startups to jump into this space in general, and it is especially hard as a virtual reality startup, which is already underrepresented in healthcare right now. The final barrier, which was the nail in the coffin, was the FDA approval and clearance. We would have to do around $20,000 to $50,000 of fundraising just for our program to be FDA approved.
We kind of backtracked and looked at the original problem. When we started, we had a lot of challenges, and one of the challenges we had on our end was scalability. We would have to have a team of developers constantly developing these virtual environments for hospitals or practitioners. We would have 5-10 people on call seven days a week trying to develop these experiences and push them out as fast as these hospitals would need them.
It’s feasible for a startup that has a lot of money, but at the time we don’t have that. So, we decided to go backwards and figure out, okay, what can we change? And that was coming up with an automated way to build these environments.
We took a pivot and that’s where we are right now. So instead of healthcare, we pivoted to a much easier industry, which is gaming. This is one COVID-friendly industry that is also very friendly to startups at the moment. But we definitely want to loop back around to healthcare once we have the product built up.
In addition to returning to the healthcare industry, how else are you judging the long-term success of Solace Vision?
In terms of long-term success, we’re taking it a few years at a time by industry. We want to start off with the gaming industry. Once we reach stagnation in that specific industry, we’ll begin branching out to a new industry and trying to grow from there. The first one’s game development, the next one might be retail. Then perhaps marketing. There’s a big opportunity there for virtual experience marketing, VR marketing, all that kind of stuff.
And then slowly creeping up back to healthcare because it’s just something that I’m personally passionate about. I think that virtual reality would has such a huge potential for changing peoples’ lives.
What are your plans for the next 12 months now that the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship is coming to an end?
There are two main things. The first is finding a dedicated co-founder and then a technical lead. I was working with a friend originally on the project, but he’s still a junior in college and doesn’t have that much time to dedicate towards Solace Vision. But I want to take it full-time, and really be serious about it. So that’s one really big goal.
The next one I would say is trying to build out a solidified MVP in beta. That way we can show people the advantages of using it instead of just having mock-ups and animations, and onboard users to show them what it could do. This would help us to validate the product, gain a lot of traction, gain users, and go from there.
To learn more about Shawn and Solace Vision, be sure to visit their website: https://www.solacevision.com/