If any technological innovation has been slow to deliver on its promises, then it is virtual reality (VR). After exploding with a fanfare onto the consumer technology scene over a decade ago (Second Life, anyone?), interest waned rapidly and the trend didn’t really reverse until early 2014. Google’s search trends speak for themselves:

But the second coming of virtual reality is quite clearly upon us – at least if this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is anything to go by. Despite Gartner’s prediction that VR is still five to ten years away from mainstream adoption, wearables, VR headsets and VR-equipped drones all featured heavily in media reports before and after the Las Vegas expo.

Market studies suggest that the consumer virtual reality market will be worth anywhere from $1bn this year to $5.2bn in 2018, and even $15.9bn by 2020. Hardware from the likes of Oculus, Samsung and Sony is driving the market right now, although software and applications will be needed to sustain interest and market growth. But as an entrepreneur, what’s most interesting is the ecosystem – or the VR economy – that is growing up around it.

You only need to look to the smartphone industry to see the importance that ecosystems play in fuelling new industry models. The ‘app economy’ – the economic activity surrounding mobile applications (not just the devices and apps themselves) – has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs and changed the way many businesses operate. In 2007, hardly any mobile apps existed. In 2015, Apple announced that over 100 billion apps had been downloaded from its App Store, with $30bn paid out to developers. But the supply chain behind these developers is where the real story lies.

And, if the virtual reality industry grows as predicted, we are undoubtedly going to see a similar effect. One analyst firm focused on the industry, Greenlight VR, has already set about mapping the emerging ecosystem. Display hardware, peripherals, content capture and content studios all feature, but so to do sector-specific applications, research, production tools and other services. In Europe alone, they’ve identified over 150 companies in 20 countries operating in 18 different ecosystem categories, noting that “it’s possible to build prominent VR companies regardless of proximity to Silicon Valley.”


One company trying to stake a place in this growing European ecosystem is CGTrader, a 3D model marketplace for computer graphics, 3D printing and virtual reality. Headquartered in Lithuania (which, according to some reports, has one of the most innovative and tech-savvy populations in Europe) it connects talented 3D designers with video game, VR and augmented reality developers. Founded in 2011 by 3D designer Marius Kalytis, the company has attracted funding from both Practica Capital and Intel Capital.

The result is a library of over 200,000 professional models, from a furry chair for a simple VR walkthrough to a detailed Airbus A-320 virtual cockpit. An analysis of conversion rates across the 3D models in their marketplace, undertaken in October 2016, showed that low-poly models (a format traditionally used for complex virtual reality environments) were out-selling higher fidelity models by a factor of 2.1.

It’s just one example of the growth of a new ecosystem surrounding the virtual reality industry, helping to create economic activities that will go way beyond the hardware, headsets and haptic that will get most of the headlines. In fact, with a renewed interest in VR and an apparently healthy future ahead of it, smart entrepreneurs would be well advised to take a much closer look at both the industry, its ecosystem, and the market opportunity it presents.