Rising Visionaries Who Turn The Virtual Into Realities

‘Next TV’ honors inaugural Founders on the Rise Award winners—entrepreneurs who take digital video from risk to reward

The inaugural recipients of the Next TV Founders on the Rise Award lead some of the hottest new companies in digital video, located at the busy intersection of video, media and technology. They are practical visionaries whose big ideas encompass virtual reality, augmented reality and a new approach to audience research data, as well as the next waves of video production and sports programming. Their companies’ innovations cover a lot of ground:

■ Led by Ashley Crowder, Vntana hologram technology opens a new world for advertising and promotion.
■ At Entrypoint, Carissa Flocken’s consumer- and creator-friendly approach to interactive, 360-degree video pushes the boundaries of VOD, streaming and advertising.
Brian Musburger’s Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) offers a new species of sports programming.
■ Pilotly, created by James Norman, is changing research and evaluation of content and the over-the-top user experience.
■ With Gunpowder & Sky, Van Toffler offers a new creative home for video content creators.

While their business innovations may be futuristic, these honorees have all the qualities of the classic entrepreneur. Passionate and tenacious, they are risk-takers who can spot a hidden customer need from miles away, conceive a product to solve the problem, and then build the team and round up the capital to bring that product to market.

Four of these honorees will participate in a panel discussion at the Next TV Summit NYC spring conference on Thursday, June 15, at Convene. As panelists, they will talk about their paths to success so far, including insight into the trends in the market, investors, and mistakes and victories experienced along the way. Van Toffler will offer his insights at the Next TV Summit NYC Fall on Oct. 18. For much more information about the Next TV Summit, visit nexttvsummit.com/spring/.

Ashley Crowder
CEO and Co-founder, Vntana

THE COMPANY LINE: Vntana (the name is a stylized version of the Spanish word for “window”) has built the first interactive hologram system with social media integration and data collection capabilities. The technology solutions include hardware to project holographic images and software to easily create interactive hologram content, supported by the Vntana cloud platform for easy data collection and content distribution. The company’s core product, “Hollagram,” combines real-time holographic video capture with interactive gesture control, allowing consumers to experience augmented reality in groups and without wearables. Founded in 2012 by Ashley Crowder and chief operating officer Ben Conway, Vntana began with experiential marketing events and is now involved in long-term leases and permanent installations. Based in Van Nuys, Calif., the company has 10 full-time employees and 50 contractors.

FOUNDING FODDER: After receiving a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Southern California, Crowder worked as a refinery planner for BP, but always wanted to start her own company. A fan of live music, she was fascinated with the light shows and the production side of concert events. Vntana began as a way for artists to perform in multiple locations at the same time. Clients such as Pepsi, Nike and Nickelodeon now work with the company to create interactive live events and advertising. Aquafina created a hologram of Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, giving fans the opportunity to interact with the player at the team’s 2017 home opener. For his summer concert tour last year, Rob Thomas worked with Vntana to create a hologram karaoke experience. Fans could perform a duet with Thomas’s hologram and then receive a video to share on social media.

Crowder said the biggest challenge for her young company has been choosing where to focus. With so many possible applications for Hollagram, Vntana is concentrating on advertising. “It’s [a question of] who’s paying you?” she said. “[Advertising] is where we see really solving a problem and being very valuable. You can engage consumers, it’s a fun VIP experience and you can learn a lot about them in the process.”

Crowder is also deeply engaged in getting young women excited about engineering and entrepreneurship. She works with After School All Stars and Skillify, community programs that encourage elementary and high school students to pursue STEM. “When I was growing up, the only examples [of engineering careers] you heard about [were] fighter jets and military equipment. I try to show other examples … that will resonate with them and show them what you can do with engineering.”

Carissa Flocken
CEO, Entrypoint

THE COMPANY LINE: Entrypoint is a 360 video player and uploader that allows viewers easy access to 360 video with no buffering, apps or headset required, and with one-click sharing to social media. The company’s product, launching this summer, allows video creators to make interactive video that users engage with over the web. The tool is described as a mix of Adobe and Squarespace for interactive video, letting creators add interactivity simply and embed content. The company is also a media lab, interested in expanding and improving its toolkit for 360 interactivity by experimenting with premium content creators on the features of their dreams. Founded by Carissa Flocken and Ben Doyle in 2015, Entrypoint and its eight employees are based in New York.

FOUNDING FODDER: An aspiring science-fiction filmmaker, Flocken worked as an investment analyst with hedge fund Bridgewater Associates after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in complex systems. Flocken and her Bridgewater colleague Doyle ditched their jobs and headed to Los Angeles, intending to produce a virtual reality movie that would allow viewers to be a part of the action. After the reality of existing VR technology sidelined their original plan, the pair decided to create a web-based solution to tackle the high cost and complexity of creating interactive content. They founded Entrypoint when Flocken was 23. In 2016, the company gained funding from several venture capital firms.

“I always try to take the path that I know the least about and seems the most challenging,” Flocken said. “I was passionate about a new way of storytelling.” As a student, Flocken helped edit work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard, who became a mentor. Surrounding herself with strong mentors enabled her to make the leap into her new venture. “My general philosophy is, just start and soon enough you’ll be an expert. … Everything feels like a challenge at first, but when you look back, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal.” At Entrypoint, Flocken enjoys dealing with a different challenge every week. “It’s really fun to solve complex problems on the fly.”

Five years down the road, Flocken said: “I see a future where video is interactive. Click on the video and it responds to your click. Tilt it a certain way and it’ll change what’s showing. So the video isn’t linear; it’s responsive.”