The 2021 Disney Accelerator sheds light on Disney’s metaverse ambitions

From AI to AR to live video shopping: these are the 8 companies selected for the Disney’s yearly accelerator program.

You may associate the Mouse with iconic franchises like Marvel, but a lesser-known initiative, the Disney Accelerator, is poised to bring some of the seemingly sci-fi technologies from superhero movies into reality.

Importantly, the companies selected for the program offer some insight about how Disney is imagining the metaverse, which venture capitalist and writer Matthew Ball describes as the “successor state to the mobile internet.”

The metaverse refers to a world in which virtual worlds, economies, and beings increasingly become part of everyday life — whether through VR headsets, AR on smartphones, or through games and social platforms.

“One insight is clear: Disney is making some big bets about the future of the metaverse.”

Pushing into this territory is a natural move for Disney, which has built some of the most robust alternate realities in history.

The Disney Accelerator: Designed to “accelerate the growth of innovative companies from around the world,” the three-month mentorship program offers entrepreneurs unique access to Disney, including its co-working space.

While there is no explicit guarantee that Disney will hire or work with Accelerator companies, many have in fact gone on to collaborate with Disney.

One example is virtual reality arcade, The VOID. Following its participation in the 2017 Accelerator, the company went on to develop exclusive VR content in major Disney properties including Star Wars, Avengers, and Wreck-It-Ralph.

Now: Disney has announced the eight companies selected to participate in the 2021 edition of the Accelerator.

“Since 2014, the Disney Accelerator has helped foster innovation within The Walt Disney Company and has made a significant impact on the future of technology and entertainment,” Disney Vice President of Corporate Innovation David Min said in a statement. “The eight companies that we have chosen for this year’s program are all incredible leaders in their respective industry verticals, and we look forward to working closely with them over the coming months.”

The Takeaway: This year’s companies range widely — from AI and AR to ecommerce and messaging. But across all of them, one insight is clear: Disney is making some big bets about the future of the metaverse.

There’s a clear emphasis on companies that facilitate virtual connection, whether through media, messaging, shopping, or AR smart contact lenses. 

While this may feel a bit expected after more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the companies selected for the Disney Accelerator are ones that offer versatile approaches to connection — able to reach audiences and users across a spectrum of physical and virtual realms.

From integrating AR into the theme park experience (unlockable adventures, immersive games to play while waiting in line) to bringing characters to life in users’ homes through personalized messaging, each company lets us imagine a use case for Disney to extend the reach of its properties.

Of course, Disney has been doing this with physical merch and collectibles. What’s notable here is how the company is situating itself in a consumer landscape increasingly defined by virtual spaces.

The selected companies are:

  • Attentive, a personalized messaging platform that lets brands connect directly with consumers
  • Bambuser, a livestreaming and video shopping company
  • Camp, a family experience company that offers rotating themed launches that blend play and retail products
  • Holler, an AI platform for making messages, posts, and payments more expressive
  • Illumix, an AR company that lets brands create immersive experiences
  • Miko, a company that creates adorable robots for playful learning companions for children across 140+ countries and utilized by parents, educators and technologists.
  • Mojo Vision, which is developing Mojo Lens, the world’s first AR smart contact lens for “invisible computing”
  • Play On! Sports, a streaming and on-demand company for high school sports and activities

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