Valkyrie Industries Co-founder and CEO Kourosh Atefipour

In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Kourosh Atefipour, co-founder and CEO of Valkyrie Industries, a startup building haptics-based electro muscle stimulation (EMS) wearables to simulate weight and resistance during VR workouts.

With an accompanying VR “virtual gym” platform that includes HIIT and strength training, Kourosh shares how the company could transform VR fitness and why he wants it to be the “Nintendo of VR”.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Valkyrie?

Kourosh Atefipour: Valkyrie Industries has developed the world’s first modular wearable that stimulates your muscles, giving sensations of weight and resistance using active gestures in virtual simulations.

Our first consumer product is EIR, dual armbands designed to stimulate the biceps and triceps in virtual reality (VR). Collaborating with some of the UK’s finest PTs and coaches to curate 15-minute virtual classes, we integrate EIR as a core component of our fitness platform EIR Training.

How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?

KA: Many people do not realise that EMS has been used for strengthening and muscular recovery for over five decades, but those experiences have rarely been seamless.

Our wireless hardware uses electro muscle stimulation (EMS) as a foundational core technology. We quickly realised that EMS had this beautiful synergy when activated in settings like virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) while engaging with objects or human movement.

During our days at Imperial College London’s incubator, we spoke to many different industries that shared experiences in the immersive landscape, with all emphasising how touch was the missing link.

After four years of R&D, we came to the realisation that, from a user experience point of view, our sensors needed to be modular, and we needed to create content in-house that complemented EMS.

How did you turn your idea into a company?

KA: We began with a simple hypothesis: How can we augment humans differently in virtual simulations? This question drove us deep into understanding the experiences of various professionals, from surgeons and oil & gas engineers to astronauts and even physiotherapists, to find out their pain points with these technologies.

It was a very holistic approach to VR and AR in the early days. We bootstrapped our first prototype, which was created using simple supermarket Tupperware for around £100. With some filming and storytelling, I was able to create a compelling startup video that landed us our first £150K investment cheque. Thankfully, having a degree in design certainly helped illustrate the narrative.

From this point, we filed for a patent, as we had an incredible IP and continued building bigger and better hardware. This eventually led to EIR.

Then, last October, I met ASICS at a conference in Tokyo called CEATEC, where I gained insight into their metaverse interests within the realms of sports and fitness. After sending them a development kit, their entire HQ in Kobe became obsessed with our platform. Eight months later, we announced our capital alliance, which has fundamentally changed our business for the better.

How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?

We operate in several markets. By definition, we position ourselves as a peripheral to the immersive headset landscape, which includes all things VR, AR and MR (mixed reality), with the latter being the convergence of VR and AR (such as Apple’s Vision Pro).

This market is estimated to be valued at $27B by 2027. In addition, we package ourselves as a home fitness product with a gaming approach, making the $9B home fitness market and the $170B gaming market relevant to our business. Our niche lies in finding people at the intersection of these fields.

Choosing to develop EIR Training was our first go-to-market strategy. We understood that our target consumers needed content that sufficiently complements the hardware to satisfy both users and other developers, who can witness the potential and build on the idea.

As a product for VR, we decided to focus on launching our hardware for the best-selling headset at the time of writing, which is the Meta Quest 2. Since March 2023, over 20M units have been sold, making it a significant market for us.

Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?

KA: Our first customers will be the existing VR fanbase. These are the individuals who have already invested in VR or have experimented with it. Our fitness approach revolves around gamifying workouts with real benefits for neuromuscular development. We aim to offer people aged 16 and above an entirely new form of stimulation that enhances their VR boxing or VR sports experience.

Nintendo revolutionised home sports games over a decade ago with Wii Sports and Wii Fit, and their newly released Switch Ring Fit appeals to both casual and hardcore audiences. Similarly, we aspire to become the Nintendo of VR, capturing the hearts of VR enthusiasts with our innovative wearable.

Currently, we are preparing for a future crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo to gather the necessary support from customers.

As a B2C brand, we are determined to address our customers in the best possible way. One of my goals is to create a product with continuous use that adds long-term value to fitness routines — not one used as a one-time gimmick.

Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?

KA: Right now, we’re doing a visual overhaul. We know so much more about our customers today than we did three, six or even nine months ago, so this is a super-exciting time for me and my marketing team.

As I mentioned, we’ve just secured a capital alliance with ASICS, which partially involves us making them a unique workout in VR that synergises with running. And we will be bringing more brands onto our platform in the coming year.

We are also developing a catalogue of third-party support so users can plug EIR into their favourite game to benefit from the muscle-based haptics that we offer. I personally would love to feel G-force on my arms when driving in Polyphony Digital’s fantastic Gran Turismo 7.

And finally, an important topic for us is rehabilitation. EMS is deeply rooted in helping those who have muscular atrophy or impairments, and we understand that VR plays an important role in making rehabilitation a less painful experience. This is a field that both my co-founder Ivan and I are extremely passionate about.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

KA: Building hardware is challenging, but it’s incredibly rewarding, and I’d love for my story to inspire those who are thinking about developing their own.

In our six years of doing this, we’ve had lots of success, but we’ve endured failure, too, which made more of the successes I mentioned possible.

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