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NZVRARA – A SHORT HISTORY

The New Zealand VR/AR Association formed an incorporated society in September 2016. This is a potted history of the establishment and early activity of the NZVRARA.

The initial realisation of a need for the cottage industry of virtual reality startups to gain greater connectivity and scale arose from a feasibility study commissioned by local business leader, Michael Gregg. In April 2016 he had devised the concept of a specialist shared R&D space for an emerging VR/AR sector to utilise, dubbed Projectr. In August 2016, Michael employed an ex-Biz Dojo manager, Jessica Manins, to assist to bring this concept to life. Throughout a series of discussions about structures brought about from his experience with MediaLab in the early 2000’s, Michael and Jessica agreed that an Association would bring the nascent VR community together and together with PROJECTR, provide the sector with exposure and assistance.

After a series of Skype calls and emails, they secured the rights for the New Zealand Chapter of the newly formed US-based VRARA and invited a group of over 20 local VR enthusiasts to meet at Victoria University in Wellington; 17 of whom signed up to be on the formation committee.

This formation committee comprised of Peter Houston, Rachel Hatch, Roy Davies, Alejandro Davila, Katherine Lintott, Henry Ou, Brian Lucid, Raqi Syed, Daniil Ivshin, Michael Gregg (Chair), Karen Dodgshun from Christchurch (retired Dec ‘16), Toni Moyes, Jessica Manins, Ben Knill, Matthew Simmonds, Nigel Corbett and Tom Horder.

Michael then prepared a set of Society Rules and they lodged the documents. Michael was appointed the initial Chair of the NZVRARA and hosted a launch of the NZVRARA in his Wellington business premises with over 100 prospective members attending.

Whilst project managing the establishment of  the Projectr virtual and mixed reality centre in Wellington, Jessica arranged the Association’s initial events and activities in an unpaid Executive Director role, under the governance and with assistance from the Executive Committee.

A second Auckland-centric AR/VR body formed in November 2016, replicating the activities of the NZVRARA, but never gained traction and was disestablished in mid-2017, returning New Zealand to a single voice for its virtual and augmented reality sector.

The founding Executive Committee operated the Society until the first AGM in June 2017 with Amy Nally (Treasurer) and Henry Lane from Christchurch (replacing Karen) added to this Board during the first term.

Along with initial membership fees, three Strategic Partners, Rush Digital, Blackeye VR and M Theory provided some necessary startup funds, and the AR/VR Garage and PROJECTR provided meeting spaces and housed the Executive Director. Subsequently Datacom (sponsoring all student memberships) and Massey University also signed on as Strategic Partners.

Garnham Taylor (Rush Digital) and Sam Ramlu (M Theory) were seconded onto the Board as representatives of Strategic Partners. Henry Ou, Ben Knill, Matthew Simmonds, Nigel Corbett and Tom Horder resigned at the first AGM (the Rules stating that a quarter of the Board must retire by rotation, but able to stand for re-election).

A major step forward came with the employment of the Association’s first paid Executive Director, Courteney Lomas, who was able to collect the much needed pledged initial memberships fees, preside over a new Student Chapter and undertake the wide ranging operational functions of running the Society effectively. The NZVRARA Student Chapter grew quickly with over 45 members from both Victoria and Massey University in Wellington, prior to a push into Auckland.

The Association expanded rapidly to over 120 paid memberships across corporate bodies, tertiary institutions, startup companies and individuals. The Executive Committee busily ran a monthly schedule of ‘meetups’, events and Executive Committee meetings.

The Board oversaw the production of the first Industry Report into the New Zealand Cross Reality Sector, ‘Virtual Gets Real‘ authored by Michael Gregg. This was co-published by Blackeye VR and NZVRARA, thanks to support from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and a suite of sponsors, and launched in September 2017.

The Board had collectively signed up the Association to the VRARA with an initial payment for rights to the New Zealand Chapter and a subsequent first year payment. Upon request for renewal of the annual membership, the US-based VRARA demanded to sign all members individually to the VRARA and collect 60% of the membership fees for their parent body, offering a 20% ‘commission payment’ offered to a ‘Chapter President’, should one be appointed. Blatantly at odds with the NZVRARA’s domestic growth objectives and wider community-centred purpose, the local Executive Committee unanimously agreed to quickly withdraw from that globally-aspiring body to forge their own international ties with the many non-affiliated VR organisations sprouting up around the world.

The resignation of two Singapore co-presidents from their VRARA chapter for similar reasons to the NZVRARA decision led to ongoing discussions about a closer bilateral relationship with that country’s XR sector.

Alex Legg from Media Design School was seconded onto the Board together with Taeyhun Rhee who joined the Board as a Victoria University alternative to Raqi Syed. Wellington-based Kat Lintott (Wrestler) and Jessica Manins retired from the Executive Committee part way through the second term.

Focusing on expanding its network internationally to provide digital trade routes for its members, the Executive Committee signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Taiwan-based, TAVAR (Taiwan Association of  Virtual and Augmented Reality) in January 2018. The NZVRARA Chair joined TAVAR Secretary General, Cori Shieh, and presided over by the Taiwan Vice Minister of Economic Affairs, they executed the MoU. A further March 2018 meeting with TAVAR in Taipei was attended by Sam, Rachel and Michael from the Executive Committee and started the process of bringing the two trade groups closer through shared events and other engagements.

Oscar Keys replaced Courteney Lomas as Student Chapter President in April 2018, after Courteney stepped aside from the Executive Director role to pursue her final Masters year at Massey University. During her appointment, the Association successfully operated an extensive and vibrant series of events, including nationally sold out demonstrations of world-leading photogrammetry by local expert, Simon Che de Boer, plus a packed national student exhibition showcasing VR/AR prototypes by the NZVRARA Student Chapter.

In February 2018, founding Chair, Michael Gregg announced his pending retirement to the Executive Committee noting a planned departure no later than at the Association’s second AGM to be held in June 2018.

A new Executive Director was appointed to run the executive function of the Incorporated Society in April 2018 and the Board seconded business executives Sarah Gibson (Wellington) and Maher Hatab (Auckland) onto the Executive Committee to begin a process of refreshing the Board and beginning the search for a new Chair.

At the AGM held on 28th June 2018, the Executive Committee proposed to reduce the Board from 16 down to 10 members, assisted by retirements during the year as well as from Executive Committee members stepping down at the 2018 AGM.

[This history of the NZVRARA will be continually updated by the incoming Executive Committee following the June AGM of the NZVRARA as an ongoing historical record of the affairs of the New Zealand VR/AR Association Incorporated.]