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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022
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STARTUPS & INNOVATIONS

PARTNERS & CONTRACTS

Language-learning virtual reality software firm Immerse Inc. in Irvine nabbed a one-year contract with Microsoft, beginning this month. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

Microsoft originally planned to use Immerse’s technology to help international employees learn English, before expanding the licensing deal to include leadership, technical and sales training, according to Immerse’s Chief Executive Quinn Taber. 

Immerse touts its product as a deeply immersive learning environment that connects learners and teachers. The product also provides users with 275% more confidence in a faster, more focused setting compared to a classroom setting, the company said, citing a recent client survey.

After a series of pilot programs and negotiations, Taber said the work-from-home environment brought on by the pandemic helped close the Microsoft deal.

“Microsoft saw the potential in our technology right away,” he said, while other education-focused clients in Asia paused their contracts as schools shuttered across the region in March.

Immerse said it expects to see its international business resume in the fall as schools reopen.

In addition, the company has stepped up its safety measures, and will provide eye masks and disinfectant with each of its virtual reality headsets.

The seven-person company which is part of the UCI Beall Applied Innovation Wayfinder incubator, is looking to raise a small round of funding this fall. 

PeekPeek Inc. of Irvine is working with universities to create 3D and virtual reality tours for student orientations. The company is also offering deferred payment options for a limited time.

Since the pandemic, it has seen a steady boost to its business as schools—that can no longer host in-person events—seek to entice prospective students.

The firm’s clients include University of California-Irvine, University of California-Los Angeles and California State University-Fullerton.

“Previously, schools thought our product was nice—hi-tech and innovative. Now, it’s become a need rather than a want,” said Chief Executive Eric Fu.

Fu launched the company after noticing that similar products offered cookie-cutter designs, rather than custom offerings tailored to clients’ needs.

The software-as-a-service firm hosts tours from its website, which allows the company to provide data analytics and content updates to its clients as needed.

It has an average turnaround time of five week for a new school tour..

PeekPeek originated at the UCI Beall Applied Innovation Wayfinder incubator in 2018.

FINANCING

The University of California-Irvine received $18 million from the National Science Foundation to support research in materials discovery for the technology and life sciences sectors.

Research will focus on the development of high strength materials for aerospace, automotive, national defense and space exploration; as well as the study of “living” materials that could improve wound healing or tissue growth.

Funds will support a division of the UCI Materials Research Institute, a $25 million program that has built state-of-the-art facilities, procured advanced machinery and equipment and recruited 20 leading scientists and engineers since its inception in 2015.

“Our efforts have greatly enhanced UCI’s prominence in the materials research community and have made us ready to land the MRSEC,” said principal investigator Xiaoqing Pan, who is the UCI Henry Samueli Endowed Chair in Engineering.

UCI’s materials research science and engineering center, or MRSEC, joins 18 centers at institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Texas-Austin. It is the only one in California.

In addition to the newly minted MSREC, which began operations in September, UCI established a World Institute for Sustainable Development of Materials in June.

It was funded by a $1 million gift from alumnus John D. Lincoln, the president of Santa Ana-based manufacturer Axiom Materials Inc., and the Lincoln Dynamic Foundation.

NowRx Inc., a prescription delivery service, closed its $20 million Series B round of funding this month.

The company, which opened a 4,500-square-foot executive office in Irvine earlier this year, raised the capital through crowdfunding platform SeedInvest.

Funds will support delivery expansion in California and Arizona, in addition to further development of its artificial intelligence-powered management software and robotics technology.

NowRx claims it can check insurance, patient information and bottle and label prescriptions in 30 seconds, ahead of its same-day delivery service.

NowRx has served more than 28,000 customers and delivered over 200,000 prescriptions.

In the last year, it’s grown its customer base by 84% and increased revenue by 78% in that time, in part due to the pandemic.

Chief Executive Cary Breese, an Orange County local, said NowRx’s features of “speed, reliability, and convenience are particularly important right now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Since its inception in 2016, the Mountain View-based company has raised about $30 million from several thousand investors and brought in more than $9 million in revenue.

NEW HIRES

Irvine-based drugmaker Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. named two key executive posts on July 16.

Sesha Neervannan, a former senior vice president of global pharmaceutical development at Allergan (now part of AbbVie), was named chief operating officer. During his decade-long run at Allergan, Neervannan oversaw product development and regulatory work for ocular, oral and dermal products.

Tarsus also tapped Leo “Len” Greenstein, with more than a decade of experience in finance for publicly traded life science companies, to serve as chief financial officer. Greenstein was most recently a senior vice president of finance and corporate controller for, Spectrum Pharmaceuticals Inc., which has a facility in Irvine.

Tarsus is developing TP-03, a drug that is designed to treat Demodex blepharitis, an inflammatory condition caused by certain types of mites that can live on eyelashes and inflame glands in the eyelids.

“To successfully commercialize TP-03 and future pipeline products, Tarsus requires experienced, passionate leaders that elevate the organizations they lead,” Tarsus’ Chief Executive Bobak Azamian said in a statement. “With their deep and wide therapeutics experience, both within and outside of eye care, I am confident Sesha and Leo will prove invaluable to further our mission.”

The 3-year-old firm, which raised a $60 million Series B round of financing in January, aims to introduce TP-03 to the market in 2023.

Its backers include Aliso Viejo-based Visionary Ventures; the Horowitz Group, a real estate investment firm in Newport Beach; and Vivo Capital in Palo Alto.

Newport Beach-based real estate fintech Search With Style Inc. named Brandon Hobbs chief operating officer.

Search With Style is building an architecturally based search engine and API for design-focused homebuyers, which is expected to debut this summer.

Hobbs has two decades of experience in the real estate industry. He is currently a principal at Nook Real Estate in Newport Beach.

Hobbs co-founded lead qualification platform Real Contact of Irvine, which was acquired by Charleston, S.C.-based sales and marketing platform BoomTown in 2018.

“Not only will Search With Style answer a huge unmet need for consumers in the current marketplace, it will also provide a powerful warm-lead generation tool for real estate agents,” said Hobbs, who is also an investor in the company.

Search With Style is led by founding partners Mark Hughes, Derek May and Claire Smith, who serves as chief technology officer.

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