Based in Mannheim, Germany, ubivent has entered the virtual events platform market with a recently launched platform. According to Michael Geisser, Managing Director Market Development, the ubivent co-founders “met at university, working together in an IT research program and pursuing our PhD”. The co-founders then spent several years working at multinational corporations, where they held numerous roles in IT and IT management.
In fact, Geisser and co-founder Thomas Butter (Managing Director Research and Development) were recently with SAP, where they worked on some of SAP’s first virtual events. Ubivent is off to a fast start – they received 12 months of funding from EXIST, “a program of the European Union and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology” designed to support innovation. In addition, in late November, ubivent was selected as the most promising young company in Mannheim.
Ubivent’s initial target market is to serve large and distributed corporations – large companies have already adopted the basic technologies required for virtual events (including sufficient bandwidth capacity) and distributed companies can immediately leverage the convenience and cost savings of virtual collaboration (versus in-person).
“However, this does not mean that we do not offer our services for small, non-IT organizations”, noted Geisser. “We’ve also done projects with local authorities. Obviously, the entire project size has been not that extensive as for a global event with multiple thousands of participants.”
Since the European market for virtual events has not developed as quickly as the U.S. market, Geisser sees plenty of opportunity in Europe. Geisser sees opportunity in all sorts of event types, but notes that “the type of the event is not as important as the content and the participants. We see the advantages of virtual events especially for knowledge-intense content (e.g. software, finance, etc.) with globally distributed participants”.
In comparing the U.S. and European markets, Geisser believes that while “US based customers put more emphasis on the look and feel, the European customers are very keen on getting a technically scalable and secure platform. Fortunately we’re combining both.”
Ubivent is a member of Microsoft BizSpark, a program that provides “software, support and visibility” to software start-ups. While most virtual event platforms are built on top of Adobe Flash, ubivent’s platform is based on JavaFX, a platform for building rich internet applications that runs on top of JRE (Java Runtime Environment).
According to Geisser, the use of JavaFX serves as a competitive advantage for ubivent over competing Flash-based platforms – “JavaFX is one key advantage of our platform. This opens the door for completely new functionalities which are not possible with other technologies (e.g. Flash)”.
Ubivent developed an accessibility framework to assist visually impaired people in using their virtual events platform via a screen reader. The source code for the accessibility framework has been published as open source. The framework is built on top of JavaFX, which means that other platforms seeking to incorporate it would need to run JavaFX as well.
Virtual events vs. immersive virtual worlds
Geisser has taken a look at 3D immersive virtual worlds, such as Second Life and Twinity. He believes, however, that the immersive virtual world is currently more suited to B2C or C2C use cases, whereas his B2B market is more focused on quick and convenient access to selected content. Notes Geisser, “In a B2B context, the desire for avatars and the ability to walk through a virtual world is less distinct. Here, the focus is more the ability to quickly access information and other participants. The need to ‘walk’ through the virtual world to access this information or participant is considered adverse with regard to this goal.”
It will be interesting to watch the European market for virtual events in 2010. Ubivent and IMASTE are two of the leading European-based providers – while they may encounter each other in common client accounts, I’m sure the providers from the U.S. market will be looking towards Europe (and Asia) as well.