To provide cutting-edge virtual reality experiences and technology for gamers, AEXLAB has closed a $5 million Series A round. This funding allows the Miami-based startup’s founders to scale up their development team as they prepare to launch their inaugural game franchise, VAIL VR, in time for the holiday season.
The round included Miami venture firm Fuel Venture Capital and real estate developer Craig Robins, as well as crypto investors Loomdart of eGirl Capital, Subversive Capital, and Valor Equity Partners.
Co-founded in 2015 by brothers Jonathan and Albert Ovadia and Elizabeth Clark as a passion project, AEXLAB is a virtual reality studio on a mission to create meaningful technologies for gaming, simulation and social experiences. Jonathan Ovadia, the CEO, explained that the team shifted their focus from VR experiences in music to gaming in 2017. They were getting great feedback on what they were building as they continued working on a game on the side while holding down full-time jobs. But when the pandemic hit, they reassessed the market, which had exploded but there still was no real competitor, as the team saw it.
“I realized that we had an amazing opportunity to be the number one VR First Person Shooter game,” said Jonathan, in an interview with Refresh Miami.
The founders decided to go all-in and full-time on development, and in 2021 they launched an equity crowdfunding campaign. More than 1,500 people, many of them gamers, invested $2.5 million.
”We felt very supported, not only were the community members spending dozens if not hundreds of hours [on our game] but they were putting their own money into it,” said Jonathan. “We had to produce a high quality product not only for ourselves, but for all the people that believed in us.”
Over the past five years, AEXLAB developed VAIL VR from the ground up with the VR communities’ input every step of the way. VAIL VR is a multiplayer First Person Shooter game that emphasizes tactical gunplay, high-caliber combat, and collaborative teamwork, while also providing a social home for gamers to hang out in between matches or as a full-time experience.
To further grow the social aspect of VAIL VR, the founders have begun building creator tools for users to generate custom 3D VR assets, while pushing toward a decentralized metaverse. “We believe that social networks will evolve into games where users will be fully present and immersed. VAIL VR will be a social platform where players can play sports, create art, music, host virtual events, and more,” said Clark, AEXLAB’s Chief Creative Officer who along with CTO Albert Ovadia leads the creative side of the business.
The game is now in alpha testing with the community of investor gamers, and the learnings have helped the team efficiently iterate on core gameplay mechanics. This summer, AEXLAB plans to move to a beta test with 60,000+ gamers who have expressed interest in testing or joined their waiting list. The public launch of VAIL VR is planned in time for the holidays.
Jonathan said he isn’t worried about competition from Meta (formerly Facebook), which has been buying up game studios. “As a gamer, I’ve never seen high quality content come from massive corporations. It’s very difficult to scale creative.”
The team has grown from about 6 people in early 2020 to more than 30 now, and the team is still hiring, with a goal of being at 50 by the end of this year, Jonathan said. ”I’ll hire anyone who is passionate, talented and wants to move to Miami to work in person with us.”
While Jonathan said he encountered a number of investor rejections on the road to their Series A, visionary real estate developer Craig Robins and Fuel Venture Capital Managing Director Jeff Ransdell were mentors and early believers.
“When I met with Jonathan, the company quite frankly was too early for our thesis, but when I started looking at everything, Miami founder, Miami company, and then Metaverse, I was blown away by the level of real application and detail that the team has put together,” said Ransdell. “I felt like I was sitting across the table from the next Mark Zuckerberg and I thought to myself I don’t know much about the vertical but what I do know is I’m an investor in great founders.”
Ransdell said he’s also helping AEXLAB raise a next round of funding for building out metaverse applications beyond VAIL VR. Fuel VC has deployed $76 million into South Florida startups, including most recently Taxfyle, Instabet, NovoPayment, Ubicquia and now AEXLAB.
“We do have talent here,” said Ransdell. “The founders are from here and they’re extremely talented, and I think that they’re going to be leaders in the space, right here out of Miami.”
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and email her at [email protected]
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