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Sumanta Talukdar is the CEO and co-founder of Augmented Reality (AR) company, WaveOptics. They were selected on The Fresh Business Thinking Shift 100, The Retail Technology edition in association with KPMG Small Business Accounting.

Can you tell us briefly about your business?WaveOptics work in augmented reality, with a particular focus on see-through display technology. We’re a young company but already we are establishing considerable traction as our waveguides are enabling superior image quality in a scalable way. We are form factor neutral, meaning that we work with partner companies who are interested in producing quality AR headworn devices across multiple industries.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?David and I come from a very relevant background in the defence industry where we worked on technology for head-up displays and head mounting displays. When we started WaveOptics, there was no such thing as AR and definitely no hint of the excitement that’s currently in the market.

We began our company with a mission to “bring the experiences that we knew were possible with augmented reality outside of defence and into the enterprise and consumer world." We have been excited about AR ever since we watched the first sci-fi movies. We think it’s amazing technology which we want to make widely accessible.

With that basic vision, we thought about the problems we needed to solve. When we started, AR was very complicated and very expensive and the process took ages, which is why only people in defence were doing it. To make this experience accessible to everyone else, we needed to bring the same kind of user experience, but in a way that people would actually want to wear it. We also needed to find a way to develop the technology in a scalable fashion so we could deploy it at a price point that consumers and enterprise could absorb. We started by asking the question “how do we solve the physics to tick all these boxes?”

If you had one piece of advice for an entrepreneur just starting up, what would it be?For me, it’s very clear - you need to find mentors. If you can get the right mentors behind you, then you will be able to accomplish so much more than if you struggle through the first year by yourself.

We were very lucky that we were mentored by two fantastic people who also continue to be advisors in the business. Without them we would be a lot further behind than we are today.

What were the main challenges to setting up your business?Our main challenge was very particular to the space we are in. Today, there are a lot of people who know about AR, but when we started that wasn’t the case. So one of our many challenges was to convince people that the technology was going to be amazing and transformative and worthy of investment.

How do you think technology is driving businesses forward?We have a lot more data as businesses and consumers compared to before, such as from IoT and sensory data. Being able to take all that data and turn it into timely, relevant information, displayed in a usable fashion will be very powerful. Enterprise users will see gains in productivity and consumers will be able to quickly and precisely access what they are looking for.

Do you think there has been a shift in consumer behaviour?It’s getting to a point where there is so much data out there that it is becoming much harder to make the right decisions quickly. But consumers are becoming much more knowledgeable and rightly also much more demanding. Technologies such as AI and AR working together can make a big impact in this area. They could take some of that friction away and help us make more educated decisions quicker.

What are the plans for your business for 2017 and beyond?Our mission is quite simple, in a couple of years when over a billion people will be consuming augmented reality, we want those people to be viewing AR through our display technology. Looking backwards from that, 2017 is a massive growth year for us, both in terms of the company itself, but also in terms of the step changes in technology that we are going to be showcasing over the next weeks and months. Technically, we are ahead of our competitors, some of which are the biggest names on the planet. We intend to further this gap and consolidate our position.

Strategically, we will continue to create partnerships. Whilst we provide a critical enabling part of the technology that unlocks augmented reality, you need to address the whole ecosystem to get deployment. We are working with companies across the AR ecosystem to develop AR products which will unlock the potential of the technology and lead the way to mass adoption. We anticipate our clients will be launching their first commercially available products from the end of this year.