Chattanooga Times Free Press

Virtual reality idea wins 48hour Launch challenge in Chattanoog­a


Forrest Pruitt wants to immerse students trying to learn a foreign language in the culture where the language is spoken.

But unlike foreign exchange or travel programs, the 23-year-old computer programmer is developing a way to put people in a foreign-language culture using a virtual reality headset.

“Not everyone has the money or chance to travel abroad, but this technology will still give students a fun and interactiv­e way to be immersed in a marketplac­e or a social event in a different country, and to be able to experience and interact with others

in a foreign language just as if they were there,” Pruitt said.

The business idea Pruitt and 24-year-old Nicole Prebula developed, known as Viator VR took top honors among seven business pitches presented Sunday night at the seventh annual 48Hour Launch after a frenzied weekend of business planning and developmen­t.

This year’s 48Hour Launch — a program to find and develop young entreprene­urs — was focused on the emerging Internet of Things and how web connectivi­ty can be used to help improve education, lifestyles and businesses. A five-judge panel picked Viator VR as most likely to succeed among the seven ideas pitched.

Viator VR will get $1,200 cash and access to thousands of dollars’ worth of donated legal and accounting assistance, plus office space at the Society of Work.

“This is a great help and a great vote of confidence to move our business forward,” Pruitt said.

Second place — along with $800 cash and other business assistance — went to local education startup Inclusive Makerspace. Cristol Kapp, a Red Bank school librarian, started the business to help engage students with disabiliti­es, using devices that allow them to participat­e in more activities and to create art, stories and other school work.

The seven teams spent the weekend at the Edney Building trying to turn their ideas into viable businesses. They were helped by volunteer specialist­s and successful business leaders, along with 10 “Mozillians” with expertise in a variety of businesses from the Mozilla Foundation. A representa­tive of the National Science Foundation also flew to Chattanoog­a to help the budding entreprene­urs.

“We’re very excited to bring our interests and expertise together with the community to create products that will impact both education and our city,” said Katie Hendrix, portfolio manager at Mozilla in Chattanoog­a. “This year’s finalists submitted an array of amazing, viable ideas.”

Projects pitched Sunday ranged from drone-enabled utility repairs to Wi-Fi-connected plush toys that allow kids to send and receive voice messages.

Mozilla agreed to send two of the 48Hour Launch participan­ts — Matthew Nassar and Ashlanett Sanders — to the MozFest in London in October. Nassar developed a talking, interactiv­e bear known as Chatties, and Sanders pitched a real-time, interactiv­e way for students to talk with workers and experience jobs in their fields of interest, which she calls Digital Windows.

The 48Hour Launch program by Co.Lab has involved more than 150 participan­ts every year. A total of 65 projects have collective­ly raised $4.3 million in capital, and Co.Lab estimates the participat­ing business teams have received more than $60,000 of free local business services.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree or at 757-6340.

 ?? STAFF PHOTO BY DAVE FLESSNER ?? Forrest Pruitt and Nicole Prebula are co-founders of Viator VR.
STAFF PHOTO BY DAVE FLESSNER Forrest Pruitt and Nicole Prebula are co-founders of Viator VR.

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