At the stand hosting Skolkovo projects at the recent Slush tech startup event in Helsinki, there was one company that was under constant siege from fascinated onlookers. Among the talking robots, on-screen demonstrations and a miniature cinema – complete with popcorn – it was hard to stand out, but the biggest crowd at the stand during the two-day event was unfailingly around a large but unassuming white rectangular frame mounted around a low circular platform.
People queue up to try out the Texel Ease scanner at the Slush event in Helsinki. Photo: Jussi Hellsten / Slush.
The object in question was a 3D body scanner made by Texel, a brand new resident of Skolkovo’s Robocentre within the foundation’s IT cluster. The body scanner produces accurate 3D images of people within two minutes that can then be used in internet shopping to help customers find the perfect fit, in animated videos for entertainment purposes, or to make 3D miniature figurines of people.
Back in Moscow after their hectic success in Helsinki, Texel’s co-founders told Sk.ru that although the practical effects of the interest they attracted at Slush would only become apparent in a few months’ time, it was clear that the event had been a success for them.
“Usually the results of meeting people at major events like that are only clear within a few months: first you meet someone, and whether that acquaintance will grow into something more only ever becomes clear with time. But judging from the preliminary signs, the event was really successful for us,” said Sergey Klimentyev, business development director at Texel.
Texel, whose Ease body scanners are already up and running in major shopping malls both in Moscow and across Europe, knew exactly what it was looking for at Slush, which this year was attended by 17,000 tech entrepreneurs, investors and experts from all over the world.
“We are always looking for the same three things at exhibitions: IT integrators – partners who can help integrate our smart fitting rooms into shopping malls – … [and] secondly, investors, because we’re looking right now to raise a round of financing for the rapid upscaling of the smart fitting rooms, and we held several very useful meetings there [at Slush],” said Klimentyev.
“The third is media coverage, and that went quite well: we talked to Mike Butcher [an editor-at-large at TechCrunch] and took a 3D photograph of him, and we’ve turned it into an animation of him dancing on Red Square and plan to send it to him,” he said. Several TV channels filmed reports about the Texel Portal, which the company describes as a “portal into the future.”
Texel is also taking part in Startup Sauna, a highly competitive accelerator for hi-tech startups from the Nordics, Eastern Europe and Russia. As part of that programme, the team took part in a Demo Day on the main stage of Slush.
“That really helped us with contacts and changes to our business model,” said Klimentyev, who founded Texel together with CEO Maxim Fedyukov. Texel has been included in RBTH’s Russian Startup Rating of the top 50 companies for the last two years.
The company scanned a total of 569 people at Slush, who then all received their own 3D photo. Of those people, 472 then shared their 3D photos on social networks, which is valuable marketing for the startup.
“The people who visit those kinds of exhibits are the all-important early adopters and opinion leaders, and sharing by such people is especially valuable,” the company said in a post-Slush report.
Olga Avryasova, a project manager within the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster, said Texel embodies the trend of moving over to online from offline that has firmly taken root in our everyday lives.
“Examples of this can be seen on a daily basis, such as in shops,” she said. “A winning combination of technological expertise and positioning at the crest of the wave proved to be a recipe for success for this company at Slush.”
A miniature 3D figurine made using Texel's technology. Photo: Texel.
Back in Moscow, where Texel operates from its premises in the Technopolis Moscow innovative production hub, the company’s priority for now is to develop its smart fitting room technology, which promises to take the pain out of shopping for customers by taking their exact measurements and matching them up with clothes to match their taste and budget.
Texel’s scanners are already operating in giant shopping malls, including MEGA Belaya Dacha outside Moscow, and the Central Children’s Store in central Moscow. But they are also located at the Etnomir ethnography park in the Kaluga region, where visitors’ 3D images appear against a range of geographical backdrops, and at other museums and entertainment centres in countries including the U.S., France, Greece, Austria, Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. While the smart fitting room sector is still only a fledgling market, Texel’s other areas of activity – marketing and figurines – are what Klimentyev describes as the company’s cash cows.
Putting an animated skeleton into a 3D model of a person and making it the hero of a game or an animated 3D video has proved very popular, he said. The technology can be used to make personalized ads, which are currently in high demand among advertising and marketing agencies.
Texel’s third area of business – the production of 3D figures – is not done by the company itself. Instead it sells franchises for the use of its technology and equipment. The company says the payback period for its 3D photo studios is just six months. Figures of children bought by their parents are especially popular, said Klimentyev, along with 3D figures of couples on their wedding day, Christmas decorations and other novelty gifts.
So if you’re still hunting for an original Christmas or New Year present and you like the idea of the recipient being able to pop a miniature model of you in their pocket – go and get scanned.