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Startup Brings Virtual Reality Tour to Apartment Hunting

By Greg St. Martin

News at Northeastern

When they were in college, John Puma said he and his friends experienced similar challenges when searching for off-campus apartments.

“There’s an extreme lack of transparency,” said Puma, who graduated from Northeastern in 2017 with a business degree. “Between poor-quality photos and inaccurate listing info, there’s often a disconnect between the online experience and what you see in person.”

To solve this problem, Puma co-founded Wizio, a startup that provides virtual reality tours of rental properties using high-definition 360-degree photography. These VR tours, Puma said, allow renters to view an apartment as though they were standing there, and can save time in finding the right property—particularly if they’re from out of town and can’t visit the unit before signing on the dotted line.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Wizio primarily works with property managers and brokers in the Boston area but has recently expanded into the Houston market. The startup lists properties with virtual tours on social media and charges its clients a fee when it creates a virtual tour, which typically takes 24 hours.

Wizio is now developing what it calls a “virtual agent service,” which will automate the process of filling out an application form, getting your credit checked, and submitting payments.

Wizio has created nearly 5,000 virtual tours since launching in 2015. One of its first clients was Encore Realty, which was co-founded by Brian Kitchens, who graduated from Northeastern in 2007 with a business degree.

Wizio has created around 200 virtual tours for Encore over the past couple of years. “As a real estate agent, it’s filled a gap for us,” Kitchens said of Wizio’s virtual tour technology. “I’m an advocate for what they’re doing.”

 

 

Wizio’s team consists of four Northeastern alumni: Puma, CEO Devon Grodkiewicz, chief technology officer Cameron Billings, and director of product design Emily O’Brien. Last year, the startup hired a Northeastern co-op student to photograph properties for the virtual tours and help define Wizio’s overall photography process.

Puma connected with Wizio in 2015 when it was part of the Husky Startup Challenge, a semester-long startup boot camp run by Northeastern’s Entrepreneurs Club.

After winning the Husky Startup Challenge, Wizio built a prototype of its platform with funding from IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator. IDEA then connected Wizio’s founders to other resources within Mosaic, an alliance of student-led organizations at Northeastern focused on supporting startups.

Scout, the student-led design studio, created the logo and designed the website,  the IP CO-LAB provided some documents for the company, and the Community Business Clinic drew up an employee contract. The Accounting Resource Center outlined the tax advantages of incorporation, while Generate, the student-led product development studio, helped the startup test its 360 photography platform.

“We’ve touched nearly every part of Mosaic,” Puma said.

(Reprinted with permission from News at Northeastern.)

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