Ariadne Capital finally backs virtual realities

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If Ariadne Capital is backing virtual worlds, you’ve got to know they’re a safe bet for the future. The well known broker of investment deals has announced it’s adding two UK virtual world companies to its portfolio – NearGlobal and RealLife.

Ariadne has in the past advised Skype, Espotting, voice-to-content leader Spinvox, P2P lending and borrowing startup Zopa, and mobile banking and payments service provider, Monitise, which lends confidence in these virtual reality sites being worth a look.

NearGlobal builds high fidelity 3D replicas of real cities which form an atmospheric backdrop for shopping, entertainment, social networking and education.

As part of the deal, Marc Worth, co-founder of fashion information channel WGSN.com, joins NearGlobal as investor and non-executive chairman. Worth and his brother Julian founded WGSN.com in 1999 using funding secured by Julie Meyer. They sold the company to publishing group Emap for £140m in 2005.

Worth sees in NearGlobal a virtual world that looks great, works effortlessly and offers a clear proposition to business, making it easier for fashion and entertainment industries to take it seriously. The first NearGlobal city will be NearLondon, scheduled for a pre-Christmas launch.

RealLife is a social networking application which gives school and college leavers a virtual world in which to experiment with possible careers while linking them to recruiters. At launch, users can expect a 3D avatar-driven MMOG also centred on a virtual London.

Paul Flanagan, an executive-in-residence at Ariadne Capital since 2004, is launching a private beta of RealLife on Facebook soon, with a full launch scheduled for July.

The first career option will be trading, with brokers able to deal on the major global markets via gnuTrade. Successful traders can purchase a range of virtual goods such as villas on the Riviera, fast cars or great clothes to enhance their virtual lifestyles.

Julie Meyer, Ariadne’s CEO says the company wasn’t convinced that virtual worlds were an attractive investment opportunity until the emergence of what she terms “Virtual Worlds 2.0″ – where the user experience has a purpose and is driven by a robust business model.

This is the fifth funding round that Ariadne Capital has advised on or introduced new investors to successfully in the last six months.

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