How an everyday problem became an award-winning start-up

New technology, like virtual reality and machine learning, is helping to fix everyday problems in the most surprising ways.

Have you ever delayed or decided against buying a new piece of furniture because you can’t picture what it will look like in your home? Then you have experienced, what computer vision and machine learning company, DigitalBridge call the ‘imagination gap’.

Fortunately for consumers and retailers alike, DigitalBridge is using cutting-edge technology to make home décor fantasies a virtual reality and, in doing so, is making it easier for dreamers to become buyers.

We spoke to founder, David Levine about his journey from frustrated homeowner to a CEO of a soon-to-be global room visualisation company.

Speaking about the ‘imagination gap’, David told us, “From our research, over a third of people find redecorating a challenge because they cannot visualise what it would look like in a room space. Typically, it takes six months from the time they decide they want a new bathroom to when they determine what their bathroom will actually look like. We’re looking to rapidly reduce this timeframe. “

“I had the idea a number of years ago when my wife said, “Shall we redecorate our lounge?” She showed me some square inch cut-offs of pieces of wallpaper but I just wasn’t able to imagine what it would look like.”

As with the best business ideas, David began putting together a plan to deal with an everyday problem. It just so happened that the idea had the potential to change the lives of every homeowner and renter in the world.

“So, I started looking for software that would help me to do so. I think the technology was certainly there but it was just very early days, and the barriers of the technology were really quite high, but I thought I’d move ahead anyway and solve the problem.”

According to research undertaken by DigitalBridge, close to 30 million consumers in the UK are planning to make improvements to their homes in the next 12 months. With these figures, it’s undisputable that now is the perfect time to capitalise on the market.

“The technology that allows a company such as ourselves to solve this problem is cheaper and more accessible than it ever has been. We are a machine led company, so we have a number of people who particularly use machine learning and augmented reality. Those resources are readily available within the market, allowing us to go out there and provide solutions – it’s a very exciting time.”

We live in a digital age where there seems to be a new must-have technology every couple of months. Sometimes this can feel alienating to businesses and even more so to consumers, who might be turned off by an unfamiliar interface or process. However, David assured us that his technology is user-friendly and not just targeted at millennials, who are generally the earliest adopters of technology.

“Our research shows that our main users are people who are 30-45, who are looking to spend a decent amount of money and are very emotionally engaged with the project that they’re looking to do. They’re not rushing into it, they’re taking their time, so they’re looking at the technology that allows them to buy with more confidence.”

So, how does this technology work? “We use computer vision in the first instance to work out the geometry of the consumer’s room and then work out the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the lighting conditions and any constraints. We use machine learning to help identify where customers would like to put different things, what designs work in that room and to improve our recognition of what is existing in the room at that point in time”, said David.

Based in Manchester, David’s team are a testament to Manchester’s status as the UK’s most exciting digital and creative hub; last year, Manchester made it onto the top 20 European Digital City Index for starting and scaling a digital tech business. For David, a Manchester native, it was an easy choice in where to establish DigitalBridge. “The quality of life in Manchester is far superior to that of London, living costs are affordable, the Capital is only two hours away and we’ve got the Peak and Lake District on our doorstep.”

Check out our guide to starting a business in Manchester.

What’s next for DigitalBridge?

After winning the John Lewis accelerator program last year, and after being named as one of the most innovative technology businesses in the world’s retail sector by NVIDIA, DigitalBridge has not only showcased its success, but has also asserted its position in the market.

Now, as its contract with the major retailers begins, it seems there is no limit to the company’s growth. “We have a number of customers in Europe and here in the UK that we’re currently working with. We’ll be launching a range of new products with those customers over the next few months and then we’re going to use that to build a stable foundation/business model that we’ll use to expand to the US.”

Advice for tech start-ups

“My advice would be – never take things at face value. An accelerator program or another organisation will typically have very good marketing and their website will look great but you need to speak to people who have been through the program before and who have had inside experience. Do your own research – nobody can do that job for you.”

If you’re a start-up looking for advice, then check out more of our interviews, guides and articles on how to make your business ready for anything.