06 Feb 2017 09:12

Next step towards vision of democratising 3D

Ulrik Lindahl and Ulf Lewander

One sat in a cottage in Värmland, the other in a garage in Norrköping. The vision was to democratise the creation of 3D graphics. With the exception of the crippling period after the financial crisis, the journey progressed steadily with SEB Ventures as a partner since 2013. In January, the company was purchased by Microsoft as part of their strategic focus on "3D for All".

“It feels absolutely amazing. We’re coming into a context where we can make a reality of our vision,” says Koshi Hamedi, co-founder of Donya Labs, which from mid-January has become a wholly-owned business within Microsoft.

It has been some time since the news was released, and everyday life is returning to normal at Donya Labs in Linköping. We meet with the founder and technology chief Ulrik Lindahl, who was the one who began to lay the foundation for what has become the success story Simplygon, a software that automatically optimises 3D graphics to make it more manageable – similar to the JPEG format for photos or MP3 music.

“In the early 2000s, I worked with the development of computer games at a big studio in Stockholm, but then went over to a smaller company. There, I started thinking about how to create games in a way that did not require an army of 3D graphic designer to optimise the graphics.

“At the same time, I longed to be away from the big city and moved the family to my wife's childhood home in northern Värmland. There, I developed the software as a hobby project.”

He had some success with the technology, and with the brothers Koshi and Mahiar Hamedi, Martin Ekdal and Gustaf Johansson founded a company and started the business. Ulrik sat in the cottage in Värmland and the other took place in a garage at the home of the Hamedi’s mother in Norrkoping.

After a while, they rented a room in Norrköping, but later moved over to the incubator LEAD in their hometown of Linköping. It started quite promising and a few customers trickled in before the global recession put a spanner in the works.

“In the summer of 2009, we had two big deals in the works, but then came the financial crisis, and everything was paralyzed. In early 2010, we were a few days away from closing the shop,” says Koshi Hamedi.

But, with using crisis capital from Koshi and an investment from Almi Invest, they could hold out and already in the second half of 2010 it things to brighten up. Since then, sales have virtually doubled every year.

Both founders as well as SEB Ventures shared a common vision that the next step for the company was to expand beyond the gaming industry. It is there that the really big potential in connection with virtual reality technology (VR and AR) takes off.

“The three-dimensional CAD technology is used for all types of construction today. Here there is great potential to convert CAD graphics to visualisation directly on the Web. It can be used both for business-to-business as well as e-commerce,” says Ulf Lewander, Senior Investment Manager at SEB Ventures, who since 2013 has served on the board of Donya Labs.

Donya Labs is now part of Microsoft, and will continue to evolve in Linköping. The purchase price is not public, but for SEB Ventures it has been a successful investment.

“It's great fun. SEB has since its inception 160 years ago supported innovation and entrepreneurship. This deal is a sign of strength for the Swedish high technology and innovation cluster in Linköping. I'm proud that we've got to be a part of that journey,” says Ulf Lewander.

In 2013, SEB Ventures went in as a part owner with a total investment of 15 million Swedish kronor.

“We had offers from many quarters, but went pretty quickly for SEB. They were familiar with what we were doing and we felt confident, says Ulrik Lindahl.