Written by Andrew Seale

We are living in a blended world, one where we can change the reality we see through our smartphone lens with the swipe of a finger. You want devil horns and explosions behind you? Pull up AC/DC’s Highway to Hell 40th anniversary Snapchat lens or Facebook filter. Not enough Spiderman in your life? Point the Spider-Man: Far From Home Snapchat lens at the convenience store aisle ahead of you and he’s right there doing spins and high kicks by the Doritos. 

See, blended – bent and twisted. But there’s a small cohort of companies behind this remixed reality working directly with brands to develop augmented reality content for Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, and Toronto startup AccessAR is one of them. 

“Most of my competitors are sort of AR or VR studios that do this as an afterthought to drive a little bit of extra revenue,” says Chrissy Gow, founder of AccessAR.  “But this is our sole focus.”

Gow elbowed out some space in the niche a year ago. She was put onto the medium by two professors at Ryerson University where she was working on her masters in fashion studies. She’d been trying to crack how to use AR to tackle fashion e-commerce but pivoted to creating content for brands to use as part of their marketing campaigns. 

She launched AccessAR in January.

The AC/DC and Spiderman filters slot nicely amongst the company's wins from the past year which includes working with Lamar University in the US, EventMobi, Fatso peanut butter, Sony Legacy, and esports team Excelsior. 

“It took me about four months of developing a marketing and sales strategy, cold calling, and knocking on doors before we started to get some traction,” says Gow. “The lion's share of my customers are in the US and what that means for me is that Toronto essentially becomes a jump-off point for me to spend time in New York and LA.”

AR isn’t new but it’s still an emerging market, one that requires fresh talent to stay on top of the latest trends. “It’s an exciting new space but not a lot of people are working in,” says Gow. AccessAR has been tapping into the creative talent network coming out of schools like Ryerson University, York University and Sheridan.

They're also leveraging the startup ecosystem. AccessAR was originally part of the Fashion Zone at Ryerson but the company has since moved to Artscape Daniels Launchpad

“They have the effects studio, they have sound studios, they have photo studios, editing suites, they've got a digital media lab,” she says of the space. “Everyone that works here is typically involved in fashion, music, or digital marketing of – there is a great vibe and a really supportive community.” 

It’s at odds with her experience when the Victoria, B.C.-native first came to Toronto after 17 years living in the UK, China and Europe. “I’d been so far removed I really felt like a new Canadian,” she says. She didn’t have Canadian experience on her CV and found the prospect of looking for work daunting. The whole experience was isolating. But when she started her entrepreneurial journey, it felt completely different. 

“I felt more welcome amongst other new Canadians or people that had come to Canada and started their own businesses,” she says.  “That’s what really allowed me to carry on and actually build a business here.”

Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)