For two years, Howest University of Applied Sciences will work with Flemish SMEs to develop business models aimed at the metaverse and blockchain technology. ‘A very large part of the world is fully engaged in it and it would be a shame if we miss that boat.’
How can you effectively build a virtual version of a physical store? How do you use virtual reality to not only show a customer your product, but also let them experience it?
Howest, a university of applied sciences with campuses in Kortrijk, Bruges and Oudenaarde, will be looking for answers to these kinds of questions together with Flemish SMEs for the next two years. An inventory is made of practical applications and business models for a new digital era.
It is expected that this will revolve around the metaverse, a network of 3D worlds with an unlimited number of users. These users can take their avatars and digital assets with them from one environment to another. The gaming platform Roblox has been labeled as a precursor to the metaverse, which is becoming a new marketing channel for businesses.
Now that we are talking about the metaverse, the response from Flemish companies seems to be great.
The project is aimed at the retail and design sector, but it is assumed that the results can also be used in other sectors. The consultancy EY’s office in Antwerp started the programme, which is supported by the Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship Agency (VLAIO).
‘In 2000 we ran a campaign to promote e-commerce among Flemish companies. It was a total failure at the time’, said Kurt Callewaert, digital transformation valorization manager at Howest. ‘But now that we’re talking about the metaverse, the response from Flemish companies seems to be great.’
- Over the next two years, Howest University of Applied Sciences will develop practical applications and business models for the metaverse of Flemish companies. The focus is on the retail and design sector.
- At the start of the project in Antwerp, it became clear how the metaverse is bundled with web3 technology such as tokens and blockchains. With the latter, products can be declared authentic and tracked.
- Europe has no time to lose with new technology, because a large part of the world is already fully committed to it, it said.
Stan Dewaele of the Designregio Kortrijk network confirmed at the event that quite a few entrepreneurs consider the metaverse as ‘the next big thing’. ‘But many don’t yet know how to connect it with their strengths.’ He is especially looking forward to concrete information about the construction of a virtual version of a physical store.
Chocolatier Vandenbulcke in Kortrijk will see how new digital applications can help market the physical products. The company is also working on an experience center. According to marketing officer Nicolas Degryse, this includes immersive experiences.
Market of 1,000 billion
It was remarkable at the kick-off meeting that it was not only about virtual environments, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). 3D, AR and VR are already widely used in e-commerce, just think of virtual fitting rooms. There was also a lot of emphasis on web3, a decentralized version of the Internet.
For this, blockchains are used, computer networks where transactions are recorded in an immutable way. This makes it possible to authenticate and track products. Digital proofs of ownership such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are also part of web3. NFTs can target customers with exclusive benefits. For example, those who own an NFT of a certain brand can get a discount on purchases.
The new digital age is based on social and immersive experiences, decentralization, new ownership models and new forms of communities.
“The new digital age is based on social and immersive experiences, decentralization, new ownership models and new forms of communities,” said Jean-Christophe Liaubet, managing partner at Fabernovel, a Parisian digital transformation specialist acquired by EY last year. .
According to EY, web3 is now comparable in reach to the Internet in 1998. The Metaverse and web3 already reach large groups of people and markets. By 2021, $324 billion will be spent on virtual worlds and games. In 2024, it is expected to be 800 billion. The cumulative market cap of crypto assets is over $1 trillion, albeit compared to a peak of $3 trillion in November 2021.
Law of diminishing returns
The introduction of new technology requires ‘change management’, but this is often where the shoe pinches. “Many management teams don’t really know how their business works because the organization is fragmented,” said Els Meyvaert, founder of Web 3 Women Belgium and EY Europe West Innovation Ecosystem Lead.
“Europe is facing the law of diminishing returns. We are not strongly motivated here, it is going quite well with the current internet technology’, concludes Meyvaert. “The applications mentioned at this conference and elsewhere were already being used in Singapore, Dubai and India five to six years ago.” She calls for more to be done quickly with blockchain and other new technology. ‘A very large part of the world is fully engaged in it and it would be a shame if we miss that boat.’
Metaverse wave in Flanders
Metaverse initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere in Flanders. Thomas More University of Applied Sciences is collaborating with Flemish media companies to see how they can best prepare for the metaverse. Together with Howest, AP Hogeschool’s Immersive Lab helps media companies innovate with ‘extended reality’ and 5G. PXL University of Applied Sciences and Howest investigate music experience in the metaverse. In Hasselt, the planned event center Corda Arena will not only be equipped for streaming, but also for events in the metaverse.