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‘A bunch of weirdos building things’: Inside an SF incubator dreaming up Vision Pro apps

Three men wear Apple Vision Pro headsets and gesture in an office-like setting with a seated colleague nearby.
Members of the Founders Inc. Residency program work on projects at the Marina-based tech incubator in Fort Mason. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“It looks so beautiful. … It’s so crisp,” gushed a wonder-struck young man staring at a blank white column and reaching toward nothing in particular. 

Well, actually, he was staring through the goggles of an Apple Vision Pro, from which he could see a vibrant virtual art gallery of paintings featuring everything from a Rosie the Riveter-esque model backlit by a hot pink background to a ruffle-collared gentleman who looked like an Old Master painted him.

The dazzling digital display was one of more than a dozen apps for Apple Vision Pro’s game-changing headset that made their first public appearance at Marina tech incubator Founders Inc. on Wednesday evening. Hundreds of people packed into the Fort Mason-based startup studio throughout the night to watch demo debuts and test out some of the newest immersive experiences for the device, which ushered in the dawn of the spatial computing era—and set San Francisco app and game developers into a hyperdrive of creativity.

A man in a Apple Vision Pro headset gestures his hands into the air as screens display tech interfaces in the background.
Stephen Ackroyd prepares for a demo at San Francisco-based tech incubator Founders Inc. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“I was a bit skeptical,” said University of California Berkeley visiting scholar Lena Voss of the Vision Pro. But after scanning the room full of people lining up to try out the new apps and discuss them, elementary school science fair-style with enthusiastic developers, she said she was more optimistic about “what’s going to happen.” “Exciting times,” she added. 

“It's like a leap of a few years in one piece of hardware,” said Hubert Thieblot, general partner at Founders Inc., which created an inaugural Vision Pro Residency program to rapidly build the first wave of apps for the Apple Vision Pro. “It's like peeking into the future.”

The array of eye-catching audiovisual displays and futuristic works in progress at the incubator was the culmination of a month’s worth of intensive tinkering, testing and developing by 20 software engineers, entrepreneurs and technologists. They were hand-picked by the team at Founders Inc. with hopes that one or more of them might birth a spatial computing unicorn company in the process. 

A man stands in front of a window with a bridge view, indoor plants, moody lighting.
Founders Inc. general partner Hubert Thieblot helped pilot the dual investment firm and incubator's inaugural Vision Pro Residency program. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

While the residency capped off a month of fast-paced software development, for one lucky entrepreneur, it could conclude within the next few weeks with a check worth up to $50,000, which will be awarded to the developer whose idea could take off into a full-fledged company and succeed in Founders Inc.’s portfolio of startups. Plus, there’s far more money on the table should Founders Inc.’s multimillion dollar investment arm take an even keener interest in one of the resident’s experiments. The firm currently incubates about two to three companies per year and invests in about 20, having made investments in over 60 companies over the last four years. 

“We wanted to create this early community of app builders that can collaborate together, that can share tips and tricks together, that can also team up together,” Thieblot said. “And you know, we might invest in some of the projects.” 

‘A room full of weirdos building things’

Inside the program, a healthy mix of competition, collaboration—and plenty of free coffee, snacks and lunches—fueled the residents over the last four weeks. Developers set goals for their projects every Monday and rushed to complete them for in-house private demos by the end of the week. The residents received mentoring from Founders Inc.’s leadership team and other tech founders, workshops on how to grow and market their products and, of course, access to $3,500 Vision Pros to work on (if they didn’t already scoop up the devices themselves).   

A group of people gathers in a casual office setting, paying attention to a speaker near a large screen.
Members of the residency program watch a demo at Founders Inc., housed inside the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“Every week you ship something, so there's a little bit of pressure to perform,” said Colin Lowenberg, an entrepreneur and a creator of San Francisco’s CATS Vision Pro party series. He quit his day job in Web3 developer relations to devote himself full-time to the Vision Pro Residency program. He hoped to get a jump-start on the oncoming wave of Vision Pro app development and build a marketplace for spatial video recordings of live performances. He also hoped adding Vision Pro resident to his CV would help get him a more steady gig in tech after founding a dog-sharing app that failed to take off—or at least land him his first venture investment for a new endeavor. (He’s since scored a job with the Web3 global collective Dabl.Club.)

“Like, the Wi-Fi password [here] is ‘first check.’ So your goal is to get the first check from an investor, right?” he said. 

People work in a collaborative tech workspace and use Apple Vision Pro headsets and computers.
Shortly after the Apple Vision Pro was released, Founders Inc., a San Francisco-based tech incubator, brought 20 builders together for a multiweek residency to experiment with the new technology and build some of the first applications for the device. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Developer Ethan Sherbondy—who built and released a 3D mahjong game on the App Store that’s earned a grand total of $200 in revenue so far—said he wouldn’t mind cashing a check for $50K at the end of this experience. But he said he felt that the residency was more about camaraderie than competition. His goal was to join forces with fellow developers to overcome “classic version one platform issues” together.  

“There are few places where it's like, normalized, for everyone at the table to be wearing these headsets,” he said. “It’s great to be in a room with a bunch of weirdos building things.”

‘What is the future version of myself gonna want?’

Vision Pro resident and full stack web developer J’mari Wyatt, who worked on creating a 3D Apple Vision Pro answer to Web 2.0’s MySpace, was similarly inspired by his peers’ experiments with the device. He was particularly impressed by a meditation app that immerses users in nature or outer space, and by plug-and-play 3D websites that can be built with little to no code. 

Two people work at cluttered desks with electronic equipment in a workshop-like room.
Members of Founders Inc. work in the startup studio's hardware lab. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

His fellow residency members “are impressive. Like [the Apple Vision Pro] just came out, and people already have super cool products,” Wyatt said. “That’s why I feel like I’m in the future.” 

Other participants, like recent San Jose State grad Piram Singh, entered the program to “future-proof” themselves for an uncertain job market. 

“As a fresh grad from college, I was just trying to see what the workforce is going to look like for me in a couple of years,” said Singh, who is working on a trilingual real-time translation app for the headset. “What is the future version of myself gonna want? How can I better prepare myself for the future?”

A person in a hoodie and Apple Vision Pro headset leans over a laptop and types in a busy office-like setting.
Software engineer Sam Hodak, center, gives a demo on the project he’s working on at Founders Inc. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Software developer Sam Hodak, who built the virtual art gallery app, hopes that a job in Apple Vision Pro, AR or iOS development is in the cards after the residency. But until then, he sees his work at Founders Inc. as just another day in a San Francisco tech office—albeit a very futuristic one.

“I'm working on the present,” he said. 

Founders Inc. next event, a Dream XR Hackathon, happens March 14-16. Visit to learn more.