Our popular Meet the client series reveals the inside story on the companies, and their founders, who we support with legal services. We caught up with Veronica Orvalho, the founder and CEO of Didimo. She reveals how her passions have driven her career by influencing her research and teachings, and ultimately becoming the catalyst for her to start a business.
Name and job title
I am Veronica Orvalho, the founder and CEO of Didimo and a professor at the University of Porto. I am also an Optimistic Engineer, global traveller, mom, and mentor… all of which help me to maintain my vision, focus and motivation.
What is it your company does?
Didimo is the leading creator of high-fidelity 3D digital characters. Our mission is to bring the richness of human engagement to every digital interaction.
We empower game titles, metaverses, and retailers to populate their immersive experiences with high-fidelity, fully animatable, and customisable digital characters. We can convert a 2D photo into a fully 3D digital twin of the original person in under a minute. This digital twin is able to show emotion, speak and act like the originating person. In effect, this means that all of us can now enter digital spaces and fully utilise our facial expressions, personality, emotions and likeness that are critical to making trustworthy and meaningful connections.
We have also pioneered generative AI technology to make game and metaverse characters that are authentic and true to the broad range of humanity, so that we can increase representation and diversity in gaming and immersive experiences.
What inspired you to start your business?
I have always been fascinated with two things: 1) how humans express emotions to establish authentic relationships and 2) how computer graphics, particularly computer vision and AI, unlock new possibilities for humans. These two passions came together in my education, research, teaching, and ultimately in the creation of Didimo.
Early in my career, I developed a computer visualisation and gaming solution that helped children with autism learn to effectively interpret and display relevant facial emotions. This breakthrough helped these children make more meaningful and personal connections with their parents and others.
And it made me think that every human could benefit from a little help in making more authentic human connections via digital means.
This led me to found Didimo and to develop a breakthrough, patented method leveraging computer graphics and AI to make digital humans. As our lives become increasingly more digitally connected, I think it is critical that we put people - all people - at the centre and not leave anyone behind. So I have dedicated my research and development to including everyone in digital interactions.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
We have faced and overcome many of the usual challenges of a start-up: balancing good advice with staying true to our vision, assembling a team with exceptional talent, finding product-market-fit, securing growth and funding, etc. But we have some unique challenges working in the deep tech sector too. This is where our relationship with Harper James has been so pivotal.
The team at Harper James acts as a core part of our team. From our start, including organisational setup through employee and subcontractor agreements and share options schemes to help us retain our valuable and essential team. If a dispute arises with a third party, Harper James are on-hand to help assess our options and reach a reasonable compromise for all parties. They always provide valuable counsel as well as pragmatic legal advice. It is also tailored to our needs as a scale-up.
And often we challenge the Harper James team with tough questions around commercial relationships and evolving law in deep technology, generative AI, and the like. We always receive thoughtful perspective and partnership in navigating our growth and protecting our business.
What made you choose to work with us?
We needed a partner, not a supplier. A legal team that would ask insightful questions and help us pioneer in the tech sector. The culture of our companies is similar and our team at Harper James is responsive, thorough, committed, and willing to investigate the most pragmatic approach… just like our internal team does.
What are your future growth plans?
We are in our scale-up phase. After successfully launching our second product, Popul8, a generative AI character creator and editor, we are building with key customers and growing our footprint globally. We will continue to grow with our core products but also have plans for a consumer editor tool that will allow end users to tailor gaming and immersive experiences to make them completely personalised and to bring in their creativity. It’s an exciting time for Didimo.
What can other founders learn from your journey so far?
For other founders and start-ups, here is what I always say: You can do it. If you have the passion, you must. The world needs your ideas. Founding a start-up is not easy, but it’s an incredible journey. And always follow your values. As Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it is done”. So go do it!
From my experience, I would emphasise being clear on three things that have been crucial to the success of many start-up teams that I have met.
- First, define a strong purpose and set of values that drive your team forward. This clarity will guide you through challenges and keep everyone aligned and motivated.
- Second, surround yourself with talented, passionate individuals who believe in your mission. Give them ownership and encourage their growth. A strong team will take you further than you can imagine.
- Third, find mentors who respect your vision and can provide honest guidance. While you'll receive plenty of advice, having a few advisors who truly understand your goals can help you navigate the inputs and make informed decisions.
Then after you get going, pay it forward. Once you've achieved success, mentor others and help them reach their dreams. Giving back creates a positive impact and fosters growth within the start-up community.
Finally, always remember your initial motivation and keep it as fuel to stay energised. Always strive to make the world a better place and write your own story.