Making it Work: Virtual reality tech training firm targets €2m funding to continue expansion

VRAI, which uses simulation software to allow organisations to train staff remotely, is aiming to double its headcount in the next 18 months ahead of a US expansion

Pat O’Connor and Niall Campion, founders of VRAI, have not struggled for customers during the pandemic. Picture: Fergal Phillips

VRAI, the Dublin-based virtual reality firm, plans to close a €2 million funding round by October to fund its continued international expansion and double its headcount.

The start-up, founded in 2017 by Pat O’Connor and Niall Campion, has also just signed a three-year commercial deal with a Norwegian company worth €750,000 to VRAI.

It comes a year after VRAI, which employs 18 people, raised €1.2 million in seed funding for its training simulation software.

O’Connor said the Enterprise Ireland-backed company hasn’t struggled for customers, particularly as Covid-19 has forced many organisations to hire, train and meet their staff remotely.

“When Covid hit initially, the advice was to preserve your cash and hunker down and survive it,” he said.

“But our gut instinct was that if ever there was a need for people to be able to train people remotely, the pandemic was going to show that.

“Now it almost feels a bit mad for people to fly from different locations to one place to train together when you can just train them where they are.”

VRAI’s Heat platform allows staff to train remotely using a video headset and can also track their performance, a solution which O’Connor said now feels like “a no-brainer”.

Virtual reality (VR) is a crowded marketplace, but O’Connor said VRAI’s approach to data collection marks a point of difference for a company that markets itself to organisations operating in “rare, risky and remote” scenarios.

“Our insight was that VR is an incredible way to capture data on performance,” O’Connor, who spent more than 20 years in the Irish Defence Forces, said.

“That way we can help people improve their performance and stay safer in hazardous environments.”

Offshore wind, a growing industry, is one of the key markets VRAI is targeting with its virtual reality training headsets. To that end, the company has recently set up an office in Gateshead in the north east of England.

“The UK is the biggest offshore wind market in the world, and the biggest offshore wind farm in the world is off the coast of Newcastle. So it made sense for us to be close to that,” O’Connor said.

“There’s an increasing focus on moving from fossil fuels to renewables like offshore wind. So we think there’s going to be a huge opportunity there.”

Wind energy is not only a good fit for VRAI for the commercial opportunities it offers, it also fits into the company’s philosophy which places planet and people, as well as profit, at the centre of its approach.

The Dublin-headquartered firm is a Certified B Corporation, an accreditation granted to companies that meet high social and environmental standards. Earlier this year, it won the most social/sustainable company at the National Start-up Awards.

In the future, VRAI is hoping to keep sustainability at the heart of its operations as it grows its global presence and expands into America.

“The US is the biggest simulation market in the world, so we’re obviously looking at that,” O’Connor said.