Dublin start-up VRAI plans to raise €850,000 to fast-track plans to offer virtual reality (VR) training to large employers with staff who are working remotely because of Covid-19.
The VR simulation company has appointed Davy Corporate Finance to manage the funding round.
Niall Campion, VRAI’s founder, said the company has developed a training platform for employers operating in “high hazard” sectors such as power generation, aviation, defensive security and manufacturing.
Campion said the Hazardous Environment Awareness Training (Heat) system could be used to train employees working in risky or remote environments.
“The last Heat project we did was with one of the big pharma manufacturers here in Ireland. They used it to train their staff to work more safely on the factory floor,” he said.
“We see opportunities now around Covid-19, because we know there’s value in VR training and we know there’s value in remote training.
“We thought the market was about three years away from this becoming ubiquitous, but I think people can now see the value in not having to travel to train.”
VRAI secured funding of €575,000 last June from state agency Enterprise Ireland (EI) and private investors including former Bord na Móna chief Gabriel D’Arcy, who joined the start-up in the role of chairman.
Pat O’Connor, former deputy director of public relations at the Irish Defence Forces, has since joined VRAI as joint managing director
“Before Pat joined we were doing a lot of VR marketing experiences, and we then saw this opportunity to focus more on training,” said Campion.
“To move into that area, we needed to take on investment. We wanted ‘smart money’ from private investors who had experience in the high-hazard environments we want to target.
“Gabriel started his career in the Irish Army and worked for the UN. Pat spent 20 years in the Defence Forces.”
A video editor by trade, Campion set up VRAI in 2017 and focused initially on VR and augmented reality (AR) experiences for businesses and government organisations.
He worked with Samsung last year, developing an AR app for the launch of the new Galaxy S10 range. He has also developed a VR cable repair training experience for the ESB and another training experience for the UN’s counter-IED operations.
“VR is a great way of training in high-hazard environments, but also of capturing data on what people are doing. Our strategy has been to build out that data pipeline,” he said.
“We got our first data customer last July when we developed a training experience for IAG Cargo, which has a huge warehouse at Heathrow. It is a hazardous environment because they run a lot of machinery through it, and it’s busy, so onboarding new employees was a challenge for them.
“We upsold them on the data capture and they improved staff retention as a result. They did a staff survey and people’s understanding of how the warehouse worked went from five out of ten to 8.5 out of ten,” he added.
VRAI was named the winner of the Dublin City Enterprise award in early March and plans to raise up to €850,000 by the end of July.
“I don’t want to give the impression that we are flying,” Campion said. “Some of the contracts we were due to start work on when Covid-19 hit have been paused, but we do see an opportunity at the same time because more people are now seeing the value of being able to work and train remotely.”
VRAI is a high potential start-up client of Enterprise Ireland.
“We probably wouldn’t be where we are without EI,” Campion said.
“In the last month, I’ve spoken to the head of data at Facebook and the head of learning at Microsoft, both through EI contacts. EI have said that they are interested in coming in again on this round. All of our existing private investors are interested and we’re working with Davy Corporate Finance to open this out to a broader pool of investors.”