VRAI opens a new chapter in digital storytelling and training

13 May 2019

Image: VRAI/Samsung

Our Start-up of the Week is VRAI, a Dublin-based content creation company specialising in VR and AR production.

VRAI was established in August 2017 and is a B2B virtual- and augmented-reality [VR and AR] content creation company,” explained co-founder Pat O’Connor.

“Currently we provide bespoke VR and AR services to large companies and organisations to enhance their marketing and training functions.

‘Ultimately, we want to help save lives through immersive technology’

“This year we completed our highest-profile job yet when we developed an AR app for Samsung UK and Ireland as part of the launch of its Galaxy S10 smartphone range. This is the third, and largest, AR project VRAI has worked on with Samsung.”

Last year the company also completed projects for the UN in Somalia, ESB International, the Gleneagle Group and Kingspan.

The market

Soldier at a recruitment fair showing virtual reality in action.

Image: VRAI

According to O’Connor, the average spend on training in Fortune 500 companies is 1.5pc of labour costs and higher in sectors with a greater focus on risk such as oil and gas, mining, and defence.

“The global enterprise VR and AR (XR) market is predicted to be approximately €30bn for the end of 2021, and the XR training segment of that is estimated at €1.7bn.

“We believe that these training costs are currently going into inefficient and ineffective training, and that we can improve how that’s delivered.”

The founders

Man in white shirt beside woman with blonde hair holding up a smartphone.

VRAI’s Niall Campion with Minister Heather Humphreys, TD. Image: Colm Mahady/Fennells

O’Connor has 20 years’ experience with the Irish Defence Forces. This includes more than three years’ experience of overseas operational deployments in high-threat environments, as well as a decade of experience in strategy development and communication. He holds master’s degrees from both Smurfit Graduate Business School and Dublin City University.

Niall Campion’s background is in digital content creation, delivering prestigious, high-quality projects. Working in film, TV and interactive design, he uses cutting-edge technologies to tell better stories.

The technology

Woman wearing VR headset while an instructor in white shirt explains what she is seeing.

VR technology being used by the UN in Somalia. Image: VRAI

“We use an innovative mix of visual effects, gaming and filmmaking techniques to create high-quality XR content. We also have developed a number of techniques that allow us to create these products with increasing efficiency.

“This can then be applied to help our customers solve their challenges, be it to help companies stand out from the crowd and engage clients at an event, to empower employees in gamified training scenarios, or, as with Samsung, to create high-quality content that helps their customers experience their products,” said O’Connor.

He explained that the vision for the company is to be a global leader in using XR to enhance business functions.

“We want VRAI to be a global player in a niche market. We will help organisations with employees going into hazardous situations where the work is risky, remote and rare … We use technology to codify and scale experience; to reduce risk and make training more efficient, measurable and effective without disrupting business activity.

“But, ultimately, we want to help save lives through immersive technology.”

The opportunity

VRAI signed its biggest contract yet with Samsung in January, joined Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential start-up (HPSU) unit in February and it is now part of a medtech Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund consortium led by the Tyndall Institute.

“The HPSU is all about getting investment into companies that Enterprise Ireland feels have the potential to help fuel international growth and create jobs at home. We are currently raising €500,000 in investment and plan to build out a product team in the next few months that will have us on schedule to have 12 employees and over €1m in turnover by 2021,” O’Connor said.

Changing reality

O’Connor explained that with any start-up, there are always more things to do than time or people, so it becomes about prioritising.

“The act of prioritising itself demotes other activities and they inevitably suffer. So if you focus on investment, sales can suffer. If you focus on product development, investment can suffer. If you focus on sales, structure and routines can suffer.

“You need to know what to focus on when; what is going to make the greatest impact on the potential success of your company.”

O’Connor said that a pretty common narrative emerging is that investment is getting more difficult at pre-revenue stage and that investors are increasingly looking to invest when companies have an MVP (minimal viable product) and some revenue.

“We built the business to be self-funded from the start and are now looking to take on investment to build a specific product and accelerate our growth, based on our experience selling to customers with real use cases. This has definitely given us a boost when speaking to investors as they can see that we have a product that customers want to buy.

“The supports from Dublin City Council and Enterprise Ireland are excellent. Last summer we went on a trade mission to LA with the Minister for Enterprise and some senior figures from the department and Enterprise Ireland. It was a genuine pleasure to see these people at work. They do a great job representing Ireland and Irish companies internationally, and I think that’s something that’s often taken for granted, but as a young business looking to break into new markets they’re a real asset to us.”

His advice to fellow founders? “Hire the best and network. Our first two employees, Caoimhe and Chris, are incredible at what they do and bring so much to the company. We need our team to create the best experiences possible for our clients, so that means a diverse team of high performers, empowered to do what needs to be done. To enable that, you need to create the right environment and culture from the start that values and empowers your people.

“Also, ask for advice from people you respect, ask for intros from people you know and be helpful whenever you can in return.”

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Updated, 11.15am, 13 May 2019: This article was amended to correctly identify Niall Campion in an image with Minister Heather Humphreys, TD. An earlier version mistakenly identified him as Pat O’Connor.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years