Vyra: Putting employers’ sustainability strategies to work

29 Nov 2021

Eoin Le Masney, Luke Fagan and Jack Dwyer on the pier in Wicklow town. Image: Vyra

Vyra helps organisations shift their employees’ attitude to climate action through accessible learning and a gaming-led approach.

Growing up in Wicklow, ‘the garden of Ireland’, Luke Fagan has always felt a deep connection to the natural world. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a science degree specialising in zoology, having taken in some exciting research trips. This included living on a boat in the Peruvian Amazon for a few months while studying the effects of the climate crisis on river dolphins.

After graduating, he found work with a major Irish energy supplier and then a solar PV start-up in Melbourne. It was the latter that gave Fagan an insight into what it takes to start and grow a business, and he also became interested in helping people engage more with sustainability.

Keenly aware of the impact of the climate crisis and the need for everyone to join the cause for climate action, he returned to Ireland in 2019 to pursue a master’s in sustainable energy and green technologies at University College Dublin (UCD).

This journey is what brings us to Vyra, a sustainability-focused start-up co-founded by Fagan last year.

“Vyra enables large organisations to effectively engage and educate their people about sustainability,” said Fagan. “It has been described by a customer as ‘Fitbit for your carbon footprint’, minus the watch, plus a social element.”

‘Our customers see this as a viable initiative for their entire staff, not just a selection of certain individuals’

Using Vyra, organisations can nudge their employees to make more sustainable choices through challenges that are meant to be fun as well as engaging. Essentially, it appeals to a sense of healthy competition between employees and our desire to engage with games.

Product lead Fagan is also Vyra’s data and subject matter expert, while co-founder Jack Dwyer brings experience in making complex information more digestible. A multimedia graduate from Dublin City University, he produced an award-winning VR documentary on forestry in Ireland for his final-year project. Like Fagan, he is a returned emigrant and the pair teamed up to try and bridge a disconnect between the average person and climate action.

Later, the duo became a trio with the addition of Eoin Le Masney to the founding team. Le Masney shares a background in zoology with Fagan but he discovered a passion for coding while at Trinity and went on to complete a postgrad in computer science at UCD. After graduating, he found work with Irish space-tech company Skytek, where he was involved with an AR project for the European Space Agency.

Working together, these three Wicklow natives hope to drive climate action via workplaces.

With organisations big and small now formulating sustainability strategies, there is a need to ensure employees are engaged in these plans. “We have already worked with a number of businesses in Ireland and the UK and we’re noticing a common trend of organisation-wide roll-outs, suggesting that our customers see this as a viable initiative for their entire staff, not just a selection of certain individuals,” said Fagan.

Vyra’s current client list runs the gamut of company sizes from start-ups such as Zipp Mobility to large utilities player Veolia. And with many multinationals in the Irish market, the opportunity to see the platform go global is right on the team’s doorstep.

‘People will say Slimming World helped them lose weight. In reality, it’s the gamification’

The timing is also right with sustainability now firmly on the corporate agenda. “When we started Vyra, we were amazed at the growth of sustainability as a profession in recent years in Ireland,” said Fagan. “From three to five years ago where there were very little designated sustainability roles, to now where there are entire departments dedicated towards this core area.”

Fagan explained that there are three core pillars to Vyra: education, engagement and environmental impact.

In terms of education, Vyra takes an approach known as micro-learning, which distills core concepts into brief, accessible nuggets. A popular method for e-learning and workplace-based education, micro-learning is thought to improve learning outcomes and overall retention. “We are acknowledging the attention economy and see human attention as a scarce commodity,” said Fagan.

For engagement, Vyra is informed by behavioural science. “By understanding the key components of engagement and instilling them within our service, we have been able to attract employees that don’t necessarily have a large interest in the environment or a fundamental desire to reduce their carbon footprints,” said Fagan.

This is why gamification features heavily on Vyra, with leaderboards, progress reports and points to be scored. It’s all meant to engage people over long periods of time, using positive reinforcement to effect a lasting change.

“It’s a similar concept to that of popular weight loss programmes,” explained Fagan. “People will say Slimming World, for example, helped them lose weight. In reality, it’s the gamification that Slimming World deploys that empowers individuals to lose weight on their own accord.”

So they’ve made it educational and engaging, but how does Vyra make an impact?

“We use high-quality environmental impact data from peer-reviewed life cycle assessments, manufacturing reports and Governmental reports,” said Fagan. “This allows us to give relatively accurate predictions for reductions in environmental impact as a result of completing certain challenges and creates an index of sorts in the mind of a user.”

‘We feel like we’re in a very good position leading into 2022’

With Vyra headquartered in Wicklow, Fagan is bringing it back to where his love of nature began

“I think Ireland in general is an excellent country for start-ups,” he said. “From the very beginning of our journey, the Local Enterprise Office has been a great support: from finding mentors to help you with fleshing out an idea, to early-stage funding, which is crucial.”

Fagan is also looking forward to taking advantage of the talent pool Ireland has to offer. “Alongside our main goal of getting our product into the hands of users and improving the experience, we plan to attract investment in 2022 to help scale our team and capitalise on demand we’re seeing,” he said.

So far, he said, Vyra has been “fortunate” in finding a core team who believe in the shared vision of the three founders.

“We feel like we’re in a very good position leading into 2022,” he added. “We’ve spent the last year speaking to industry leaders in sustainability, employee engagement and learning and development to uncover the problems they’re facing in engaging their employees in their organisation’s sustainability journey.”

Now, with a series of pilot programmes under its belt, Vyra is set for an enterprise launch in the first quarter of 2022.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.