Latest funding to grow VRAI’s existing data-driven VR simulation business in the UK and accelerate growth in the offshore wind industry as Europe prepares to turn out the lights
UNITED KINGDOM: VRAI, a Gateshead-based company that creates data driven VR simulation training, has today announced it has secured £3 million in funding. This latest investment is led by Northstar Ventures and comes at a crucial time for the UK and Europe, as the continent’s energy security diminishes in the midst of a major energy crisis. The investment will see the company bring its data driven VR simulation technology to the offshore wind industry, as well as growing its existing business in aerospace, defence and security.
VRAI believes its VR simulation solution will help accelerate the growth of the workforce to meet the increased need for renewable energy in Europe. The company’s technology combines virtual reality with data capture, analysis and machine learning (ML) in order to measure, evaluate and predict human performance and improve training outcomes. This injection of funds will enable the firm to work towards their vision of democratising simulation training, and accelerate growth across the business, with the creation of up to 10 new jobs in the company’s North East office in PROTO, Gateshead, over the next 12 months.
Founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 2017, the firm is currently focussed on helping customers in aerospace, defence and offshore wind, working through both MoDs and OEMs/Primes. VRAI also has a big focus on research and development, with strong links with Durham University’s Energy Institute, as well as the MoD’s Defence and Security Accelerator, and Innovate UK.
This latest funding follows VRAI’s expansion into England’s North East region in 2020. The company’s focus on the area corresponds with its ambitions to stay close to its customers, whilst remaining at the heart of the global offshore wind industry, and having access to local talent. This expansion into the offshore wind industry is central to the UK Government’s plans for a net zero future, and energy independence from fossil fuels in the coming decade. It also comes at a crucial time for Europe, as governments scramble to cushion citizens from soaring energy prices.
The UK has an ambitious plan to build on its leadership in offshore wind to target 50GW by 2030 – enough to power every home in Britain – which will support up to 60,000 jobs alone. In its 2021 annual report, the Global Wind Organisation estimated that 500,000 certified technicians will be needed globally in the next four years, in order to meet the growing demand of the offshore wind industry. VRAI’s mission is to support the industry to scale its workforce using VR simulation.
While most of the original hype surrounding the release of mainstream VR headsets focused on their potential for entertainment, predictions show VR in business will far outpace entertainment use in the short to medium term. According to Allied Market Research, the global virtual training and simulation market size was valued at $204.41 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $601.85 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13.7% from 2020 to 2027. This research is further backed by Statista, who found that the VR industry as a whole is growing at a fast pace, with both the enterprise and consumer segments expected to profit from the forecast growth.
Announcing this latest funding which is set to propel the company into offshore wind and result in a number of new hires, VRAI Managing Director, Pat O’Connor, said:
“I strongly believe that dual use technologies such as ours can be a source of competitive advantage for our society. This investment allows us to help scale the offshore wind workforce, which is critical to society’s plans for transitioning from fossil fuel dependency. Our products will also help to ensure our military personnel have the very best training and insights, at a lower cost and with lower carbon footprint, in the face of increasingly complex operational environments.”
Congratulating VRAI on the funding, Lord Gerry Grimstone, Minister for Investment at the Department for International Trade and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, added:
“Offshore wind is a real success story for the UK, creating jobs, boosting local economies, and playing an important role in reaching our ambitious climate change ambitions. The UK already has 13 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity – by far the most in Europe – and our Energy Strategy sets out ambitious targets to increase this capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030. Companies like VRAI play a vital role in helping to train and upskill the people needed to accelerate our journey towards a lost cost, low carbon, clean energy society.”
Commenting on the partnership, Northstar Ventures Investment Manager, Alex Buchan said:
“The North East region has been instrumental in developing the offshore wind sector, delivering clean energy and green growth, and partnerships like the one between VRAI and local industry help ensure the UK stays at the forefront of global innovation in renewables. With an impressive track record in cutting edge VR technologies, we are pleased to support VRAI in scaling up this innovation to train the UK’s offshore wind workforce and create more high quality jobs in the North East.”
Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central and Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, added:
“I am delighted that VRAI, a company based in the North East, has secured £3 million in funding to expand advanced virtual reality simulation technology into the offshore wind industry. This investment will bring jobs that you can raise a family on, while also providing a boost to our region’s renewable sector. The North East was once at the forefront of the industrial revolution. Now in 2022, with further investment into cutting-edge technology, such as VR simulation, data capture and machine learning for renewables, the North East can once again be at the forefront of global innovation – this time by mitigating climate change.”
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VRAI is an immersive technology company specialising in virtual reality production. It is a content creation organisation with over 30 years’ combined staff experience in delivering VR and AR. In addition to providing immersive technology services to corporations, VRAI also aims to improve training and development through the combination of technology and data with its flagship product, HEAT (Hazardous Environment Awareness Training). HEAT aims to improve the quality and safety of high-hazard training and development schemes and consists of three main elements: onboarding, VR training, and AI reporting and analytics. VRAI has offices in Gateshead, NE England and Dublin, Ireland. The company employs over 12 people. For more, see www.vraisimulation.com
About Northstar Ventures
Northstar Ventures is a venture capital firm based in the North East of England. The company invests in innovative, high growth businesses and social enterprises across the region. Northstar is dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with the support they need to fulfil their ambitions and to achieve social impact through investment. For Northstar Ventures, the vision is to help create a better future for people and the planet by investing in founders who are making waves with innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges, and harnessing the power of partnerships. For more, visit northstarventures.co.uk