As part of our ongoing Virtual Cup of Coffee series I sat down with Anne Widdop, CEO of The VR Hive, an Arisaig-based business that delivers soft skills training through virtual reality.

I was so impressed by the agility and ingenuity shown by this business. The pandemic has forced new ways of living and working and technology has been firmly at the heart of this. The VR Hive has captured this moment and is riding the crest of an innovation wave providing a blueprint for the future of training. I for one am very excited to watch it progress. Read on to find out what we chatted about over a virtual cuppa: 

What’s your elevator pitch?  

The VR Hive is an innovative soft skills training platform that uses virtual reality to deliver training which is a digital simulation of lifelike scenarios. The training is focused on developing soft skills: be that people skills, social skills or communication skills. It examines character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes and social and emotional intelligence. Conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership are taught ensuring employees work well with others, perform to their best and achieve their goals.

What support have you been given from the Innovation team?

HIE is supporting us to develop our VR offering via Innovate Your Business and Co-Innovate. A Small Innovation Grant helped towards the cost of hardware and software to develop the VR. While an Intellectual Property (IP) Audit delivered through Scottish Enterprise, facilitated by HIE, gave us an action plan to develop an effective IP Management strategy.

Support via the Co-Innovate programme has ranged from a business status health-check, an Innovation Audit Review and financial support for a 12-month R&D project.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, how did this impact your business?

The idea for The VR Hive was born out of the pandemic. Towards the end of 2020, as part of a drive for Fuze Management to develop additional services and products the business explored the challenges created by COVID-19 and saw an opportunity to develop a virtual reality training solution.

We are operating in an extremely interesting space at the moment given COVID-19 has meant the majority of the population have been working remotely. Training delivered via virtual reality reduces ‘screen fatigue’ and creates lean learning by offering shorter, more engaging and more effective training. Coupled with this, the soft skills being taught are difficult to do in a remote way via traditional training techniques and so VR provides the perfect way to deliver this.

The beauty of VR is it gives you a safe environment in which to learn. It can also be used as part of a blended approach, The VR Hive episodes can sit alongside having conversations between colleagues over Zoom or in person in the workplace.

Did you innovate or diversify to overcome challenges and turn these into an advantage for your business?

The concept for The VR Hive was a new one for Fuze Management. The business was originally set up in 2012 to establish an industry standard for ceremonies (eg weddings and funerals) by providing celebrant training and a network of ceremony providers. Fuze Ceremonies trains celebrants, promotes their services and offers not-for-profit ceremonies via the Fuze Foundation. The pandemic pretty much halted all ceremonies of this nature, so yes, you could say the business innovated to overcome challenges and create a revenue stream!

Did the time and space afforded by lockdown bring any new business ideas to explore?

Only a handful of companies in the UK are currently offering VR and their target markets are the business and financial services sectors. They are not aligned to national standards or assessment and their efficacy has not been measured. We want to ensure our VR training is measurable and recognised as a formal assessment in accredited qualifications. We see so much potential to roll this out within higher education and further education in addition to corporates. The health and social sector is another area where VR training can really come to the fore and is something we are exploring.

We want to make sure it is both affordable and easily accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Often, when VR comes to mind you automatically imagine expensive tech and headsets but it doesn’t always have to be delivered that way. For example, it can be adapted to run on smartphones, something almost everyone has, and a £10 cardboard Google headset.

What’s on the horizon for the business?

We are keen to offer The VR Hive training via a subscription model and offer a suite of soft skills training for all levels from CEOs to new starts. Subscription access to learning episodes on demand is the future.

Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to yourself when starting out?

When starting out, whatever your concept or your product is, you must do a lot of research into what the marketplace is like before you even begin to think about selling your product. Understand who is doing it already and examine if the market is saturated. For us, it wasn’t and so it was the perfect time to innovate as the pandemic created a pivot point.


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