Australian content and tech agency The Pulse has received a $559,000 commercialisation grant from the federal government to help it develop and sell its virtual reality education platform.
While The Pulse was founded in 1996, the company’s VR-focused venture – The Pulse IQ – is “almost a spin-off business”, according to managing director Brett Heil, and is very startup-minded.
“Three years ago we made a group decision to create a startup culture within the business to help us reinvent ourselves, and The Pulse IQ is the first product to come out of that,” he tells StartupSmart.
“We wanted to move away from project-based work and into our own IP and products. We’ve treated it like a startup, we think of it as a startup, and we all have that startup mentality.”
The Pulse IQ is a virtual reality platform aimed at students, allowing them to collaboratively interact and learn in a virtual environment through the use of multiple VR headsets. It was born three years ago after Heil and his team saw the opportunity as VR tech became increasingly more accessible.
It’s a more tech-focused play than the creative agency is used to, but Heil explains he believes the future for Pulse exists in platform models and software development, rather than just “trying to develop apps”. He says the team recognised multiple aspects of VR which made it appropriate for education and training.
“We use the RIDE acronym: if something is Risky, Impossible, Dangerous, or Expensive, it’s prime to be replaced by a virtual experience, and those experiences can make people learn much quicker than if they were learning traditionally by pen and paper,” he says.
Over $1.1 million for development
The $559,862 grant was given to The Pulse from the federal government’s Entrepreneur’s Programme, which has provided companies over $140 million in matched funding since 2015. The Pulse’s grant was included in a recent $5.4 million tranche of commercialisation grants announced by innovation minister Michaelia Cash.
“Whether it’s invested in prototyping and design, product trials or exploring export market opportunities, we are helping more Australian businesses become innovation success stories,” Cash said in a statement.
“These grants are supporting projects across a wide range of industry sectors and many are already achieving success in global markets.”
The Pulse IQ has received some interest from Samsung and has formed partnerships with Microsoft and schools IT services provider Somerville. The company is currently pre-revenue and will aim to use the government’s grant to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” of its software and begin selling it into schools before tackling international expansion.
“The platform has been designed to have a universal application, and to be able to be set up and accessed globally,” he says.
Although the grant is providing The Pulse with a $1.1 million opportunity to spur on the development of its new platform, Heil admits the company would have never heard of the grant if not for their R&D tax agent alerting them to it.
The documentation process for the application was “very rigorous” says Heil, taking a lot of work, time, and brainpower to complete: something that he was thankful for in the end.
“It’s a great way to think of literally every aspect of your product design, marketing, sales strategy. It was definitely worthwhile to go through,” he says.
“Until then we hadn’t validated our market basis, apart from people just telling us they wanted the product.”
This is why Heil advises startups to find a switched on-agent who knows what they’re doing. He also warns founders to be prepared to roll up their sleeves when applying for grants.
“It takes a lot of hard work and hard thinking, and it will probably take longer than you might expect,” he says.
Once the product picks up steam, Heil says the company will be looking for a line of venture capital to help them take it global.