SilVR Adventures founder and director Colin Pudsey says his company’s target audience should not be underestimated.
The Melbourne-based startup provides communal virtual reality (VR) sessions for seniors in aged-care facilities in order to reduce loneliness and isolation, and drive social engagement among residents.
The SilVR team have curated a library of content that encompasses three areas: travelling the world, taking on new adventures, and “reminiscence therapy”, which connects the software to Google Maps in order to fulfil user requests related to revisiting childhood homes, shops and streets they used to frequent.
Pudsey says requests from residents have not just involved sitting on benches and looking at flowers.
“Recently, there was a lady who has wanted to fly an aeroplane but was too scared. In a group setting, she was willing to do this. Using VR, we managed to get the group to experience flying an aeroplane. A month later, they were jumping out of it,” he tells SmartCompany.
“There are misconceptions that seniors and technologies don’t mix, but one of the residents is 99, English is not her first language, and she absolutely loves it. There’s a level of trust and confidence you need in terms of getting them comfortable but, once they are, the world is their oyster.”
Self-funded with a $20,000 capital investment in 2019 — and with a revenue model that relies on a set-up fee for the equipment, and a subscription service for the software and content library — Pudsey says the SilVR Adventures team has “bootstrapped their way to a really strong position”.
After running thousands of sessions, he says the program is now self-serviced by more than 50 aged-care providers, including five of the 10 largest aged-care provides across Australia.
“The dollar amount we invested is less significant than the hours and sweat that gets it off the ground,” Pudsey says.
“Now, we’re certainly going through a growth phase.”
“More of a slow burn”
With everyone stuck at home amid COVID-19 and the possibilities for travel seeming to be a distant prospect, Pudsey doesn’t suggest VR may replace tourism.
But, he says there is great potential for the technology to aid in planning trips and sampling aspects of the experience.
“When VR was first launched, there was a sense of optimism and excitement that it would take over the world, but it’s been more a slow burn,” he says.
However, it’s evolving all the time in terms of the software, hardware and content. And, for people who are no longer able to access certain sites, it has the ability to bring them to these places — or somewhere completely new that they’ve always wanted to go to, which is magical.
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“As that technology evolves and [becomes] more immersive … people who can travel may weigh [it up against] the costs and convenience of doing it through VR,” says the founder.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen problems related to loneliness and social isolation become more acute, and Pudsey says it has led an uptick in business enquiries for the service.
“During the first month, not much changed as the essential priority was to keep people safe,” he says
“But, over the last month, there have been five times as many enquiries on a weekly basis for our service, and we are converting a high percentage of those.
“Our focus is on seniors and aged care at the moment, but we may expand to other sectors of care as there are different audiences [for our product] out there.”
Passing the threshold
With a team of fewer than 10 employees, Pudsey says SilVR Adventures has received enquiries from aged-care providers overseas, and is looking to expand beyond Australia and New Zealand in the next 12 months.
Although the startup is currently working with content providers, the team is also looking to evolve the software and produce their own content in the future.
“When the time is right and the goals and objectives are clear, I’ll look for the right investors to bring to the business,” says Pudsey.
“But it’s overwhelming to think that you can take people anywhere in the world and have them share all these experiences when, for a lot of these people, they thought that door had closed.
“It’s very powerful for us as a service provider to deliver that experience to someone.”