Towards our mission of democratizing inspiration, it is our pleasure to share the leadership journey of Rick Martin, the co-founder of Equal Reality which leverages VR to train people on diversity, inclusion and sexual harassment prevention. He will be leading a Network Capital meetup in Bangalore on Jan 27.
“I am a co-founder of Equal Reality, we do Diversity and Inclusion training in Virtual Reality (VR). We create VR experiences which literally allow you to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” to learn what it is like to experience discrimination or sexual harassment.
Before working at Equal Reality, I had been lucky to have had international study and work experiences. I was able to experience an entire spectrum of cultures in both work and life. My journey had taken me to Wall Street as a stockbroker, London at Bloomberg in analytics and sales, Malaysia at an Islamic law firm, and Sydney at IBM in tech sales. For me, I really saw the importance of an inclusive work culture, which I believe largely influenced me to co-found Equal Reality.
How Equal Reality began
I came back to my home town of Wollongong at the end of 2016, and by this stage I had really developed a passion for culture and inclusion, as well as technology. Interestingly, I met Annie and Brennan who were working on what was probably the first fully mixed reality game in the world, where you could play in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and mobile at the same time. They had both recently left Silicon Valley where they were building technology for Augmented and Virtual reality. Brennan was one of the first employees at Augmented Reality company Meta, and Annie was one of the first working on Augmented reality tech at Intel. I was really curious about this technology and became obsessed with learning everything I could about it.
The lightbulb moment with VR for me was when I experienced a VR application Brennan had made with artist Daniel Breda, I was able to interact with Daniel’s artwork within VR (which existed in the real world) and experience his places of inspiration, such as being in outer space. I was able to do this in the HTC Vive (high-end VR headset), and was completely immersed and present in the experience. Interestingly, I felt like I had actually been to space and touched the artwork. Only then did I truly appreciate just how much VR was going to propel experiential learning (enough for me to make the jump from the corporate world to the entrepreneur space).
Whilst working with Annie and Brennan in a previous venture we discovered that we all shared a collective commitment to impact education for a more inclusive workplace, and society. Annie had come up with the idea to create unconscious bias training in VR at a Hackathon at the end of 2016, and as a consequence we researched and interviewed industry experts about the current landscape for diversity, inclusion and harassment education and saw that outcomes were exceptionally poor. We knew the power of VR to tell stories and deliver concepts, and we knew that VR had the potential to bolster current education through powerful immersive learning, if done in the right way. We wanted to improve the way concepts and education could be delivered, and we formed Equal Reality at the beginning of 2017.
Entrepreneurship learnings – baptism of fire
Around the time of Equal Reality’s formation I was lucky enough to be among the 2% accepted into MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, a week long course focusing on Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship principles. Our schedule was 7am-3am (with only 3 hours sleep a night!), although intense it was worth every moment. This course forged a strong foundation for my entrepreneurship journey and really drives a lot of our company’s direction even today. One of the biggest takeaways for me, was around the most crucial element for a startup’s success, Bill Aulet asserts that the importance of a startup’s idea is overrated, and that the most important elements to a business is the team and it’s execution, before the idea. This really started to make sense to me, when looking at success stories like Slack, or Facebook, where ideas that were definitely not the first of their kind, were the most successful in the long run. The course also highlighted the value of having a disciplined approach to entrepreneurship, which is not always an exact science. One of the key learnings that stood out for me was the value of primary market research – constantly talking to customers or your target market without bias or expectation in order to understand the real problems, which are often not those that are initially assumed. We are always aiming to get as much PMR as possible to ensure we are solving problems and not just building “cool tech”.
These concepts were further drilled into our team when we went through the Remarkable incubator (one of two disability/inclusive focused startup incubators in the world). We took Primary Market Research importance so seriously that when we started in Remarkable, Brennan (social media beast) actually connected with over 4000 Diversity and Inclusion experts/professionals and the team interviewed on average about 3-4 people every working day on the topic for around a month to understand the landscape and problems. The Remarkable program was exceptionally valuable, it attracted a lot mentors, advisors, and entrepreneurs with a lot of skills, knowledge and importantly, integrity. The program’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Ben Reid is now an official advisor of Equal Reality.
In September 2017, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to put these entrepreneurship principles to the test at the UN’s Unleash Innovation Lab 2017 (essentially a week long hackathon with a thousand people, coming up with business solutions to solve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with a shark-tank style pitch at the end). I believe the learnings were significant in helping our team to innovate a winning business idea, creating equality for the hearing impaired in Kenya, called Hear-oes on Demand.
At Equal Reality we are constantly establishing deep relationships, we are now working with corporates, military, and consultancies building out custom experiences, and starting trials of the VR learning. Back in May 2017, the team released the world’s first Diversity and Inclusion training on the VR app store (Viveport), which trended as the most popular Education and Business application across the globe. We are in the process of releasing some major updates on the application soon, and continue to really push the technology ahead, eventually enabling other content creators to create VR content.
What are we creating (more technical explanation)
The technology we are building is a software tool that we use to build our VR and AR applications. It is the real secret sauce behind what we are creating. The software tool allows for much quicker and easier creation of simulations in VR (and AR). The experiences we generate at the moment are focused on social interactions, data collection for learning, and feedback (eye/head gaze attention, when you recognise instances bias/harassment) and will later integrate more and more interactions such as voice input and decision trees, for further immersion and learning feedback. We expect the technology to be equally applicable to other types of learning that benefit from simulations (particularly with humans) to gain experience.
Our experiences are all computer generated (CG), we strongly believe that the future value of AR/VR tech will be with CG and animation for truly interactive and immersive environments, rather than 360 video (which is not interactive, and is a more traditional form of media). In the coming years AR and VR will change how we learn, and how we work.
Recently the team customized some early phase learning experiences for the Royal Australian Navy, focusing on sexual harassment, gender biased, and racially biased behavior within the military workplace context. The VR application was showcased to the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Navy, which is going to be piloted early 2018 as an element of a training course, with the intention to further develop the VR learning.
Here is a short video on the application: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaQVYw1XnXQ
What we are doing now
Currently, Equal Reality is a member of Hotdesq program in Brisbane and was given funding by the Queensland state government, and one of the 15 Australian startups recently selected for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield. The team is excited about the next stage of our technology, customer, and partnership development. We are planning to release a standalone Diversity and Inclusion training VR product that will be available to anyone for download some time later this year.
We are passionate about the inclusive culture, technology and education, and currently looking to build our team with people aligned with our mission. If you are interested in learning more, Virtual Reality training for Diversity and Inclusion check out our website at Equalreality.com, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.”