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The VR Way To Train

By Johanna Cano, posted Nov 20, 2020
Jenson8, a startup with U.S. headquarters at the UNCW CIE, aims to better engage participants through corporate and leadership training that is refashioned with virtual reality. (Photo c/o Pixababy)
The problem: Corporate training is not effective due to slide presentations, classroom-style settings and Zoom meetings that create low engagement. The solution: providing employee training through immersive virtual reality. That is a quick snapshot of Jenson8 provided by founder Jena Davidson during a presentation introducing and welcoming the England-based company to Wilmington.
 
Jenson8 is a human resources technology company that is establishing its United States base at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This was facilitated through a partnership with Seahawk Innovation, a public-private organization that funds startups with the goal of helping them launch, grow and exit.
 
“Long before the pandemic began, Jena anticipated that remote working was not simply a fad and would become the new normal,” Tobin Geatz, co-founder of Seahawk Innovation, said in an email. “Knowing that dispersed teams need real experiences to improve together, she developed the Jenson8 Apollo Virtual Reality platform for training and leadership development.”
 
Jenson8 has developed a platform that allows participants to learn skills like teamwork, problem-solving, communication and more while participating in a gameplay scenario such as launching a rocket. Through using the Oculus VR headset, participants can experience training through navigating a virtual environment complete with 3D graphics.
 
What makes the experience more effective than traditional corporate training, according to Davidson, is the ability to participate live – and virtually – with teammates, review what you did right and wrong through personalized feedback and practice skills through repetition.
 
Being able to have engaging training is even more important now with employees working remotely during the pandemic, Davidson said.
 
“How do you engage people? In a workshop, it’s much easier to do that when you’ve got them in the same room, where you can kind of look them in the eye and ask them questions,” Davidson said during the presentation. “But when you’re in a position where everyone is sitting at home and you need to engage people and keep them engaged, that’s a really difficult thing to do.
 
“This is where Jenson8 has a real clear competitive edge in the markets. We’ve been able to create a platform that very much is about experiential learning in a virtual way. We are able to keep our clients engaged,” she added.
 
Davidson is an entrepreneur who has had a nearly 20-year career as an executive coach and team leadership development consultant.
 
One key component of the program is the psychometric report that participants are able to get based on their performance, she said.
 
Jenson8 formed a partnership with the UNCW psychology department earlier this year that funded the installation of a full VR lab for leadership development.
 
“This partnership has resulted in research that proves the validity of the system for assessment, training and coaching,” Geatz said.
 
Data is provided through its Apollo Client Feedback Report, which includes an overview of onboarding psychometrics guided by Jenson8’s ability to predict workplace performance, according to its website.
 
“This is where Jenson8 and the university really came together to create something exceptionally different and it’s a real differentiator in the market,” Davidson said. “So not only can we learn through doing, but at the end of that, you had your psychometric report.”
 
The company has already garnered a local client, Bill Treasurer of Giant Leap Consulting in Asheville, a firm that provides leadership development, strategic planning, team building and more services to businesses.
 
“She [Davidson] showed me what was going on and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is really futuristic. It’s where training needs to go because we need distributed ways of reaching people,’” Treasurer said. “It’s way more economical than flying people into a workshop location.”
 
Its partnership with Seahawk Innovation has helped drive the company’s growth, Davidson said.
 
“Where we are now to where we were nine months ago, I think that the business is so much more, and we have moved quicker than I ever thought we would. It’s becoming something that I didn’t even know we were going to get to,” Davidson said. “That is certainly down to the relationship that I’ve built with Tobin and the relationship as well with the university.”
 
To continue this growth, Davidson hopes to get investors and appeal to its target market: large training companies and business schools around the world.
 
Jenson8 was slated to have a formal launch at the CIE this fall but was unable to due to the pandemic. Of her earlier visit to Wilmington, Davidson said she enjoyed her time.
 
Geatz said, “Despite the pandemic, Wilmington continues to be a shining star, attracting entrepreneurship through our quality-of-place benefits and the resources of the university.”
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