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Young Cardiff entrepreneurs see VR and AI business prosper in the pandemic

Two Cardiff University graduates who launched their own virtual reality firm for the education, property and retail sector are using their enterprise to help tackle some of the challenges facing businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and entering new markets as a result.

George Bellwood, 25, along with his co-founder Robin David, 24, created Virtus Tech, a B2B company which uses virtual and augmented reality to tour universities, retailers, and view homes on the market, blending real and digital experiences for customers and homebuyers.

George and Robin have developed their business idea with the help of Big Ideas Wales, part of Business Wales and funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea, including students and graduates.

Since its launch in 2018, Virtus Tech has gone from strength to strength, expanding into new markets and adding clients to its portfolio such as the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Cardiff University, and co-working venue Tramshed Tech.

Virtus Tech is one of thousands of businesses in Wales that have been affected in some way by the coronavirus pandemic. When the first lockdown took place, George and Robin were unable to visit client’s sites to capture the images they needed to create the VR tours, which inspired them to design their own tour customisation platform enabling clients to create their own tours.

However, after the initial impact, the company’s services have proved timely and relevant, allowing universities and businesses that have had to close during the pandemic to step into the digital realm, reaching new customers online.

During the pandemic, Virtus Tech was approached by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David to build an extensive digital tour of its three main campuses in Carmarthen, Lampeter and Swansea, each with buildings of around 100 rooms or more.

George said: “Since open days were cancelled, a virtual tour was the most effective way to not only show the campuses and facilities that the university offers but also to demonstrate to current and prospective students what the university is doing to ensure a safe environment and follow government guidelines.

“Working closely with the University’s project managers, it took over a week to film the entire university, but now we can say that, to date, the UK’s largest bespoke virtual tour for an education institution was built by Virtus Tech”.

He continued: “In the property industry, Virtus Tech allows you to tour prospective houses before visiting, not only saving time for both the estate agent and buyers but also minimising face to face contact. In the hospitality sector, VR is used to advertise hotels, event centres or experiences for our client’s customers.”

Talking about Big Ideas Wales which has supported him on his business journey, George said: “I learnt about Big Ideas Wales through Cardiff University’s Enterprise Champion Claire Parry-Witchell who referred me to a business advisor at Big Ideas Wales. During university and since I graduated, the service has offered me invaluable support every step of the way. It’s reassuring to know that I can pick up the phone and ask for advice whenever I might need it.”

Virtus Tech has already rolled out a new service, which uses machine learning and image recognition allowing clients to gain greater insights with their tours. The new platform has proven to be a worthwhile addition to their services, as it monitors how effective the tours are with customers.

George explained: “By giving clients access to our real time Digi Data dashboard this enables them to increase user engagement with the tours. Through machine learning we are able to help clients make more informed decisions using state transition models and time series forecasting.”

Claire Parry-Witchell, Enterprise Officer at Cardiff University, who referred George to Big Ideas Wales, said: “In just two years, George has made huge strides in developing his business. As a savvy businessperson, George has been able to turn this challenging year for so many businesses into a success for his company, entering new markets as a result. Consistent client wins and the employment of a new member of the team is testament to the hard work George has put into Virtus Tech.”

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