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Gemba, an enterprise VR training platform used by Coca-Cola and Pfizer, raises $18 million TechCrunch

Gembaan enterprise-focused virtual reality (VR) training startup used by some of the world’s largest companies has raised $18 million in a Series A funding round.

Gemba designs and supplies so-called virtual “master classes” spanning topics such as supply chain management and lean production, collaborating with experts from the respective fields to deliver the courses that can last for several days. The main selling point behind Gemba’s programs is that they are designed to be as lifelike as possible, meaning they are delivered live and can facilitate real-time interactions between all participants.

“A Gemba masterclass is fully interactive: it’s 3D, immersive and we use the same software that makes 90% of video games (Unit),” Nathan Robinson, CEO of Gemba, told TechCrunch. “In Gemba you can roam freely, grab objects, participate in simulations – you can do everything you can do in real life, plus a lot more that you can’t do in real life.”

All participants have a corresponding avatar and they can participate almost anywhere, including from their office or living room.

“A typical masterclass is attended by 25 senior executives from cross-industry companies, such as VPs from Pfizer, Nike, Adidas, Dell, Volvo, Roche and more,” added Robinson. “It has one masterclass leader who is a recognized subject matter expert, and two guest speakers from companies such as Amazon and AstraZeneca.”

Gembe in action

While Gemba’s software currently only works with Meta’s Quest headsets, which it ships as part of the package, the company said it’s working on expanding support to all popular VR and AR devices by 2023.

The story so far

While the metaverse hype fueled by companies like Meta, Facebook’s parent company, may be a bit premature, it’s clear that VR, AR, and mixed reality have gained at least a bit more traction outside of gaming circles lately – the pandemic has may have played a role in this. In particular, training remains a central focus for many current VR applications, and investors have taken note.

Last month, for example, Loft Dynamics raised $20 million to address the helicopter pilot shortage with VR training, while medical simulation platform FundamentalVR raised $20 million to help surgeons learn through VR. And then there’s VRAI, which recently raised a modest $3.2 million to provide VR simulation training to hazardous industries such as the offshore wind sector.

Founded in 2010, initially as an executive training company called The Leadership Network, London-based Gemba changed to its current name last April as part of an ongoing transition away from its old training activities. While the pandemic may have bolstered Gemba’s ambitions in VR, in fact it had begun to shift its focus several years ago as it looked for new ways to capture and scale the knowledge of its workouts to thousands of users. Indeed, the company delivered its first VR enterprise training in 2019, with the masterclasses starting the following year.

“From inception to completion, this process took more than five years,” Robinson said. “In 2017, VR was still clunky, challenging and only really used in niche gaming, but all the ingredients for the metaverse were there. What we saw was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create immersive learning that feels as good as a face-to-face experience, with limitless creative possibilities, all the efficiency of a digital platform, and huge environmental and social benefits for a changing workforce.”

Gembe in action

All of its research and development through the pivot into VR was essentially self-funded from the profits it made from its traditional training programs, but now it wants to ramp things up and build on a foundation that has won major clients, including Coca-Cola. Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Nike, all of whom started out as Gemba clients in their traditional personal training business before moving into the VR realm with Gemba.

The main selling point for customers is that VR helps them eliminate travel time and costs, and also meet any corporate carbon-cutting commitments they may have. Gemba’s courses aren’t exactly cheap, though, with each masterclass costing around $7,250 per person per program, though corporate subscriptions are available from around $120,000 for a 50-person team per year, rising to $1.2 million for larger scale unroll.

Participants also get to keep their Meta Quest headset at the end of the program, though companies on the enterprise plan buy the headsets separately and reuse them for future programs.

With $18 million in the bank, representing its first-ever outside financing, Gemba said it plans to accelerate its growth in the EMEA region and eventually expand into the North American market. Indeed, Gemba’s Series A round was led by New York-based Parkway Venture Capital, which has previously invested in Lyft, Intel-owned Mobileye, Coursera, and China’s Didi, among others.

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