Before Doug Donovan talks about the technology behind Interplay Learning’s virtual reality and 3D training program, he asks people to recall the color of their living room carpet.
It’s not so much the color he’s interested in, but the process the person took to recall it. Within those fractions of seconds, before an answer comes to mind, the brain first recreates the room. The color is so easy to recall, he explains, because it is grounded in a sense of place, one of the most powerful tools for recollection.
The fact that you can recreate that space is a powerful tool for retention and recall.”
That’s what Interplay Learning’s 3D and virtual reality training program for the skilled trades attempts to tap into, said Donovan, who’s the company’s CEO.
“We can put your brain in a space that mimics a real-world environment and repeats a scenario-based training,” Donovan said. “That’s very different from reading about it in a textbook or sitting at a computer. The fact that you can recreate that space is a powerful tool for retention and recall.”
It’s a tool doctors, pilots and the military have been using for years, but Interplay Learning aims to make it more accessible to the skilled trades. After eight years of honing its training platform, the company announced on Tuesday that it has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding to bring its platform to a larger market.
“This funding should allow us to really establish a consistent go-to-market effort,” Donovan said. “It’ll enable us to get this technology in front of not just the HVAC industry but the electrical, plumbing and facility maintenance industries. If we do things right, it should establish Interplay Learning as a go-to brand and company for effective skilled training.”
Founded in 2011, the Austin-based company set out to help the trades industry tackle its skill gap challenge through simulations. Hands-on training can be timely and expensive, while textbooks do little to prepare engineers or HVAC workers for the real world, Donovan said.
Interplay Learning drops an HVAC worker into a back yard with a faulty unit or lets an electrical engineer dig into a tangle of wires, allowing them to apply their training and gain hands-on experience from their desks. The training experience is available on desktops, tablets and VR devices.
The funding round comes on the heels of a growth spurt for the company. The company’s user-base has grown 40 percent month over month, and it recently signed deals with three major HVAC manufacturers, according to the company.
To build on that momentum and tap into a larger market, Donovan said the company, which employs 24 people, plans to add 20 more jobs by next year, mostly in sales and marketing.
S3 Ventures led the round with participation from SJF Ventures, Sierra Ventures, Wild Basin Investments, Shelter Capital Partners, Shasta Ventures and Holt Ventures. As part of the round, S3 Ventures partner Charlie Plauche will join Interplay Learning’s Board of Directors.