The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for virtual solutions to help organizations continue their operations while maintaining health and safety. A Louisiana company that took part in a startup accelerator implemented by Winrock International is filling this need by working with organizations to craft virtual, immersive compliance training programs that resemble video games. The company has even been invited by a Department of Defense program to take part in efforts to innovate solutions to COVID-19.
The company, Digital Twin Studios (DTS), was born following the participation of co-founders Shane Istre and Jason Perkins in the 2017 Accelerate Acadiana startup accelerator. The accelerator was funded by a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and more than $1 million in matching funding from local partners the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, and the Community Foundation of Acadiana. Winrock International and these local partners implemented the accelerator, which focused on helping Louisiana startups identify and pursue growth strategies to scale their businesses.
While taking part in the accelerator, Istre and Perkins were exposed to industry mentors and local business experts, some of whom invest in DTS. With the help of program advisors, DTS also fine-tuned their pitching skills so that they could better capitalize on future investment opportunities. Ultimately, DTS won the pitch contest at the close of Accelerate Acadiana.
Before the accelerator, virtual training products were only a small part of Istre and Perkins’ original business, which focused on traditional training at a physical training facility. The founders soon realized, though, that these products had growth potential. In early 2018, they sold their business, retained their intellectual property and founded Digital Twin Studios to focus exclusively on the development of customized virtual training solutions for companies and organizations. It was an aggressive move that positioned the young startup for big growth. Today their clients include large brands like Shell, Hewlett-Packard and Virgin Hotels, as well as the Louisiana Department of Health.
Traditionally, compliance trainings have been conducted in a classroom environment or with expensive field simulations that could pose real risks to trainers and trainees. That type of training often requires travel expenses, additional staff time, and the costly use of equipment and facilities.
Virtual training provides an alternative that saves time and money, as well as boosts learning retention. In a virtual, risk-free learning environment, the learner’s fear and anxiety can be suppressed, and learners can develop both the experiential and muscle memory that improve retention.
“We are able to put individuals in high-risk scenarios safely so that when they encounter those same scenarios in the real world they are able to respond calmly and confidently,” says DTS Chief Marketing Officer and Vice-President Marcus Brown, who met the DTS founders while they participated in Accelerate Acadiana. “The immediate fear of the unknown is replaced with a sense of familiarity.”
Recently, DTS started a phase one project with the Department of Defense as part of the department’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Established by Congress in 1982, the SBIR program works to increase the participation of small businesses in federal research and development. In doing so, these small companies innovate products and services they can commercialize through sales to the private sector or the government.
Through its participation with SBIR, DTS has been invited to participate in providing new solutions in response to COVID-19 by taking part in the Unite and Fight COVID-19 National Response Team. DTS is offering its virtual expertise to assist federal agencies and communities with risk-free, contactless training solutions in their COVID-19 response. In addition, the company is thinking ahead and exploring how their virtual training technology can help organizations adapt to the new health and safety mandates of a post-COVID world.
“We’re looking at new COVID responses as individuals return back to work in restaurants, kitchens, hotels,” explains Brown. “We can help companies and organizations adapt to the new normal with regard to health, sanitation and social distancing.”
For many organizations, especially those in the energy and health sectors, compliance with continuing education training requirements keeps employees and entire communities safe. Two years after their Winrock-supported pivot to virtual training solutions, DTS is now helping industry standard-bearers and federal agencies strengthen their resilience and adapt to unprecedented change.