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VR startup MetaSim raises €500K from Eleven Ventures to help managers improve their soft skills

Mitko Yankov and Stephen Bowman, Co-founders of MetaSim.
Image credit: Mitko Yankov (left) and Stephen Bowman (right), co-founders of MetaSim.
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Virtual Reality may soon be our new normal as technology develops and finds business cases in more and more industries. Today, the British-Bulgarian founded company for soft-skills corporate training MetaSim, based on VR, closed a €500K seed round from the Sofia-based Eleven Ventures.  

Metasim was founded right before the start of the pandemic by a team of two Bulgarian and two British visionaries. Building on their combined expertise in the visual technologies, corporate, and startup worlds. MetaSim merges VR technology with behavioral science to speed up the learning curve of employees. The immersive and gamified solution of the company allows medium and large-sized businesses to boost their revenue growth and foster a more attractive company culture. 

“The founding team of MetaSim is very well rounded bringing solid experience in building companies, as well as in VR, commercial, and innovation space. We are big believers that a market wave is coming and it will give rise to new players in the big and growing training market. Advances in technology such as VR/AR, AI/deep learning will redefine the landscape and give rise to more immersive and personalized training. Moving forward, companies will have to find new ways to train and onboard employees without sacrificing the quality of the experience and hence the need for a much more realistic experience,” Vassil Terziev, Managing Partner at Eleven Ventures says. 

The Recursive met with Mitko Yankov, co-founder and CEO of MetaSim, to learn more about how the learning platform of the startup engages with users on cognitive, behavioral, and emotional levels. 

How VR can help solve the performance management skills issue

Having worked in the corporate world for nearly thirty years, Yankov explains that he has been a people leader most of his career, but has also witnessed the negative top-down effect of emotionally unskilled management teams. The idea to get into grips with solving the issues he has long observed came when he was introduced to VR at an event. After seeing from first perspective what VR can do, he decided to switch careers and trade his corporate life for entrepreneurship.   

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“At that moment the coin dropped for me and the vision for MetaSim crystallized. I thought that if there are companies which develop simulation software for firefighters, policemen, and mechanical engineers to train them how to cope with hazardous situations or build sophisticated machines, why shouldn’t it be possible for the same technology to be used for corporate soft skills training,” Yankov remembers. 

Тhe problem MetaSim is solving is the inconsistency of people and performance management skills among a wide and distributed community of managers. According to Terziev, this represents one of the biggest blockers of performance improvement and business transformation. This challenge is exacerbated by the lack of scalable and effective alternatives to high-impact teaching methods, like classroom training, in the emerging distributed/hybrid workplace model.

From a technical perspective, MetaSim is a SaaS company that develops software and provides businesses with a catalog of simulations of real-life situations. In practice, their software can be used with any VR hardware, but MetaSim has chosen to work with Oculus because they are cheaper and more advanced.

The VR startup has a B2B business model and their software is usually sold as part of corporate development packages. The catalog of the company aims to increase the expertise of employees in leadership positions in giving feedback, critical thinking, social inclusion and diversity, risk and crisis management. The final goal of the whole exercise is to help them gain situational awareness so that next time they enter into a specific situation they are not thinking “I have been trained for this before” but instead they think “I have been in that situation before”. 

How does VR corporate training work

According to Yankov, when it comes to VR simulations of technical skills, like assembling or servicing a wind turbine, there is no need to develop realistic human avatars.”What I mean is that you can make a complex model of a machine and simulate some basic human avatars with cartoonish hands, or no hands, with or without voice, because the end goal is to teach a mechanical skill, which doesn’t require engaging the parts of the brain that are responsible for human interactions,” he says. 

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On the other hand, in order to relay a real-world human interaction experience, like public speaking or giving feedback, MetaSim makes it possible for trainees to interact with avatars that are realistic enough, so that they feel as if they are talking with a real person. The software of MetaSim synchronizes different factors such as lip movement, voice, facial expression, hands and body motion in order to reach the parts of the human brain that are engaged only when a human is standing in front of another human. 

“Practicing in front of the mirror for a public speaking event is one thing, but when you actually stand in front of a real audience, that’s a completely different story. Everything that happens during moments like these sticks in the long-term memory of the presenter because the emotions triggered by the experience translate to acquiring specific skills and knowledge,” Yankov explains.

What comes next for MetaSim

Currently, MetaSim is launching its first product after doing a pilot project with a couple of clients. Yankov shares that at the start of their journey, they were not fully convinced that people would adopt VR in the context of corporate training, but their hypothesis has now been validated. 

MetaSim plans to release its product for commercial use at the beginning of 2022. The learning software will first become available to UK companies from all kinds of industries that employ knowledge workers. 

Having bootstrapped the initial development of the company, the co-founders of MetaSim plan to use the €500K investment of Eleven Ventures to expand their team, which is currently based in Bulgaria, as well as to renew and increase their inventory of specialized hardware, and expand the simulation offerings on its catalog. 

“Hopefully, by sharing our own experience in the VR industry, we would spark more regional interest towards the growing potential of VR to become an integral part of our economic, social, and personal lives. This is a whole new world that will no longer be limited to entertainment and commerce, but also solve real-world problems and help people live a happier life,” Yankov concludes. 

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive, an online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. She is keen on sharing the innovation stories that shape the regional ecosystem and has a great interest in fintech, IoT, and biotech startups. Elena is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria.