Jobs boom as tech firm grows to $40m
A Brisbane virtual reality start-up has won a slice of the US's $3 trillion investment in renewing the country's crumbling infrastructure.
Next World Enterprises will use its suite of virtual reality training software to help instruct the next generation of US engineers in safety standards as they build bridges, highways and other infrastructure as part of President Joe Biden's Build it Back Better program.
Next World chief executive Michael O'Reilly said the firm had partnered with the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to help roll out the safety training.
"President Biden sees the infrastructure program as an opportunity to build the country out of COVID-19 and put a lot of people to work," said Mr O'Reilly.
"We will be using VR to train people in hazardous material handling, working at heights and other safety procedures."
The training provided by Next World could include anything from the safe operation of a chainsaw to how to use a fire extinguisher.
"VR is not just about games these days," Mr O'Reilly said. "It can be used in medical services and health and safety compliance. Rather than just observing from afar the person is more engaged."
Mr O'Reilly said Next World's value had soared from $5m to $38.8m over the past year and was well on its way to becoming a "unicorn", or billion dollar start-up.
The company plans to double staff to 30 by the end of the year.
"Breaking into the US market is an important milestone for Next World as virtual reality training continues to expand," Mr O'Reilly said.
"We would aim to be a unicorn by 2027. "Virtual reality software is getting cheaper and the hardware is getting better. We are close to a tipping point with giant companies like BHP now having whole floors devoted to virtual reality and artificial intelligence."
Founded in 2018 by Mr O'Reilly, Next World has experienced growth of 500 per cent over the past year as local councils, mining firms and construction groups seek its services.
The company has about 100 customers including John Holland Group, Burke Shire Council, Urban Utilities and The Iconic.
"It has really taken off in the last couple of months particularly as COVID has meant that people could not be sent off site to get training done," said Mr O'Reilly.
Mr O'Reilly said the partnership with the UDC in the middle of a pandemic was the perfect example of allowing people to "learn anywhere and at any time."
He said virtual reality workplace training was shown to be 85 per cent more effective than other text-based methods of instruction.
That meant graduates entering a worksite after being trained by Next World were overwhelmingly less likely to be involved in a workplace incident. President Biden's eight-year spending program, includes $620bn for transportation, a doubling of federal funding for public transit, and $650bn for programs like high-speed broadband and clean, lead-free water. Top US official Chris Lu, who is heading the Biden Transition Team, said the partnership was an evolution from the "train and pray" model prevalent in the current American workplace.
"It will provide practical application of fundamental health and safety lessons with a strategy focused on risk-based prevention and preparedness in the workplace, which will help battle high unemployment rates in the US," Mr Lu said.