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VRAI: Irish simulation company dealing with the reality of Brexit

Case Study: Company uses VR and AI to develop training programmes for IAG and RAF

The team at VRAI: ‘The UK is our single biggest market focus on simulation training in defence and security, aerospace and offshore wind,’ says managing director Pat O’Connor (bottom right)

The team at VRAI: ‘The UK is our single biggest market focus on simulation training in defence and security, aerospace and offshore wind,’ says managing director Pat O’Connor (bottom right)

 

VRAI is a data-driven simulation company that combines virtual reality and artificial intelligence to make simulation training more “authentic, memorable and measurable”. Its high-profile international clients would agree; VRAI has worked with IAG in Heathrow Airport and the United Nations in Somalia, and is currently working with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

“The UK is our single biggest market focus on simulation training in defence and security, aerospace and offshore wind,” explains managing director Pat O’Connor. “It is the number one offshore wind market in the world and, in terms of our customers like the Royal Air Force or IAG in Heathrow Airport, these are globally recognised and leading organisations.”

Though the result of the Brexit referendum in 2016 sent shockwaves through the Irish business community, it failed to alter VRAI’s future plans. O’Connor says that the company’s expansion into the UK proceeded regardless as management were determined not to allow the uncertainty surrounding the eventual Brexit transition impede the company’s growth and development.

“We generally take the approach that it’s not possible to predict the future, so all you can do is set your course, keep thinking about your operating context and then try to make good decisions as you meet obstacles, or if the context changes,” he says. “In terms of Brexit, no one really knew what way it would go up until Christmas week last year. What we did know was that, regardless of what was going to happen, we would remain focused on the UK market and needed to stay close to our customers.”

No-brainers

As part of this approach, VRAI explored options for the business that were essentially “no-brainers”, O’Connor explains. “For us, that meant establishing a UK company back in 2019 initially, and then opening a physical office and hiring our first three UK employees last year in the northeast of England.”

The nature of VRAI’s business means the customs and trade issues plaguing some companies largely do not apply. “Honestly, it hasn’t really caused us many problems, other than some delays in hardware deliveries, but, as our focus is on the software side, customs and borders have had very little effect on us,” O’Connor admits. “But, having registered as a UK company, opening a UK office and creating high-quality jobs in the UK helps mitigate the impact too. It definitely gives us options.”

O’Connor believes that the fundamental changes wrought by Brexit have forced many Irish SMEs to improve their business decision-making and contingency planning. He praises the support offered by Enterprise Ireland to those struggling with its implications.

“I think that will be a real positive side-effect from Brexit for the Irish SME sector. We have improved how we manage our businesses, we have built experience and resilience into our management teams and we have learned how to find opportunities within the turbulence.

“Just like before Brexit, the UK remains our single most important market, but we now need to start thinking about how to apply the lessons we have learned to other markets too if we are to continue to grow, drive exports, job creation and IP.”