Focus MRS, a mixed-reality virtual learning platform, has secured a £150,000 seed investment from Jenson Funding Partners, the startup investment firm. The technology is designed to enhance the teaching of practical subjects, such as construction, barbering and personal training, with educators able to pre-record or stream 360-degree videos for students in another location.
Focus MRS is the brainchild of co-founders Mark Paddock and Damian Chan. For years, the vocational training specialists had successfully been running courses for disadvantaged learners, probationers, youth offenders and those unemployed long-term, but found the pandemic stalled the business.
The 2020 lockdown and resultant closure of colleges, gyms and other locations used for lessons meant classes couldn’t go ahead in the usual form. Mark found that while Zoom, Teams and Meet proved successful for subjects such as English and Maths, it was a different story for hairdressing, fitness qualifications and bricklaying. This was the inspiration for Focus MRS, with Mark realising it was time to pivot the business and solve what had become an industry-wide problem.
On a mission to make mixed-reality virtual learning accessible to everyone with a smartphone, Focus MRS sidesteps costly HoloLens and Oculus headsets by using Google Cardboard and rubber smartphone VR viewers to transport students to different environments. Educators are provided a 360-degree camera, with which they can capture the lesson and upload it to the Focus MRS platform. Students can then log in, review their lesson timetable, select the lecture, then slip on their viewer.
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Alongside customers such as the South Staffordshire College Group, Everton FC School successfully used the system last year when many students were home with COVID-19. Focus MRS ensured the continuity of training as the tutor leveraged the 360-degree camera on the pitch to give remote learners an immersive coaching experience, allowing them to stay on top of tactics, shooting and drills.
Focus MRS technology has also worked around restrictions such as the rule of six. The Barbers No 1 Academy had a handful of students present with a tutor for training, with a second group streaming the lesson at home. The next day, the groups would rotate, allowing the remote cohort to then complete their practical work. The model worked so positively that the Academy has now increased the group size to 15 practical and 15 remote, growing opportunities for the students and revenue for the customer.
Mark Paddock, CEO and founder, Focus MRS, says: “Even before the pandemic, we recognised a market gap between video conferencing tools and VR headsets, where there could have been a suitable remote learning option to teach practical subjects. Lockdown really focused us on the issue and forced us to develop a solution.
“We’re thrilled to have found the support of Jenson Funding Partners, an investor that understands what we stand for and a partner that’s enabled us to scale from our beta product to full commercial rollout. With Focus MRS, you don’t have to buy a £2,500 headset to support each learner and it’s our mission to make hands-on education accessible to everyone. With just a smartphone and Google Cardboard or our rubber viewer, students can experience a mixed-reality immersive educational experience.”
The investment from Jenson will be used to build out the development team and purchase new equipment to enhance the product even further. The addition of augmented reality holograms will make the Focus experience even more immersive, as tutors will soon be able to add additional layers to streams which students can engage with, prompting a question, advice or voice note to appear.
Looking ahead, Focus MRS will also continue to advance its pipeline of upcoming projects and partnerships. The latest of these campaigns has been with virtual work experience provider Springpod, which supported 60,000 16 to 18-year-old students to become apprentices in AstraZeneca, the NHS, Nestle and Airbus during the Easter half-term. This allows pupils to access restricted labs and hangars but in a safe environment.
Jeffrey Faustin, CIO at Jenson Funding Partners, says: “Whether it’s a solo tutor wanting to offer an immersive experience, a small training provider with 50 students and the desire to add more student capacity, or a college or university with thousands of students, Focus MRS is able to meet those needs. That versatility really stood out to us, with the concept inspired by the pandemic but outliving it with such incredible potential to evolve practical learning as we know it. We’re really excited to be part of the mission to make mixed-reality education accessible for all.”