Inspired by the raw challenges that comes with being an entrepreneur, Ulrico Grech-Cumbo – Co-founder and CEO of conservation-led immersive storytelling studio Habitat – has successfully married tech and nature through virtual reality. Habitat produces specialised virtual reality (VR) content that sends users on immersive wildlife experiences that both educate and evoke a sense of empathy. “By physically involving people in the stories and lives of wildlife and other humans, we can get them to care more, learn more and donate more,” Ulrico says. “We have been producing our own wildlife documentaries as well as immersive experiences for conservation NGOs which are used as fundraisers. We’ve wor-ked with WWF and Conservation International to do this, and they have broken fundraising records and achieved incredible ROIs as well.”
Ulrico has an interesting account of his first VR pitch which involved a bank, some wood and a concert – the stuff bad jokes are made of. Lucky for him, it served as a spring board for his company Deep VR which forms part of Habitat today. “One day I pitched the idea of VR – with no show reel or credentials – to a bank,” says Ulrico. “They asked if it could be used to film a jazz concert. I had no idea but I said ‘yes, that’s exactly what we do’. Not only was 360 video not a ‘thing’ back in 2014, but you couldn’t buy a camera to capture an entire project so I had to invent one (made from a block of wood, 14 GoPros, a rusty pole and elastic bands from underwear). I partnered with my former video supplier Telmo, and the project was a huge success. I built a website for a new identity called Deep VR, thinking our VR offering would be a once-in-a-while gig, and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.”
Given the impact Habitat has had on the commercial VR space, the company is aiming to create a space for people to experience the many facets and narratives of Habitat’s VR. Creating access for all is a major part of their plan. “These results have inspired the idea to work towards building a physical facility where people can use all sorts of immersive technology to learn about wildlife and the natural world in a deeper way,” explains Ulrico. “Very few people are privileged enough to be able to experience wild animals in their natural environments, and to date, zoos have been the only way for people to learn about them.” And now, that is all about to change.