Virtual Reality training helps encourage inclusion

More work can always be done to include diverse voices
July 13, 2020
Digital Alberta member survey results
July 26, 2020
More work can always be done to include diverse voices
July 13, 2020
Digital Alberta member survey results
July 26, 2020
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Virtual Reality training helps encourage inclusion

An entrepreneur originally from Venezuela who now calls Calgary home, Jose Azares says COVID-19 has brought more awareness to the importance of immersive training, which aligns well with his new venture.

He is the founder of NIDUM, a Human Resources technology company whose mission is to level the playing field of inclusivity for all employees. NIDUM uses VR technologies to build immersive training modules that allow new hires to hit the ground running. Azares says he started this venture because he “wanted to help vulnerable communities gain access to training information in order to support them in their job-hunting process.”

From civil engineering to boutique burgers

Jose Azares, CEO of NIDUM and RE:GRUB

Azares’ background includes working for Suncor in Fort McMurray as a civil engineer and project manager. He has an MBA from McGill University, where he created a software solution for the oil and gas industry with another classmate.

His entrepreneurial spirit took hold again when he returned to Calgary and created RE:GRUB (burger backwards), a boutique burger chain that offers innovative and creative menu options in an equal and diverse workplace.

“I needed to do something less tech-driven,” he said.

He credits his desire to create start-ups and be a problem solver to his upbringing in Venezuela, and experiencing economies in two different countries.

“Just by being exposed to a different market, it gives you a comprehensive view of how business should be done.”

Azares normally gives himself a five-year timeline for a company start-up, during which time he likes to re-assess where he is and if he wants to take his idea to the next level.

Taking employee training into virtual realms

NIDUM combines three of his interests by being: 1) measurable and data-driven, 2) immersive and interactive, as well as 3) social-impact driven.

As well as VR, the company makes use of data analytics, 360 imaging, and machine learning / artificial intelligence to build immersive training modules that match the precise needs of clients.

After the company launched in October 2019, Azares admitted he struggled at first with how to connect and engage with other companies. And then the pandemic came.

“In January, things started settling. We had to be at the right time at the right moment for the company. That’s what COVID did for us: it made us relevant.”

He says companies began hiring in batches, as well as educating their staff on social distancing. Both activities needed to be done virtually, which is within NIDUM’s wheelhouse. Within two months of the pandemic reaching Canada, NIDUM signed nine new clients.

Promoting inclusivity

Once you meet Azares, his infectious enthusiasm gives you the impression he is a great problem solver, but the path to success hasn’t always been easy.

As an immigrant working in the technology sector, he says others didn’t seem to take him seriously, and he felt that you had to know the right people to get ahead.

“You have to wiggle yourself into the industry. If you are an introvert, it’s even harder.”

He wanted to change that narrative and decided to pursue an MBA to gain knowledge of the Canadian marketplace, and be taken more seriously.

This is yet one more reason why his start-ups are devoted to inclusion and diversity.

“It is a lifestyle. It is not just something I do for one to two weeks, it’s always there,” he says. “I know what it’s like to not be treated equally. I’m very sensitive to these kinds of things.”

He believes being outspoken about racist or unjust events unfolding around you is much more important than, for example, adding a black tile on Instagram to show your support for Black Lives Matter.

“You need to interject. Bystanders can sometimes be worse than those doing racist acts.”

Azares says becoming a dad only reinforced that message. His five-year-old son, Lucas, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome when he was born. Since then, Azares has looked at inequality in a very different way.

“I started seeing and understanding what would happen when he is 15 and going out for a job and if he got rejected. Just because I have an accent or look differently, I can fight back, but imagine what could happen with him if he can’t fight back.”

He began diving deeper into research on inclusion, even traveling to Scandinavia to see what other countries are doing to support inclusivity in their societies.

“It created another layer of curiosity into fairness and inequality.”

As Azares continues to pursue new ways to integrate immersive training into new businesses, he will always be sure of one thing: that inclusion is integrated into all the ways he channels his entrepreneurial spirit.

For more information on NIDUM, visit the company’s website.

Kris Hodgson-Bright
Kris Hodgson-Bright
Kris Hodgson is an instructor in the Digital Communications and Media program at Lethbridge College where he has worked for the past 9 years. He has been a writer and photographer for various publications across western Canada for the last 16 years with a background in journalism and public relations for newspapers and economic development agencies. The completion of work on his master’s degree in Virtual Reality/360-degree journalism from the University of Alberta kick-started applied research opportunities at Lethbridge College. He helped to launch Alberta’s first and Canada’s second Virtual and Augmented Reality certificate program in the fall of 2019 and helps to organize Merging Realities, the world’s first global Virtual Reality conference that is now in its third year showcasing the latest developments from both industry and post-secondary students.