A 23-year-old Cardiff University student has launched his own virtual reality company for the property and retail sector to help tackle some of the challenges both industries face in the digital age.
George Bellwood, a marketing student in his final year of studies, founded Virtus Tech, a B2B company which uses virtual and augmented reality to tour retailers and view homes on the market, blending real and digital experiences for customers and homebuyers.
He got the inspiration for Virtus Tech during a lecture about retail industry issues and, with a background working in retail, he decided he wanted to do something to tackle some of the issues many businesses are facing in the digital age including competition among high street and online shopping retailers.
George said: “Having worked in retail for over five years I could see the challenges the retail industry is up against, so I wanted to come up with an idea that could help.
“Virtus Tech puts the control back in the company’s hands and allows them to enhance the customer experience, giving them the opportunity to walk around a shop floor and browse items for sale virtually.”
Since forming the company, George has already expanded into the property and hospitality sectors, spotting growth potential by broadening his offering.
He continued: “In the property industry, Virtus Tech allows you to tour prospective houses before visiting, saving time for both the estate agent and buyers. In the hospitality sector, VR is used to advertise hotels, student accommodation and event centres or experiences for our client’s customers. So far the feedback received has been really positive.”
George developed his business idea with the help of Big Ideas Wales, the youth entrepreneurship service in Wales. Big Ideas Wales is part of Business Wales and is funded by Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea.
George’s virtual reality company is timely as it comes just weeks after Welsh Government launched its ‘Use it or Lose it’ retail campaign. This is a joint venture between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Retail Consortium, and is intended to challenge growing misconceptions around the future of the sector.
Despite current industry challenges, retail remains Wales’ largest private employer with nearly 12,000 shops providing more than 130,000 jobs. And shops exist in nearly every community in Wales, providing a vital service for local people and visitors and ensuring an important social outlet and meeting place.
Just six months after George began developing Virtus Tech, he’s secured big name clients including a multi-million pound international student accommodation organisation and a major national property agent. George has business meetings with large scale retailers lined up for the new year where he hopes to grow his clientele.
Talking about Big Ideas Wales which has supported him on his business journey, George said: “I learnt about Big Ideas Wales through Cardiff University’s Enterprise Champion Claire Parry-Witchell who referred me to a business advisor, Chris Howlett. I’ve found Big Ideas Wales extremely useful so far and Chris has offered me some really valuable advice.”
Last month, George joined a cohort of 50 budding young business people at a Bootcamp event in Treharris, an intensive three-day residential workshop organised by Big Ideas Wales. The bootcamp gives young entrepreneurs the chance to learn and hone their business skills with advice and mentoring from successful Welsh business people.
Speaking of the experience, George said: “I was honoured to be selected to attend the Bootcamp. It was a great experience, and I gained a lot from it. It was really beneficial to be able to chat with successful business people as well as being able to meet likeminded young entrepreneurs like myself.”
George is already working on a new idea for Virtus Tech to continue to diversify the business, developing a software which uses AR in-store to enhance the customer’s experience.
He explained: “The software will be accessed on a mobile app which will assist customers when shopping to help them locate products. Our aim is to help independent and franchise organisations tackle the decline in high street shopping which the nation is experiencing currently.” George is working on a demo which he plans to release in the spring.
George has also now been approached to join the Welsh Government’s Accelerated Growth Programme which provides specialist tailored support for businesses with the potential to realise significant growth potential.
Chris Howlett from Big Ideas Wales, who supported George through his journey to launching his business, said: “George is a perfect example of a hardworking, focussed young person who has every chance of making a success of their business idea. It’s been a pleasure working with him to this point and we’re confident his determination will pay off.”