January 31, 2022

How Virtual Reality Can Help Us Understand Bias

Is there a way for us to truly take a walk in someone else’s shoes? Ulupreneur Elise Smith, Co-Founder and CEO at Praxis Labs, believed there must be a better way for companies to teach DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)—one that didn’t involve just sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer screen. She and her co-founder Heather Shen developed a platform that uses virtual reality and immersive experiences to take users on learning journeys that help them understand how conscious and unconscious bias can affect others.

The conviction that everyone should have access to opportunities was instilled in Elise at an early age: her parents’ fight for education access and opportunity in the city of Chicago proved that systems and structures weren’t set up for everyone to thrive and changes to our systems were required for there to be equitable outcomes for all.

What motivates Elise is the potential impact on people and organizations that Praxis Labs can have and how that coincides with the societal moment we’re in which companies and individuals are looking for ways to build empathy, identify barriers to equity, and take real action.

She and Heather felt it was important for Praxis to be evidence-based. For them, the big question was how do people respond physiologically to immersive experiences? Inspired by research at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, they took a systematic look at how to create something effective around empathy—not an easy task. Praxis, however, helps the user gain empathy and a sense of what it might be like to encounter bias.

We were impressed by the hard core data produced and with how the Praxis immersive simulations really and quickly worked— often within hours of the experience, instead of within the days or weeks needed with other training methods. We were fortunate to be able to offer the Praxis Labs experience to some of Ulu’s LPs and entrepreneurs, and we’ve heard about how it’s changing the way they do business.

Praxis recently raised $15.5m for their Series A in an oversubscribed round. Elise is compelling and passionate about her mission—and so are we.

Here, we include an interview Miriam Rivera, CEO and Managing Director of Ulu Ventures, did with Elise and Heather about what inspired them to create Praxis. You can watch or listen. Enjoy!

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About the Author: Rusty Dornin

Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics