A new tech toy — with a $500,000 price tag — is the latest marketing tool to convince people to make their next career move to Madison.
Oculus Go virtual-reality headsets, loaded with a display of iconic Madison scenes, will be available to send to promising job candidates.
Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon showed off the gizmos at the chamber’s Icebreaker luncheon Wednesday at the Kohl Center, and dozens of the 770 people who attended the event stayed afterward to try them.
The current version, not yet complete, puts the viewer in a condo or apartment Downtown with options to click on an aerial scene of UW Memorial Union Terrace, an aerial panorama of the city, a view as if kayaking on a lake, and peering from the unit’s balcony toward the state Capitol.
“It was amazing. You could see the lake ... then it looked like you could see the whole city. It was very cool,” said Corinda Rainey-Moore, a board member for Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County.
Looking — virtually — out on Lake Mendota, “I really thought I was going to fall into the water,” said Wayne Harris, president of 6AM Marketing. “We’re getting to be ahead of the game.”
That’s what Brandon is hoping. “Companies will send them to talent around the country with the idea of: ‘Experience Madison before you come,’” he said.
Developed by Arch Virtual, of Madison, and Aspect Multimedia, of Baraboo, Brandon said the chamber will have about 100 of the Oculus Go sets and 5,000 cardboard versions, at least to start.
For a highly sought employee, a headset “might show up in the mail, fully loaded,” chamber vice president Kevin Little said. “It’s a portable way to experience what life in Madison is like.”
The VR tool will be tweaked and stocked with additional scenes and will be available for distribution later this year.
But it only will go to the five organizations that pitched in to pay for it during the three-year fundraising campaign, chamber spokesman Erik Greenfield said. They are: American Family Insurance Group, Madison Gas & Electric, Lands’ End, UW-Madison and Madison Area Technical College. Greenfield said the units “are not currently available for non-investors to purchase.”
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While the VR technology drew a lot of attention, Icebreaker’s primary message focused on increasing opportunities for diversity.
Brandon said the chamber is starting an entrepreneur-in-residence program to provide the organization’s knowledge and assistance to help women or people of color. Marie and Johnny Justice, who have two Madison businesses, are the first chosen for the program.
The luncheon’s two keynote speakers, Kathryn Finney and Tricia Katz, both urged local business leaders to take a more active role in bringing more women and people of color into their ranks.
Serial entrepreneur Finney said she started her latest business, digitalundivided, as a way to help women of color become entrepreneurs.
“Money is a problem but it’s not always the problem,” she said. “Become a sponsor ... bring others along.”
Katz, a leader at Magic Leap, a virtual- and augmented-reality company, said the world is “on the edge of a new, digital revolution” with immersive technology. She called on business leaders to create an “ethical, empathetic and diverse new world.”
“What are each of you doing?” Katz asked.
Brandon said the chamber is introducing what he called a new OS, or operating system — employing a common tech term — that aims to “accelerate social mobility” for those to whom it is less accessible.
“Can we illuminate the path for the rest of us?” Brandon asked.
“It starts with you at the center of change,” he told the gathering of business and community leaders.