The Stafford-based business specialises in creating virtual and augmented reality experiences for various industries including games, marketing and even medical training.
Ben Woodward founded Fennec Labs with his wife just months after graduating from Staffordshire University with a degree in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming in 2016. Now, the business is transforming the way it works with clients across the globe thanks to the Staffordshire Digital Innovation Partnership (SDIPs) programme.
The scheme, run in partnership by Staffordshire University and Staffordshire County Council, provides six-months of fully funded support for local businesses to research and develop new digital products, processes and services.
Through access to a full-time project intern, specialist academic support and resources, Fennec Labs has developed an innovative new tool to help them design virtual experiences for clients remotely.
Ben, Director and Lead Programmer at Fennec Labs, explained: “The SDIPs programme was a really attractive venture because it allowed us to invest time and energy into a project and minimise our risk and ultimately costs.”
To support the project, Fennec Labs recruited intern Anthony Tweedie who graduated from Staffordshire University with a first-class honours degree in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Design and Programming in 2019.
Together they have developed mapping tool ‘Cartographer’ which enables clients to scan a location and send back the data to Fennec Labs in real time from anywhere in the world. This allows the team to build a custom virtual environment to match the physical one – without having to travel there.
Anthony explained: “The tool is designed so that you could set up a VR environment in the right space taking into account any surface or walls. We ended up with a tool that could not only tell you where the walls were – it could tell you where the floors were, it could place special features for points of interest, and it could even leave notes for when we came to create the virtual environment.”
Anthony studied at Staffordshire University as a mature student after being made redundant and decided he wanted to make games as well as play them. Since completing his internship at Fennec Labs he has been employed full-time as a Product Developer.
The 33-year-old from Penkhull said: “If a company’s willing to give you an internship, then take it! I would highly recommend this route because not only do you get a job in a place where you’re earning money, you also get that valuable experience.”
Ben added: “Anthony turned out to be an indispensable asset to the team, what we didn't realise at the time was that we were missing a product developer. Someone who could go and research a topic for a project, take that information and use their game design skills to turn it into asset lists and reference material for our art team.
“Plus he's taking on prototyping of physical VR peripherals and tools using his previously gained CAD skills. We all have to wear a lot of hats here being such a small studio, Anthony's broad range of skills have been invaluable"
“I would absolutely recommend other companies getting involved with SDIPs, it has been really good for us. It reduces the risk and allows you to invest in new areas of your business.”
The SDIPs project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and runs until the end of 2021.
Marc Wootton, SDIPs Programme Manager, said: “This SDIPs initiative is driving digital innovation across Staffordshire by providing specialist support for start-ups and established SMEs to develop of new products or ideas that can transform their business.
“Fennec Labs is a company pushing the boundaries of emerging technologies and we’re delighted with the success of the partnership. Not only has it resulted in a game changing product but also a full-time job role which is helping to retain graduate talent in our region.”
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*The Staffordshire Digital Innovation Partnership (SDIPs) is funded by Staffordshire University, Staffordshire County Council and the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020.