NCFE has been selected to exhibit in the Innovation Showcase at this year's VentureFest North East. The business’s head of innovation, Dawn Baker, talks to BQ about entering the showcase and what it means to be innovative.
Describe your business in no more than 60 words
NCFE is a national awarding organisation, passionate about designing, developing and certificating nationally recognised qualifications and awards. These qualifications contribute to the success of millions of learners at all levels, bringing them closer to fulfilling their personal goals. Last year alone, over 340,000 learners from over 2,000 colleges, schools and training organisations studied with NCFE to move their careers forward.
What prompted you to enter the innovation showcase?
At NCFE we believe in what we do and everything is done with the learner in mind. For this reason, we have developed and launched four new products to aid the learners’ journeys and their careers. The Innovation showcase came right on time for us to not only promote our products, but also to share with everyone the amazing things our offer can do for them.
Describe the innovation that you’ve entered the showcase with.
The Innovation Team at NCFE was set up as a way for us to listen to our customers’ needs and answer their problems through innovative solutions to learning. We currently have a number of projects underway which utilise new technology and explore new ways of engaging with learning and we’d like to showcase 2 of these at Venturefest; our aViatoR and GoCalm apps.
aViatoR is a virtual reality simulation software designed for learners to get the most out of their qualifications. Currently developed to assist learners undertaking the NCFE Level 2 Certificate in an introduction to cabin crew, it provides an immersive learning environment where they are able to experience true to life situations in a safe and controlled setting.
Clearly, the idea of creating an application that enables the student to experience and work in a commercial airliner has broad appeal as it’s not easy to put students into this type of environment in a way that gives them a “real life” experience.
GoCalm is a simple but powerful app designed to help relieve anxiety using simple guided techniques and neuro-feedback brain training. It helps users develop greater mental focus and mental calm to prepare the mind for exams and beyond. The app uses a headset to track results whilst the app guides the user through the three main sections of GoCalm; Relief, Training and Gaming.
Guided Anxiety Relief is ideal for instant relief before an exam or event which is making the user anxious. They have the choice of a mindfulness session or to try the revolutionary tapping technique for when the intensity is high.
The MyndPlayer video gaming platform allows the user to test their mental abilities with a range of mind-controlled games and movies designed to test their nerve and emotional control. All MyndPlay game sessions and training sessions will be logged and added to their session history on the homepage.
How would you describe that innovation to your grandparents?
Aviator: you put a headset on that covers your eyes and ears and you will appear to be in a plane. You will then be asked to perform a series of tasks to train you to become a cabin crew member.
GoCalm: Put something around your head, clip it to your ear and look at screen. The headset is measuring brain activity so it lets you know how calm and focused you are. You can complete tasks and play games to help reduce stress and help you stay calm. This game is designing to help students deal with exam stress.
What are the best and worst parts of trying to be innovative in your business?
The best parts of being innovative in our business are challenging ideas and solving problems for both our colleagues in the business and our customers. From making processes more efficient and thus cutting costs and time, to introducing new ways of doing things into the business, it all contributes to making our colleagues and customers’ lives a little bit better.
Sometimes there are also challenges when trying to innovate from getting buy-in from internals and externals, to finding the right solution to the right problem. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a personal challenge as sometimes it might seem easier to just do things the old way – and there are times when the old ways are working better – it’s up to you to determine which solution works best!
What are the biggest challenges you face?
There will always be challenges when striving to innovate – after all, it is difficult to be the right person with the right solution at the right time.
Talking to colleagues and customers is a key part in determining the problems they face and presenting them with the right solution to their problems. They almost always have something to add to what you think is the perfect fit for them and sometimes you might find out that what they described at first might not be the whole picture regarding the initial problem.
An obvious challenge is the one to do with launching a new product into an existing or new market. There is always a risk associated with that and sometimes you have to accept that failure can bring you closer to success.
Where do you get support and advice to help you run your business?
We like to keep up to date with everything within the sector and outside of it – we get inspiration from trade shows and events too.
We also regularly consult with internal colleagues and our customers who are providing a great support.
It’s good to keep in mind that you can learn from everyone so it’s important to be willing to cooperate and co-create.
What does being chosen for the innovation showcase mean to you?
Being chosen for the innovation showcase is a great success to us and it proves that we are doing the right thing for our customers and for our industry.
Being able to showcase our products alongside other successful businesses is real privilege – we’re passionate about innovation and to be among so many fantastic ideas is really exciting.
Where do you see your company in five years’ time?
We want NCFE to continue to grow through innovation. Education is changing and we want to give our learners the best chance to succeed in their lives and careers. By embracing digital technologies and introducing new ways of learning, we will continue to provide high-quality qualifications which span across sectors. We have some more exciting innovation projects in the pipeline which will be launching in the near future so watch this space!
What would you tell businesses who are hoping to be more innovative?
We would advise people to have a go, take a risk and try new things. Collaboration is key to successful innovation so talk to your colleagues and your customers about their ideas and the problems they face. No one likes to fail but failure in innovation is an important part of long-term success.
Come and see the region's latest innovations for yourself, and get a unique chance to talk to the people behind the big ideas by registering for VentureFest North East here.