Matt Wells co-founded Frontgrid to develop and bring to market cutting-edge adventure experiences. Its first product, ParadropVR, draws on his expertise as an Army airborne engineer and parachutist to let anyone experience the excitement of paragliding.
For me, what’s so great about virtual reality is that it allows you to take people to places they would otherwise only dream about. Paragliding is one experience that most people can’t access in the real world, but we can provide it with our ParadropVR product.
We could see there was a gap in the adventure experience market for this. What happens is that the user sits in a fabric harness and then puts on the VR headset. The machine is started up, and they’re taken up to 3,000ft in ParadropVR’s virtual world. They’re then released, taking control of their journey using toggles in each hand to soar around a mountain environment.
Anybody can fly, whether they’re seven or 107. And we’ve also “gamified” the experience: there’s a set of rings that you fly through, each earning you points that add up to a final score. There’s an international leader board, provided via the ParadropVR mobile app, so every player can potentially become world champion.
From the start, we wanted ParadropVR to be as close to the real thing as it could possibly be. Frontgrid’s executive chairman David Wood and I have a military background. We’ve both served with the airborne forces and are both parachutists, so we’ve been able to draw on our own experience to make sure the product feels just right. Our product development has been focused on making sure that the sensation that you experience as you fly is authentic.
We founded the business in 2015 and sold our first product in September 2017. Currently, 90 per cent of our revenue comes from overseas.
Thanks to an overseas business development grant from the Welsh Government, which subsidises exhibitions abroad, we were able to take ParadropVR to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo in Orlando last November. I doubt we could have done this without the assistance. Attending these events is vital for us to build our brand and our reputation: we needed to be there to be part of the game.
Frontgrid is the second business that I’ve set up in North Wales. When I left the military, I became a mountaineering instructor and expedition leader, before attending Bangor University to do a business degree. That first start-up was an expedition company, which took young people on expeditions around the world.
A lot of the people who live in my part of Wales have chosen to be here because they enjoy the natural environment. Like me, they’re here for the mountains and the sea. There are a lot of people around who are at a later stage in their career and who have extremely good skills. They’re looking for exciting opportunities, which is great for innovative companies such as ours.
Our head office is within walking distance of home for me. We also have a satellite office in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and an engineering partner, Simworx, at Kingswinford in the West Midlands. So we’re based in Wales, we’re innovating and manufacturing in the UK, and we’re shipping globally. Looking to the future, it’s our ambition to be recognised globally as a leader in the field of innovative, world-first adventure attractions.