The head of virtual reality firm Engage XR hopes the economic slowdown will bring in new business and says the tech talent crunch has not hurt its recent hiring spree.

aterford-based chief executive David Whelan believes the impending launch of its version of the metaverse is proving a draw for workers.

“It’s a bit easier for us to hire tech people because they are excited by what they are going to be working on, instead of working in a pharma company or a financial company, and they are working on a project for two years,” said the CEO of the fully remote-working Irish-listed company.

Losses in the first half of this year were driven by staff costs, but the company – which provides virtual classrooms and meeting spaces to educators and corporates – is on track to make a profit in 2024.

“Costs are a little bit higher, not extensively higher, because we all work remotely. But if we were based in Dublin and we had to pay Dublin salaries? Yeah, that would be difficult,” Mr Whelan said.

Engage is positioning itself to help corporates cut costs following a pandemic boom in remote working that helped revenues jump 200pc last year.

“In every challenge, there is definitely opportunity,” Mr Whelan told the Irish Independent after the firm published its half-year results on Tuesday.

“We see a downturn in the economy as another way that we can actually push things forward. We’re busier than we’ve ever been.”

Half-year group revenues climbed 41pc to €1.76m, compared to the same period in 2021, with revenues for the Engage virtual platform – the firm’s main product – up 62pc to €1.46m.

The group made a before-tax loss of €2.8m in the first six months of this year, more than double last year’s losses due to rising staff costs as the firm went on a hiring spree.

What we’re talking about here is the evolution of the internet from a standard 2D solo experience

But Mr Whelan is “confident” the group will turn a profit in 2024 and beat its 2025 revenue target of €10m.

His optimism stems from the group adding more than 50 new customers so far this year, including transport and logistics firm Kuehne + Nagel, carmaker Kia and French investment bank Natixis, taking its total enterprise base to around 180.

Engage has recently helped launch 10 virtual universities, with funding from Facebook, which also uses the company’s platform for its own online events. Other customers include consumer goods giant Unilever, US conglomerate 3M and consultants Accenture, PwC and KPMG.

Engage Link – its metaverse offering – is weeks away from launching and will take the platform from an internal company resource to a virtual public world.

“What we’re talking about here is the evolution of the internet from a standard 2D solo experience, where you’re by yourself and you’re on your computer and you’re looking at a screen, to a shared social experience where you’re with other people walking around virtual spaces,” said Mr Whelan.

“We’ll have these always-on, persistent locations. You can sell services. You can sell products to people when they visit that location and you can hold public events.

“That really is a big sea change and then it opens up new possibilities for revenue generation.”