As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the world, businesses closed, travel came to a near standstill and many doors were locked, including doors to some senior-care facilities. Loneliness and isolation moved in where family members, friends and other visitors once stood.
Cam MacNamara, a 2016 graduate from Minnetonka High School, and Nick Sanchez from Bloomington recognized this issue while working together in an entrepreneurial class at the University of Minnesota. As a result, the duo developed Unio, a business that brings virtual reality (VR) experiences to seniors, specifically those living in care facilities. Even though they might not be able to be outside seeing the world, they can still get a taste of it.
“We handle and provide everything from the headsets to troubleshooting,” MacNamara says. “We want to provide the full experience.” A guide, usually MacNamara or Sanchez, goes to the facilities to set up the equipment, resolves any technological issues that might arise and is there throughout the experience.
Unio offers a variety of VR experiences, but the most common experiences are tours of bucket-list destinations.
“We try to do themes, so one day might be beach day where we’re seeing beaches in Mexico or Miami, and the next time might be Italy themed, and we’ll see Venice, Rome and other notable sights in Italy,” MacNamara says. One advantage of having a guide at the facility is residents can request a destination, and Unio can make it happen that day. “Say a resident took a meaningful trip to the Grand Canyon when they were younger, and they want to relive that trip and see those sights again. We can dial it up on the spot for them,” MacNamara says. “It’s really a healthy thing for their brains.”
MacNamara and Sanchez entered Unio in the Minnesota Cup, the largest start-up competition in the state, and were one of 10 entries to reach the semi-finals in their student division. From there, each team is assigned mentors and goes through workshops to help develop a business plan, pitch deck and a one-minute video on their company. Judges then select the top three teams. Finalists then square off in a Shark Tank-style competition to decide the winner.
Unio is still in its testing and soft-launch phase. MacNamara says the plan is to stick to senior-care facilities, with a specific focus on assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing.