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October 18, 2021

Praxis Labs: Using Virtual Reality to Build Empathy and Inclusion

Praxis Founders

We are thrilled to announce our investment in Praxis Labs, where we are co-leading their $15.5M Series A round.

Our relationship with Praxis Labs’ CEO and co-founder Elise Smith stems back to the company’s Seed days. Even then, it was clear that Elise had tapped into a burning market need for immersive training around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) that actually works. The market for this type of training in the workforce is highly fragmented, and the training itself often yields mixed results despite $8B spent by US corporations annually. Fortune 1000 companies spend billions each year on external DEI training alone, and those budgets are expanding amid the societal awakening of the past year. Praxis Labs’ differentiated use of virtual reality (VR) creates an immersive experience for learners that builds the empathy so critical to JEDI success.

Impressively, Elise started Praxis with co-founder Heather Shen while they were both graduate students at Stanford. Elise was simultaneously pursuing master’s degrees at the Graduate School of Business and the Graduate School of Education. Stanford Business School’s motto is “Change Lives. Change Organizations. Change the World”. That rallying cry manifests itself in force at Praxis Labs, which drives individual employee growth that in turn evolves organizations and the world in which they operate.

One more note re Elise: according to new research from digitalundivided, Elise is the 30th Black female founder to raise $10M in venture funding. Elise and Heather have made incredible progress since our original Seed investment and have attracted a strong roster of co-investors to fill out their Series A round, including Emerson Collective, the round’s co-lead, Ulu Ventures, Softbank’s Opportunity Fund, Precursor Ventures, Concrete Rose, and Penny Jar Capital (an early-stage venture firm anchored by Stephen Curry). Beyond continuing to build out Praxis’ product offering, the team has also secured relationships with major customers including Uber, Google, Etsy, ServiceNow, and eBay. And they are just getting started.


How it works
Praxis Labs guides individual learners through a series of 30-minute modules — each combining learning and reflection on their platform and in VR (either using a headset or via web browser) — which collectively comprise a learning journey focused on a particular JEDI topic. These learning journeys are developed by pairing a world-class JEDI curriculum with immersive learning in VR. Each module presents a situation in which the user experiences a workplace scenario such as a team meeting or job interview that includes microaggressions or other behaviors that could involve some form of bias. Sometimes the user is the recipient of bias; other times the user is a bystander. From either perspective, the participant can practice reacting in real-time and decide how to handle the situation.

At the end of each 30-minute module, Praxis prompts the learner with a series of reflection questions to allow the user to process what just happened, measure growth over time, and collect learner feedback on their experience of equity and inclusion at the company. These modules are spaced out over many months to provide individuals time to reflect further on the experience and consider how those behaviors might show up in their own environments.


Why Virtual Reality?
VR uniquely allows users to navigate first-person experiences without the risk associated with a real-life scenario. Participants can practice, learn from mistakes privately, and share honestly about areas where they can grow without the risk of causing harm or damaging a relationship with a colleague. Companies often combine Praxis’ learning modules with group discussions within teams or across learning cohorts within an organization. That way, learners can immerse themselves into the VR experience without the spotlight pressure of a group environment and then reflect on and brainstorm collaboratively how to apply learnings to their team and workplace.


Actionable Workforce Insights
Praxis also enables organizations to access data insights, including professional growth areas for their workforce on JEDI topics by demographic, specific culture equity and inclusion “hot spots” based on employee feedback, and recommendations for culture interventions informed by best practices. A huge opportunity exists for Praxis to become the system of record for JEDI data, which is often incomplete and scattered across multiple sources.

Ultimately, the potential of Praxis’ platform extends even beyond JEDI. This modality enables powerful immersive experiences which should be core to broader training and professional development. VR training can help develop more thoughtful, prepared leaders.


Elise and Heather!
At Norwest, we have long understood that founders are far and away the most important factor in the success of any start-up. On that score, we were deeply impressed by Elise and Heather – they have the vision, the passion, and the drive to grow Praxis Labs into an organization of uniquely high impact. We couldn’t be more excited to support their mission to create a more equitable world for all.


You can read more about Elise and Heather’s inspiring journey in this recently published Fortune article, “What Do Chief Diversity Officers Know About Tech.