Forget classrooms and dull training videos

Published: 07 June 2021

Text: Newslab

Photo: Attensi

What do Equinor, Circle K, and Norwegian psychiatry have in common? They are all highly enthusiastic about the games developed by Attensi, growing from Oslo Science Park.

"People of all ages are clearly amazed by this."

Anne Lise Waal, Co-CEO and CTO of Attensi, is talking about video games. Not just any video games, though: Attensi specializes in creating realistic simulations used for training and competence development in the business world, a concept known as "gamification" in professional terms.

Experiencing something can be much more powerful than seeing or reading about it. Over the past decade, Attensi has developed simulations that pedagogically help people understand everything from anti-money laundering regulations to retail operations, safety procedures, and social anxiety, to name a few. And the feedback is clear: Attensi's games outshine employee lectures, training videos, and written content.

Waal reveals that Attensi's training games have been a great success: the company now has 140 employees spread across offices in Oslo, San Francisco, and London, and aims to surpass 100 million in revenue in 2021.

"In a game, you constantly make small decisions, consider things, and apply your knowledge and reflective abilities," says Waal.

"In addition, there is the competitive aspect. We see this in all types of companies, whether it's brokerage firms full of competitive individuals or grocery stores: employees play like crazy in an attempt to top the high-score list or challenge their colleagues. That's when they learn even more."

"It's almost as if the drier the subject matter, the greater the engagement," she adds.

Invaluable support from Oslo Science Park

Attensi offers simulations that convey knowledge, introduce routines, or create a space for practicing various situations or challenges.

It has proven to be a lucrative business: Founded in 2009, the company hopes to exceed 100 million in revenue this year and has opened offices in London and San Francisco. It has been quite a remarkable journey for a Norwegian tech startup that, eight years ago, had nothing more than eight desks in a corner at StartupLab in Oslo Science Park.

"Having a place here in the Park has been absolutely invaluable for us," says Waal.

Why has this office space near Blindern become so crucial for the company?

"At a very basic level, as a startup, you can't afford good, large, and fancy premises. Just having access to the common areas of StartupLab and Oslo Science Park was extremely important in the early stages."

Apart from the practical benefits, the ecosystem surrounding Oslo Science Park has also been an essential part of Attensi's success story. The park is not just an office space; it is a meeting place.

"We are fortunate to be close to clusters like Norway Health Tech and the incubator StartupLab. For example, the first health project we undertook was a result of getting to know the Norway Health Tech cluster. Many of our other successful projects have originated from networks or events associated with Oslo Science Park."

She further explains that the environment in the park has provided Attensi with critical expertise that has been instrumental in developing both simulation technology and the company itself.

"As a startup, you probably can't afford to hire all the expertise you truly need. But in an environment like this, there is a low threshold for seeking help – you can go to your neighbor and say, 'Hey, could you take a look at this?'", she says, adding:

"And the times we needed legal advice, we benefited from the legal agreements of StartupLab."

Waal also mentions another advantage: If you are where the most talented people are, there's a higher chance that the most talented people will find you.

"This has been a huge advantage in terms of recruitment. We are located in an amazing innovation environment and benefit from close ties to the University of Oslo," she says.

Used for training employees and combating social anxiety

Attensi has delivered over 500 different simulation solutions to date, providing introductions to everything from retail training and airport security procedures to health and safety regulations and IT systems. Their client list includes names such as Hydro, If, Equinor, BCG, and Norgesgruppen.

"One of our biggest global successes came through collaboration with Circle K," says Waal.

"It started with a game when they relocated their offices in Norway. Now our solutions are used throughout the organization across Europe and the USA: training for managing a gas station, maintenance routines, call center work, and even leadership training. During the pandemic, we provided COVID-19 training to over 3,000 employees within a week," she says.

Attensi also works closely with the Norwegian healthcare sector. For example, the company has provided simulations to the Regional Centre for Violence, Traumatic Stress, and Suicide Prevention (RVTS Øst), assisting healthcare professionals in practicing interactions with children exposed to violence and abuse. Attensi is also involved in research projects exploring the use of games to combat anxiety disorders.

Attensi's games and simulations have numerous applications – using virtual reality (VR) technology, they can contribute to psychiatric research, for instance.

"For instance, we have an ongoing project with Helse Vest that involves using VR simulations for the treatment of anxiety and phobias. It's about using simulations as a form of exposure therapy," says Waal, elaborating:

"The solution involves the patient wearing VR goggles and being transported to a virtual classroom. Then they are given a task, such as standing in front of the entire class and reading something aloud from Ibsen. We measure things like voice volume, trembling, and the patient's gaze. These are data that researchers at Haukeland University Hospital use in developing treatment methods."

Our turn to help out

When Attensi was first established, few believed that video games could surpass books, movies, or traditional lectures in terms of educational impact. Waal admits that the past decade has been a long journey in creating a robust and commercially viable product.

"The biggest improvement is that we have become better at making it easy for ourselves and our customers to create engaging, high-quality solutions. Our long-term strategy from day one has been to develop tools that customers can use to tailor their own simulations. Additionally, we have gained valuable insights in creating smooth gameplay, optimizing scoring systems and bonuses, and integrating meaningful learning objectives into a video game format," says Waal.

Now, as Attensi prepares for further growth, even with over 140 employees spread across continents, it has never been an option to abandon its premises in Oslo Science Park.

"As a growing company, location is always a topic of discussion. But every time, we conclude that Oslo Science Park is the best place to be."

"And now that we're growing, we can once again be of help to other companies here. We are often approached by startups in the early stages - they ask things like how we cracked the code with pricing models or how we went about taking our solution out of Norway. Now it's our turn to assist them, and we really enjoy doing that," she concludes.

Attensi continues to grow. See their available positions here: