Nicolas Moreno de Palma (Nico to his friends) is thrilled with his job as Chief Commercial Officer, CCO, at Volograms in Dublin, where he has been for nearly 5 years. A spin-out from Trinity College Dublin and an Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Startup, Nico says, “I truly work with geniuses”. As he demonstrates the recently launched Vologram Messages, which allows the user to create an interactive augmented reality experience with a volumetric hologram (Vologram for short) from a simple video captured on their phone, it is hard not to disagree.
Content creation and communication through AI and 3D imaging
Volograms promises a new generation of content creation and communications tools through AI-powered 3D human capture from a single image or video. The product is marketed as offering the chance to ‘say goodbye to boring corporate and branded videos’.
“We were first to a market that did not yet exist [volumetric holograms for everyone]. And one of our challenges was that people wouldn’t ‘get it’, in terms of how to use and integrate this technology. So, we have made it as easy as possible for companies and professionals to use them to deliver key messages, that can be accessed via a link or QR code, with no need to even download an app.”
Accelerating technological change during the pandemic
Nico explains that the launch of this smartphone-based technology was brought forward by the pandemic. “Traditionally you needed a large budget, a studio, and lots of people with 3D expertise to produce 3D videos. Of course, during lockdown no one had access to studios. Volograms had secured a round of funding aimed at bringing the tech required to a mobile phone to do the job and the pandemic gave us the opportunity to accelerate our plans.”
Volograms first offered the service in restrictive conditions to developers, 3D artists and creators to test alongside the in-house team. “We presented it as a new product just published for techy people. Working with them helped us understand the top use-cases and identify glitches before launching to the wider market. A super-exciting part of my role is navigating the complexity of cool technology that needs to show its value for a relevant market.”
From Simprints to Volograms – the career steps after graduation
It is a job Nico is clear he would not have landed without his Cambridge MBA and his subsequent work at the start up Simprints in Cambridge.
“After I graduated, I spent more than a year at Simprints as Impact Partnerships Manager and then Head of Impact Partnerships. I have always been interested in the application of technology for societal benefit and took the Social Innovation Concentration during my MBA.”
Nico’s MBA Global Consulting Project was with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) in Dhaka, helping them find a scalable business model for legal aid offices. “It was an enormous experience. I talked directly to the village headmen at first hand, to help BRAC provide tools for people that lacked financial resources to resolve their land disputes.”
This challenge set him up nicely for the job at Simprints, where Nico was responsible for developing and managing the partnerships pipeline with international clients and commercial partners, representing Simprints at events globally.
Prior to coming to Cambridge to study for his MBA, Nico spent nearly 3 years as a Corporate Account Executive at Vodafone in Madrid. “The jump of responsibility at Simprints was massive. Within 18 months I went from working for a company with tens of thousands of employees to leading the commercial area of a start up with the only indirect support of the C-suite. By the time I left my own team had grown to 4.”
Simprints had reached the next stage in its growth cycle and Nico became involved in succession planning. “I helped the team find someone with the right level of management expertise to take over from me. And then I took a last business trip, this time to Dublin, where I met up with Rafa, an old friend from our days as engineering students in Madrid.”
Rafa Pagés is co-founder of Volograms. “Rafa saw that my experience at Simprints could be useful but of course I had to convince the Board to give me the job. The MBA helped hugely and today I use the tools and frameworks I learnt at Cambridge every day. There are times I even go back to my class notes!”
Making the right choice – the Cambridge MBA
Nico chose Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) because he says, “I fell in love with Cambridge. I applied to a range of business schools, visited each one in person and got 4 offers. All the business schools promised interactive learning but, on the interview day itself, offered not much more than Powerpoint presentations about their school and the courses. The day in Cambridge, by contrast, was truly educative, with tours of the Business School and city, and freedom to interact with staff and students. And that is the way the programme continued throughout the year. It is really very entrepreneurial!”
Nico had expected his Cambridge MBA to be more about the overall experience than the details of the numbers and the analytics. “But, in the end, both were very good. Not only are you in Cambridge, but you are in college as well. A Cambridge MBA is truly a unique experience to enjoy and learn within the entire University ecosystem and I know 100% I got my choice right.”
For the benefit of society – tech for good
While Volograms’ technology is applied across a variety of fields, he believes that this experience strongly contributes to his future ability to use technology to the benefit of society. “I haven’t given up on my ideas, and now that our new product is launched and the company is ready for its next step, my aim is to build an impact-focused company from scratch. I feel this has been such a good professional opportunity to develop skills which I will be able to use, not only in the next stage of my career, but also in the long-term, maybe in politics or public administration. There are many positive sides of being in the field of future content communications and we are fortunate in that in no way can our AI product be seen as potentially dangerous!”
For the moment, Nico is excited about the potential for Vologram Messages. “Before launching the product, we did a huge amount of market research, and tapping into the Cambridge MBA network for feedback was essential. That confirmed to us that there is a huge natural market out there. And in seeking to capitalise on that potential as we market a new product, I am drawing on all the best practice behind business development that I had learnt at Cambridge Judge.”