Digital Leaders 100 spotlight – The Environment Now’s Emily Godden

8 May 2018


Last week, we heard from Sam at YellowLabel who told us about his experiences on The Environment Now and his delight in being recognised as one of the top 100 Digital leaders, specifically in the top ten ‘Young Digital Leader of the Year’ in 2018.

This week, Lydia caught up with Emily to ask her how Virtually There Studios started out, her experiences on ‘The Environment Now’ and her tips for other young people.

NYA, O2 and Our Bright Future have been delighted to support Emily during ‘The Environment Now’ and are proud that Emily has been recognised in the DL100 Awards, especially when women working in the Virtual Reality sector are so rare.


Hi Emily. Congratulations on being shortlisted for ‘Young Digital Leader of the Year’ in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards

How did you react? What does this mean to you and Virtually There?

I was surprised because there’s always lots of competition. It was really nice because it’s a good pat on the back saying ‘What you’re doing is good’ and ‘Keep going!’, especially for someone like me who’s working on their own on Virtually There.  Having this recognition is really good to show that what I’m doing is of good quality as well. Yeah, it’s really nice and really cool to be recognised.

Tell us about how Virtually There first started out and what you wanted to achieve?

Virtually There first started out with me wanting to learn more about Virtual Reality technology, but wanting to use it as a tool to help people. I wanted to use VR to show that you can use this technology for a positive social and environmental outcome.

Back in 2016, I first started working with VR and it was that autumn that The Environment Now launched. I found this opportunity through O2’s Think Big, which came at exactly the right time. Having had the experience of writing funding grants and budgeting for O2’s Think Big Level 1 and Level 2 grants, this really helped me feel confident in applying for The Environment Now.

Obviously, The Environment Now was a larger amount and pitching for this was quite scary, but felt really good. Now, I’ve been looking at other opportunities and it’s second nature, as you have to do it with most things – you either have an interview or a pitch. Being able to have that experience and say “I pitched for this amount to do this and was successful in it”, when you’re applying for other things, it’s like a big thumbs up and they have more trust in you.

To be accepted on this really helped accelerate what I wanted to do because I think without it I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with the technology to the extent that I have been able to.

What has The Environment Now meant for Virtually There and your personal skills development?

It’s meant that I can acquire VR equipment and software and actually work with this technology! From mostly self-teaching, I have been able to learn at my own pace with the resources I need. I think without The Environment Now, I wouldn’t have been able to work with such a new technology. I would have probably continued working with kind of low tech which wouldn’t have had the same impact. I think because it is such a strong issue [deforestation], I think it needed the immersion that comes with the technology. Without the funding I wouldn’t have got the equipment and the outcomes wouldn’t have been as strong.

What would be a start-up journey highlight with Virtually There so far?

I really value the small things. For example, the other week I was with a lady with MS. I was helping to show her what possibilities there were for her and VR. This made me understand what her needs would be from it and enhanced my own accessibility VR needs. Or whether it’s just having a chance conversation with someone at a festival and then them realising deforestation is an issue for us, even though it’s typically associated with the Amazon rainforest. I think it’s working on a person to person perspective, they’re my highlights.

Of course, the other bigger things of winning the Emerging Talent award at the DevelopHer Awards and being recognised in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards are amazing, but I think I value being able to change one person’s attitude at a time. That’s where I get most of my enjoyment. Coming away from an event and just thinking – ‘their attitude has changed’ – is really rewarding.

What advice would you give to a young person wanting to start their own business or social enterprise for social or/and environmental good?

Given the current economic climate, it’s knowing what you can do with very little resources. Knowing that you can often call upon favours from friends, relatives, local businesses, councils… you don’t know what their response is going to be. I think I typically had a negative attitude, in thinking, ‘oh if I ask for stuff, they’ll say no’, but learning it’s ok to ask for help and more often than not, people are often really generous and you just don’t know what will happen.

Say for example, you’re 50/50 on whether you should go to an event – by just going and attending you might meet someone then by chance. You should take advantage of these chance encounters and not be afraid of asking for help, especially when it’s for social or environmental good.  Most people are more than willing to help because it’s something they can relate to, especially with the environment. Whether that’s an exhibition space or a stand at a conference, most people will be willing to take a chance and help you.

Our age range favours the young entrepreneur. Do you think there is enough support for young people who want to build their own start-up?

The Environment Now is a truly unique programme because it is very trusting of young people, especially within the digital sector. A lot of the time digital equipment is completely inaccessible because it’s expensive so giving young people not only the funding, but the support mechanism behind it – the mentoring, training and connections – in order to really help facilitate their project. Sometimes, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and in this sense, the programme helps make connections with people who otherwise just wouldn’t talk to you as a young person.


If you like what you have read, why don’t you go and vote for Emily in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards for ‘Young Digital Leader of the Year’.

The Environment Now is funded by O2 and the National Lottery’s Big Lottery Fund through the Our Bright Future programme. It is managed by the National Youth Agency.