Roller coasters were just the beginning. Around the same time that Naids landed a mechanical engineering internship at Universal Orlando Resort, he began exploring virtual reality (VR) technology and became fascinated by its many applications. Naids realized he was onto something when he saw how VR technology could enable much smaller theme parks to offer world-class attractions.
It wasn’t until he built a VR flight simulator prototype for a senior design project, however, that the thought of creating a business to pursue these ideas crossed his mind. Encouraged by feedback from his professors and local industry leaders, Naids turned his project into a spinoff company and founded Talon Simulations in 2015.
Thanks to funding from several UCF business competitions and government contracts, Talon Simulations has since grown to deliver VR experiences that change lives and save lives for clients in entertainment, defense, higher education, and more. In addition to more traditional applications, Naids and his team are also finding ways to introduce VR as an impactful research and educational tool. For example, one of their simulations demonstrates a car accident to teach high school students about the dangers of drunk driving.
Naids also finds fulfillment in bringing experiences to people via VR technology they may have not otherwise had the opportunity to enjoy. For example, the Jurassic World VR Experience created for Dave & Buster’s could allow guests with height or mobility limitations to enjoy the thrill they might be denied on a more traditional roller coaster.
The outlook for Talon Simulations wasn’t always as bright, however. On top of the well-known struggles of entrepreneurship, Naids was forced to navigate through the global COVID-19 pandemic that severely impacted many of his clients. Along with smart financial management, Naids and his team overcame the biggest obstacle of their career largely because of their grit. “Having that shared passion can really help motivate everyone to keep trucking through the hard times.”
Programs like 1 Million Cups, Synapse, and Cenfluence also aided Talon Simulations’ rebound to pre-pandemic success. Exposure to other entrepreneurs and their inspiring innovations has opened doors to collaboration with other companies in the region. Along with exploring new partnerships with other Cenfluence Cluster Members in 2023, Naids is also looking forward to growing Talon Simulations’ operations through software advancements, new hires, and capitalizing on Orlando’s growth as The MetaCenter. As well, he plans to continue giving back as a volunteer for programs like The Corridor’s stemCONNECT, where he can share lessons about entrepreneurship and the exciting applications of VR technology with high school students.
Although he didn’t intend to become an entrepreneur, Naids hardly had a choice amidst such serendipitous circumstances. There is no better place he could have been than in Central Florida—at the intersection of tourism and simulation and training—right when VR technology was gaining popularity.
As he described, “There’s a big overlap between the region’s universities and startup culture that can help you pursue your interests… I never thought about starting a company myself and it was sort of a path that I fell into, but I will never look back and have any regrets.”
Company: Talon Simulations
Number of Employees: 3
Alma Mater: University of Central Florida
Are you hiring: Yes; follow them on LinkedIn to learn more.
Hobbies: running, hiking, and biking
First job: AMC Movie Theaters at 14 years old
For more 2023 Innovators to Watch, read our full roundup »