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Purple plaque for trailblazing graduate

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Published on 13 March 2024

VJ and her purple plaque at Hope Street Xchange, University of Sunderland City Campus
VJ and her purple plaque at Hope Street Xchange, University of Sunderland City Campus

A purple plaque has been installed at the University of Sunderland to mark the success of a graduate whose innovation is helping improve the lives of SEND children around the world.

In 2021, inspired by her then five-year-old autistic son, Vijayalakshmi Subramani (VJ to her friends) founded TeenyWeenyVR – a fun, VR-based edutainment and visit preparation platform for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

The technology helps prepare children for new places and situations using virtual reality, allowing them to safely access a wider range of educational and entertainment experiences.

In just one year, VJ’s groundbreaking VR platform achieved national recognition and she was awarded a £50,000 cash boost from Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards, as well as mentoring and coaching to scale up her product.

VJ, 38, said: “It’s not just a grant, it's a recognition of a personal mission born from the heart of a mother's love. This funding celebrates the journey that started with my son, Jameskarthik, and his interaction with VR technology to soothe his anxiety and in helping transitions through visit preparations in VR. Having received this award was an incredible honour and a testament to the potential impact of my innovation which helps children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“This award had already significantly accelerated our development, allowing us to expand our content, reach more children, and further our goal of making education inclusive and accessible through our continued engagement with the stakeholders nationally and internationally.  It is an affirmation that our work can create ripples of positive change for the SEND community, propelling us to widen our reach and deepen our impact.”

VJ arrived in England from India in 2009, and after several years working for Sunderland City Council, she decided she wanted to spread her wings and quit her role to study a postgraduate course at Sunderland. 

VJ graduated from the University with a Master’s in MSc Environment, Health and Safety in 2020 and founded her own business, Thendral International Ltd. She was named Student of the Year in 2019 for her inspirational work supporting fellow students.

She is also one of the founders and CEO of Kerckhoffs Ltd, the company behind TeenyWeenyVR, and vice president of its US subsidiary, Eyemmersive Inc.

VJ’s remarkable career journey has now been honoured with a purple plaque at the University of Sunderland. The plaque recognises the prestigious Women in Innovation award she was awarded in 2022 by Innovate UK.

The official plaque unveiling took place on Tuesday 12 March at Hope Street Xchange, on the University’s City Campus.

VJ, a proud Sunderland alumna, said: “This is where I studied and learned a lot, not just in the classroom, but about life and chasing dreams. It is where I was acknowledged as Student of the Year 2019 which boosted my confidence immensely and propelling me to advance my vision as an innovator today.

“To have this honour in a place that gave me so much is really special. It's like saying thank you to a place that helped me grow and start my journey to help others. It truly feels like coming full circle.”

Emily Nott, Head of Diversity and Inclusion Programmes at Innovate UK, said: "Vijayalakshmi is an exemplary business leader and a wonderful role model for aspiring innovators. We are delighted to present her with a purple plaque in recognition of her achievements and for being a trailblazing winner of the Innovate UK Women in Innovation Awards.

“We hope that the plaque will serve as a permanent source of inspiration for the University of Sunderland students, showing that anyone, regardless of gender, can change the world through innovation."

Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, Sir David Bell, said: “VJ is an outstanding graduate of the University of Sunderland and so we are delighted to have her achievements recognised publicly. To have an Innovate UK purple plaque unveiled in her honour is a singular achievement for VJ and we are proud to call her one of our own.

“We will, of course, continue to follow VJ’s career with great interest and look forward very much to seeing how her creative talents evolve in the future as she designs the next generation of VR-based edutainment products.”

VJ’s vision extends beyond technology; she is aiming to create a comprehensive digital ecosystem named SENDelight Gifts, a platform which will serve as a one-stop resource for SEND children, parents, and carers, offering everything from toys to technology and specialised advice.

On what her advice would be to students hoping to follow in her footsteps, VJ said: “Believe in your strength and never give up. Each challenge is a chance to get one step closer to your goals. Support one another. Our dreams aren’t just dreams; they are blueprints of a future we build together, so hold onto them and go make it happen.

“Remember, it’s not just about reaching the top; it’s about the courage to keep going, no matter what.”

For more information on TeenyWeenyVR, visit https://teenyweenyvr.com/