The Viva Vita Startup Story
Originally published on December 14th, 2020 on herahub.com/dc by Julia Westfall
Viva Vita delivers the power of virtual reality (VR) to retirement communities to enrich quality of life for seniors and improve programming variety for community directors.
Carleigh Berryman, the owner and founder of Viva Vita, has been a Hera Hub DC member for one year.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I began working on Viva Vita in 2017 as a sophomore in college after I began studying geriatric psychology. What I learned in my studies was heartbreaking: that over 7 million seniors suffer from late-life depression, and that the suicide rates for those ages 65 and older are some of the highest of all age groups in our country. I couldn’t believe that this was the status quo that had been accepted for generations, but what really brought the problem home was what I then
began to notice with my own grandmother. With my new-found knowledge in mind, I saw some worrisome symptoms showing with Granny: she was leaving the house less and less, her social life was dwindling ever since my grandfather passed away, and one day she even said to me that she sometimes questioned whether or not she should get up in the morning, since she knew she had nothing to do. I can’t say that virtual reality completely transformed her life or that it cured her depression, but for Granny, VR was a way to keep exploring the world, to continue learning and traveling — a way to continue to Live Life, even if she was now somewhat limited. After the big “a-ha,” it was obvious: seniors need something to keep them connected to the world. With the challenges and constraints of today, virtual reality is the great connector.
Who are your clients and what do you do for them?
Viva Vita serves retirement communities of all kinds. From skilled nursing, to independent living, to memory care, there is a virtual reality solution for all. We are now beginning to expand to related audiences, such as hospice communities and hospitals. In any place in which individuals find themselves “stuck,’ Viva Vita is there to whisk them away to another world.
Communities subscribe to a Viva Vita VR plan, and we send them everything needed for this high-fidelity activity in our all-in-one VR Kit. With the Kit, communities have access to cutting-edge enterprise VR headsets, a variety of VR content and tours, and our special software that makes it easy for anyone to use — from visiting grandchildren to senior residents themselves!
What are your business’ values? How do they align with your personal values?
At Viva Vita, we value Respect, Integrity, and Curiosity. These are values I hold high in my own life, and they are woven into all that we do at Viva Vita. Respect for each other and for the generations that came before us are key: whether we like it or not, we are where we are because of the sacrifice of those that proceed us.
Who can discount integrity? At the end of the day, all we have is our word. If the seniors that work with us and the customers we serve don’t trust us to absolutely do the right thing in every circumstance, what kind of relationship do we have?
Finally, if curiosity wasn’t important to me or to Viva Vita, there’s no way we would have made it this far. Our team is curious about what’s possible, and we keep testing the limits of possibilities. I really have to hand it to our senior participants, though. The seniors I have had the pleasure of meeting through my work are constantly hungry to see and learn new things!
How/Why did you choose your business name?
When it came to picking a name for the idea that would eventually become Viva Vita, I wanted to encapsulate what we were all about: living life to the fullest. I was a Latin nerd in high school (shoutout to Mr. Gorham!), so for an extra spin I mashed up some of the vocab I had learned and got Viva Vita. Viva comes from Vivet, or “to live” and Vita comes from Vitae, “life.”
What do you love most about your work?
I love to see someone’s face light up and their jaw drop when they try a new VR experience for the first time. Sometimes when the seniors have completed their experience and take off the headset, their eyes sparkle in a new way. People throw around the term “heart warming” a lot, but seeing this truly warms my heart.
What is the biggest challenge in running your own business?
As a young entrepreneur, it is occasionally difficult to be taken seriously by competitors, potential partners, and others in the industry. However, I’ve found that being underestimated can work to one’s advantage!
What are your/your business's goals for the future?
We delivering accessible, affordable virtual reality to millions of seniors. Currently, we’ve brought the power and wonder of VR to just about a thousand seniors across three states, and we have an exciting journey ahead of us.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Find new ways to talk to your customers and NEVER stop listening to them. It’s easy to get caught up in what you think they need: customers will tell you exactly what they want, but only if when you ask and really listen to the answer.