A Lethbridge entrepreneur is taking the virtual reality gaming world by storm, having opened the city’s first virtual reality gaming centre last year.
“Our first day, we were profitable and our first month we made money,” CEO of VRKADE Jason Van Hierden said on Tuesday. “We looked at each other shocked and said wow there’s a bit of a gold mine here.”
Starting a business wasn’t something new for Van Hierden, having owned a commercial paining company for years.
But when his business partner saw the potential in virtual reality, he convinced him to jump on board.
“He said, ‘Jason, we need to think a little bit bigger with this. We need to start with the one store and then we need to go to 20, 50, 100 stores after that,'” Van Hierden said. “When he told me that, a light went on and I said, ‘OK, let’s look at this.'”
In November 2016, they opened VRKADE and in less than a year, they opened a second location in Calgary with plans in the works for two more to be opened by Christmas.
“The virtual reality industry, I think, is one of the most exciting industries we’ve seen in a while,” said Steve Baines, vice-president of business and development. “Probably the most exciting since the internet just because there’s limitless possibilities.”
“We created this thinking that we would enjoy it and if other people did, if it broke even, if it did just better than that, great,” Van Hierden said. “But it ended up blowing our highest projection out of the water.”
Despite the ups and downs in the economy, entrepreneurial expert Renae Barlow says there’s actually never been a better time to start a niche business.
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“It really doesn’t matter what the economy is doing,” Barlow said. “If it’s a significant enough pain or problem for the customer, they’re actually going to purchase that solution from you.”
Barlow works at Tecconnect, a southern Alberta company offering free workshops and advice to entrepreneurs.
As for Van Hierden, he’s thinking big – with plans to expand across Canada.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the people, so I focus my time on finding the right people,” he said. “I would like to have multiple franchises, as many as the industry will allow.”