When you think of futuristic technology, you may think of flying cars, robot butlers and space tourism – none of which we currently have. What we do have is Virtual and Augmented Reality! While this technology is still fairly new, the growth of the VR/AR industry in the past few years has ensured that this technology is here to stay.
At the forefront of the industry in Canada is House of VR. Founded in 2017, House of VR is a mobile VR events and services company that has now showcased the technology to over 60,000 people. Going beyond the idea that VR is just an entertainment/gaming platform, House of VR now focuses exclusively on bringing its expertise and equipment to companies, organizations, and schools. VR as a tool for empathy and VR as a training simulator are just two examples of how the House of VR is executing their mission to bring VR to the masses
We had a chance to have a quick chat with Jonah, the owner of House of VR, and learn more about why and how he started the company, what challenges he faced, and how Lending Loop was able to help in their business growth.
Let’s start with the business. What is the origin story?
I have been a serial entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. I started several companies in social enterprise space when I was younger (Operation Groundswell, StashBelt, SokoText) and I learned a lot about what makes a company succeed. The main impetus of wanting to get into VR was seeing the massive attendance at VR exhibits around 2014-2015 and realizing that this was a massively growing market. Realizing that people did not have access to the technology because it was unaffordable and unavailable in homes, we decided to start House of VR with the goal of becoming the central node of the budding ecosystem for the VR and AR industry in Toronto.
What challenges did you face in the first year of business?
The first thing was public education. At the time, roughly 90% of Canadians had not tried VR so very quickly we realized that there was a big gap in the market here in Toronto. When we started in early 2017, the focus was to provide that first-time experience for people and educate the market on what VR is and what the possibilities are. We quickly realized that VR is much more than an entertainment or gaming platform. That is, the actual benefit is using it as a tool for empathy. We then decided to use VR as an education and training technology.
It’s been a fun journey of finding different ways to enable this tech. We work with a lot of organizations, like Community Foundations Canada, and corporations, like TD and Shopper’s Drug Mart to help them with training, diversity, and inclusion. We do so many different things now that is outside the realm of VR entertainment and that’s really what excites us.
How did you fund the business initially?
Like all startups, we initially funded through a variety of sources. We secured angel investment, a BDC loan and Futurpreneur Canada loan. Lending Loop funding only came later when we were seeking growth capital.
How did you come across Lending Loop? What did the loan mean to you?
I heard about Lending Loop a few years ago and I really liked the concept of peer-to-peer lending. I think it’s a new and innovative format for people to support business ideas that can prosper. I think that Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms were the first steps in this movement but peer-to-peer lending is kind of the next step. The short answer is that one of Lending Loop’s account managers actually approached us. We already knew a lot about the company and ultimately, the value that Lending Loop brought us was to expand a new business line.
How are things going for you now?
House of VR now focuses specifically on VR events and activations. So we bring our equipment, staffing, and years of expertise to different locations around the GTA/Ontario/Canada. We have a partnership with the National Film Board to showcase Biidaaban, an Indigenous Futurist experience that features a futuristic Toronto. Really beautiful and thought-provoking. Showings have been constant in the past 15 months and we have numerous more lined up. We are also working on a variety of new projects that we will be able to hopefully share more about soon. And what’s cool about that is that it has given us the confidence to pivot our operations from being specifically location-based VR lounge to mobile. We can do a lot more because we are not tied down to our single location. This was the big change that funding from Lending Loop has allowed us to do.
What role does House of VR play in the community?
House of VR has been critical to building the VR ecosystem in Canada. Our location on Queen West served as a central point for many people and events in the early stages of mass-market adoption. Now we are really pushing for companies/organizations and the general public to understand that VR is the medium and not the message. This technology will continue to impact our lives in dramatic ways so we must focus on using its immersive power for good.