Venturing into virtual

Kyle Gagnon stakes a claim in the billion-dollar industry of virtual and augmented reality

Kyle Gagnon (Electrician ’16) learns best by doing – which makes his business somewhat ironic.

Kyle deals in virtual and augmented reality, neither of which deal in the real thing, exactly. But the young entrepreneur might say they go one better. As representations and enhancements of the world, VR and AR can be tailor-made to meet users’ needs.

That’s why the JR Shaw School of Business student feels the technology is a powerful teaching tool, and it’s what sparked his imagination when he first came across a VR game at a demonstration at West Edmonton Mall in 2016.

“I knew I could create new and exciting things that have never been done through VR,” says Kyle.

Soon after, he launched Inception VR, a consulting company that provides VR and AR services in support of things such as training and events for business across Canada. It taps into a very real opportunity. By 2021, some experts see the industry approaching US$100 billion globally.

Back to school

Kyle’s first foray into that industry, however, shattered any illusions of easy success. After buying three systems, he set up shop in a basement on Whyte Avenue, Edmonton’s top entertainment district. He specialized in games and hosted what he billed as the city’s first virtual art show, in which participants could “paint” in three-dimensional space.

Three months later, Kyle shuttered the shop – but not the business. “I found that I didn't have the knowledge necessary to run the company,” he says. He returned to NAIT, this time for a Bachelor of Business Administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. He’s in his fourth year.

Kyle is learning about sales, communication skills, how to represent himself, business ethics and more. Every subject has been a step toward developing his business. The courses involve books and lectures, but they’re also practical. “I go into class and learn, and then apply those techniques,” says Kyle.

It gives him a foundation in an emerging field and the confidence to do something he couldn’t in his previous 9-to-5 job: experiment.

“I go into class and learn, and then apply those techniques.”

“I know I can fail and still have an opportunity to rebound, and knowing that gives me more of a push to pursue things that may be on that next level.”

Reaching the next level

As he hones his business skills, Kyle also sharpens his focus. He’s identified three streams for Inception VR. He’ll continue to stage the technology for private and public events, and he’ll continue to experiment with artists and art, the creativity of which he feels is perfect for raising public awareness of what the technology can do.

But the future of Kyle’s company is clearest to him in the growing market for corporate training. Currently, he’s working on providing virtual reality training for an industrial certification program to prevent falls. His program is now being tested in partnership with one of the province’s biggest construction companies. It will require only VR equipment that will allow users to safely experience scenarios for themselves.

“When I use virtual reality technology, I'm motivated, I'm engaged, I'm immersed.”

When I use virtual reality technology, I'm motivated, I'm engaged, I'm immersed, and I think that is powerful for training.”

Like any business, developing Inception VR has been challenging. In the beginning, Kyle was disappointed when he felt his vision for the potential of the technology wasn’t always shared. “At first it was, ‘I love this, this is the best thing in the world. Why don't people see what I see here?’”

As he continues to commit himself to building his business, however, applying lessons as he goes, the process is beginning to reflect the promise of VR technology itself. Kyle’s belief in the future he saw at the outset hasn’t faltered. “Your dreams can become a reality,” he says.

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