Challenge to Change | BCom grads transform their business dreams into virtual reality

From the realities of business school to the world of virtual reality, Charlie Shi and his partner Alexander Chua are using their experience in the BCom program to open a business like no other in the Lower Mainland.


For as long as he can remember, 22-year-old Charlie Shi has been passionate about video games and entrepreneurship. But he never thought he would actually be able to marry his two interests until he attended the Bachelor of Commerce program at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

“I’ve always been an ardent follower of the gaming and technology industries, so I knew there was a definite demand for virtual reality in the Lower Mainland,” explained Shi, who just opened Vancouver’s first virtual reality gaming lounge, Univrs, with fellow UBC Sauder BCom alumnus Alexander Chua. “Consumers wanted the technology and companies were looking to deliver virtual content, but the two were somehow disconnected.”

According to DigiBC—the digital media and wireless association of B.C.—there are an estimated 168 virtual reality-related companies and 5,500 full-time employees in the province. But, despite these impressive numbers, Shi and Chua realized something was still missing: a place to connect people with product.

“There are a handful of virtual reality lounges in North America, but we decided to draw some inspiration from Asia, where the trend has really exploded,” explained Shi. “Asian lounges have a sophisticated atmosphere that guides users through the VR experience. Alex and I saw some definite parallels between that market and Vancouver, where we could also cater to a young, tech-focused market.”

Charlie Shi quote


A natural-born problem-solver who dabbles in music, philosophy and chess, Shi says video games have always been his way of dealing with the daily stresses of life. In high school, he decided to channel his gaming interests into a non-profit organization called the Vancouver Gaming League, which brings together passionate gamers through regular tournaments and events.

“Initially it was just me and a couple of friends, but now the League has over 200 people participating in tournaments,” said Shi. “The League ultimately pushed me to apply to UBC Sauder, because I knew the school would give me the knowledge and experience I needed to further pursue gaming as a career.”

So as a young entrepreneur, who are Shi’s key influencers when it comes to business and technology?

“Jonathan Ive—Apple’s chief design officer—has always been someone I’ve looked up to,” Shi explained. “He has this amazing ability to anticipate the future of design and be incredibly meticulous in everything he does. Now that we have our own business, Alex and I strive to emulate Ive’s design philosophy and customer experience at Univrs.”


According to Shi, one of the greatest benefits of attending UBC Sauder was the hands-on experience he gained in business fundamentals and entrepreneurship. “I know a lot of potential competitors with great ideas, but they just don’t have the business acumen to get that idea into the marketplace. But when we graduated from UBC Sauder, we were able to literally hit the ground running with Univrs,” he explained.

Integral to the UBC Sauder entrepreneurship specialization – of which Shi and Chua were the first graduates – is New Venture Design. The innovative yearlong course pairs commerce and engineering students and tasks them with producing a product prototype and business plan. The class not only gave Shi and Chua the ultimate inspiration for Univrs, but it also gave them the resources they needed to launch their business.

The pair were awarded the inaugural UBC Sauder BCom Class Gift, which last year chose to support ventures developed in New Venture Design. Funds for the gift were raised entirely by students and matched by the Dean’s Office. The gift allowed Shi and Chua to establish their web domains and mailing systems, to incorporate the business and connect with investors.


Shi says the relationships he and Chua developed during their time at UBC Sauder have also proved to be beneficial. “It’s a lot of hard work to take a business concept and transform it into a viable reality, but we’ve been fortunate enough to work with several UBC Sauder alumni as we develop Univrs. We’re making valuable connections that will help us now and into the future across a number of industries.”

Initially supported by a private equity investor, Univrs recently received a second round of funding.

The lounge is set to open to the public on November 19 and the pair say anticipation in the gaming community is high. In the future, Shi and Chua have big plans for Univrs; in the short-term, they plan to double the number of headsets and hopefully secure a liquor license. But they’re also eyeing an expansion into the virtual reality distribution, software licensing and hardware industries.

“I really think that virtual reality will be adopted in one form or another by the public in the next two to three years,” Shi mused. “Pretty soon, everyone will be able to use this technology and will adapt to it very quickly, and Alex and I will be part of that boom.”


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