The Beginning of A Social Enterprise

You wouldn't expect a virtual reality center in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is a town of 18,000 people, and known for its rich musical history. Most people who come here are music lovers excited to visit the hometown of Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker, Robert "Bilbo" Walker, and many more Blues artists. And in the middle of its quiet downtown, is us, a VR center inside a brick building titled "The Shoppe Downtown". 

In spring 2017, the founders of Lobaki, in partnership with Indigo, decided to move the Lobaki HQ to Clarksdale and begin a Social Entrepreneur effort to grow a VR tech start-up focused on training and employing youth. Luckily, at the same time, hundreds of youth from Clarksdale had just went through the Indigo process. We enthusiastically invited these students to join our venture.

Students curating VR experiences during Juke Joint 2017. Source: Affordable Design & Entrepreneurship

Students curating VR experiences during Juke Joint 2017. Source: Affordable Design & Entrepreneurship

The center's storefront during Juke Joint. Source: Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship

The center's storefront during Juke Joint. Source: Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship

A row of VR programmers

A row of VR programmers

A student showing her work

A student showing her work

Student trying out a experience as her friend programs it

Student trying out a experience as her friend programs it

To test our vision, we selected 5 students to be trained as VR curators to host a VR station at the annual Juke Joint Festival. A VR pop-up was in place for the weekend and the trained students curated 175+ visitors through VR experiences. All of the revenue generated was dispersed to the student curators. After this successful effort, a larger effort was started to take these same students and train them to become VR Experience Creators, which began just last week in early July.

This summer, we are doing something truly unique. Most of the students have no background in computer programming, but all have shown an incredible interest in building a VR experience together. The students are thrilled about this is experience, not only because of the new technology, but also because what this means to them. Things are a bit quieter in Clarksdale. The streets are empty, most storefronts are closed, and the jobs are sparse. For that reason, youth who live here struggle with finding exciting and engaging opportunities. At the VR Center, they are getting paid to learn how to create their own VR environment. There is no other program like this in the US. Some VR educational programs that exist, for example, Upload SF, cost thousands of dollars. Lobaki and Indigo are collaborating to create an opportunity for these youth to work with developers to create and publish a VR experience by the end of the summer. You can follow their stories on our blog.

They hope that once these students are trained, they will work with educators in the local high schools and community colleges to develop VR curriculum based experiences that can bring additional tech resources to Clarksdale.



 

Alisha Pegan