In many ways, first-year student Enzo Vinholi started his VR business for his grandmother, who resided with his family during his childhood and helped raise him. After a series of strokes, however, she returned to Brazil and can no longer visit. Vinholi said when they would talk, she would ask about the house and other spots they had frequented in St. Paul.
With the recent rise of virtual reality (VR), Vinholi sought to learn how technology could connect his grandmother with her former home. He ended up virtually rendering his living room so she could explore it.
He realized this was a concept that could help other seniors with limited mobility, such as those in nursing homes, to allow them to travel the world again, perhaps to beloved places of their past.
“To be able to make age … not a factor is an amazing thing,” Vinholi said.
Rift: An Eye-opening Experience is already in several nursing homes, but now that Vinholi has started at St. Thomas, he intends to use every class, resource, and mentor to better himself and his burgeoning business.
Tapping into St. Thomas resources
While Vinholi’s last few months of high school were heavily colored by success and he has jumped into his college education with both feet, he admits he wasn’t a good student in middle school or early high school. In fact, it wasn’t until he discovered his entrepreneurial passion for helping people that academics also aligned.
“I felt like a zero potential person. As soon as I started to learn about entrepreneurship, how to apply myself correctly and how to use the resources around me, my entire life changed, and things took off,” Vinholi said. He went from C student to getting straight A’s and scored near perfect on his ACT.
While he had stressed over if he could attend college, he was accepted to several and chose St. Thomas for the strength of his entrepreneurship program (as well as the orchestra, thanks to a musical inclination).
“Now I’m sitting here at a college that I chose out of a handful of colleges that I really liked, and I’m able to pay for school through a business I created that helps people,” Vinholi said. “I would have never believed you if you had said that a few years ago.”
He’s made sure to take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to him through the Opus College of Business.
“Here, there’s so many things that are designed to help people like myself, to help people who have this passion. There are clubs and networking opportunities,” Vinholi said. “It’s a community that really not only fits around my life, but pushes me up and helps me be more efficient. That’s probably the thing I appreciate the most about this school.”
Vinholi already participated in the Freshman Innovation Immersion program, which provides a crash course in entrepreneurship for first-year students before the academic year begins.
He’s also planning on entering the Fowler Business Concept Challenge, an annual competition that awards almost $20,000 to business concepts. With this year’s Oct. 23 deadline rapidly approaching, Vinholi said he is excited to meet more young entrepreneurs through the challenge.
“The competition is focused on ideas and creative thinking, encouraging everyone on campus to address problems they care about with fresh thinking and new concepts,” said Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.
Growing the business
Vinholi also puts his daily classes to use, constantly tinkering with Rift to make it a little better. Right now, the company brings its advanced technology into the nursing home, talking with the residents who will use it and creating a custom experience for them. That can be anything from returning to a place they haven’t been in a long time, experiencing some place new or enjoying a simple afternoon in a park.
“That’s an amazing experience for people who don’t have the opportunity to go back there,” Vinholi said “That’s what’s most impactful about our service, and that’s the part I’m most proud of.”
He has plans to expand later this year, and has had requests for his services in three states and two countries. He also hopes to eventually help other populations that have mobility restrictions, such as children in terminal wards in hospitals.
“I want to be able to reach as many people as possible,” Vinholi said. “I’ve seen firsthand the impact this can have. I want as many people who are interested in trying it to be able to try it.”
Among the places he hopes to travel soon: Brazil, to visit his grandmother.
“She’s pretty proud,” Vinholi admitted. “I’m glad that it helps.”