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Kristen Cyr
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CCRI student's initiative leads to internship
at virtual reality startup company

Aug. 25, 2014

CCRI Computer Programming major Chinda Thongvilay interned this summer for a startup technology company. CCRI Computer Programming major Chinda Thongvilay interned this summer for a startup technology company offering visitors to its kiosk at the Warwick Mall a chance to test drive its virtual reality experiences through Aug. 31.

The bankruptcy of 38 Studios left many Rhode Islanders who hoped to work locally in the gaming sector in the lurch. But Nexperience, a local startup company dedicated to developing virtual reality software, is betting on the initiative and talent of local college students like CCRI's Chinda Thongvilay to change that.

Co-founders Eric Hall, Kevin Murphy and Aaron James built the company this year when they met at the Hatch Entrepreneurial Center in Providence. The trio was looking to build programs for use with the Oculus Rift, a headset that allows users to go inside a virtual reality "experience."

Like many startups, the company is long on innovation and short on funding. To combat this obstacle, said James, Nexperience decided to reach out to local college students, primarily at New England Tech. But Thongvilay's initiative immediately impressed them, said James, when he saw a flier for the group's "hackathon," held at their workspace in June, and got in touch for more information.

"He then took it upon himself to get involved in our internship program," said James.

Thongvilay, a Cranston resident who moved to Rhode Island from North Carolina to be with family, began taking classes at the college this spring as a Computer Programming major. He had always been drawn to engineering and technology, but had been studying civil engineering at a previous university and wanted to make the switch to computers.

"Technology is the future. If you know about technology, you can pretty much find a career in anything," he said.

Thongvilay didn't participate in the hackathon, owing partially to his limited programming experience. But that didn't stop Nexperience from recognizing his potential in another area. "I'm business- and marketing-minded, so they wanted me to start working on getting ourselves out there and letting the community know more about us," he said.

"You could see he had a natural talent for marketing," said James.

Marketing is at the forefront of James' and his partners' minds as they continue their push to raise funds for the company. The company is promoting its campaign in at a kiosk in the Warwick Mall, where visitors can learn more about the company as well as test-drive some of the experiences that the company created, through the end of the month.

One of these experiences, a roller coaster ride, was born directly from work with interns at the hackathon. "We have some other ones we're excited to demo at the kiosk soon. They're more than just games – your brain really thinks it's somewhere else. We're hoping that people will try the experience and want to give a small donation to our campaign, so that we can move forward to hiring people full time," said James.

Thongvilay said that he comes in for a few hours each Monday through Friday, working directly with James in the company's Providence office. "I reach out to businesses, organizations and different places to try to set up meetings and bring about awareness of our company," said Thongvilay, who added that the experience has been an incredibly valuable one for him. "I plan to stay here as long as possible. I see growth within the company and I want to be a part of it," he said.

James said that he was impressed not only with Thongvilay's entrepreneurial spirit, but with the background that his CCRI education had given him. While Thongvilay helps with marketing, he continues to grow his programming knowledge base. "It just goes to show you what's really going on with CCRI. The students are learning to be independent and they know they need to reach out to local companies to get their foot in the door," said James.

In addition to helping fuel the resurgence of the game programming industry in the state, James said he likes to think that his work with Nexperience and its internship program is paying it forward for an important group of future workers, an investment that is sure to pay off down the line.

"I know the value that students can bring, and the fresh perspective. They're hungry. Internships like this give students a chance to get in with the ground floor with a company that is growing, and allows us to see if their skill sets are aligned with what the company needs. You're able to give them the freedom to work and grow, and see if they are someone you'll want in the company down the line," said James.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16