Innovative Virtual Learning World Developed at Rady School Becomes Commercial Enterprise

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VirBELA, a virtual world developed at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, with funding provided by a grant from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), recently completed the process through the UC San Diego Technology Transfer Office to become a limited liability company (LLC). This move to become a company takes VirBELA out of the research and development phase and will allow it to work with private corporate clients while still serving departments at UC San Diego, including the Rady School.

Alex Howland, VirBELA co-founder and CEO, explained that VirBELA's success and its desire to continue to grow spurred the need to take it commercial. "VirBELA started as a research project, but it was always our intention to make commercial-ready products and services," Howland said. "It made sense at this point, now that we have something to go to market with, that it would be in the commercial space. Because the university is not a for-profit corporation, we couldn't do things like technical support or serving corporate clients without becoming a company."

VirBELA immerses participants in the virtual environment by using avatars, voice over IP (VoIP) and text chat to simulate an in-person feeling to a virtual interaction. VirBELA uses the virtual world it developed to run games and simulations that allow people to interact and provides feedback to users based on their performance.

In addition to working with corporate clients, VirBELA has many partnerships and connections with the UC system. Currently, VirBELA is being used by the Rady School's Center for Executive Development for Executive Education courses and classes at UC Irvine are using a VirBELA campus. At UC San Diego, VirBELA is part of a large National Science Foundation (NSF) grant written with the Mathematics and Education Studies Departments. VirBELA is also being used for part of a NSF grant obtained by the Computer Science and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

VirBELA has been accepted into the Qualcomm Institute for Innovation incubator, which will allow the company to stay connected to the UC San Diego network by working with faculty advisors and schools within the university. The company is also working with the Beyster Institute at the Rady School to become an employee-owned company.

As VirBELA continues to grow, the company hopes to transform learning and assessment services through their virtual world platform. VirBELA Co-founder Ron Rembisz, outlined the next strategic steps for the company. 

"We would like to be a creative employee-owned organization where discovery and innovation are in our DNA and where there is excitement and passion for learning and understanding," Rembisz said. "Our goals continue to be to create an immersive virtual learning environment that will stimulate and engage its users. We want to bring contributors from many disciplines to share and collaborate and enable our associates and partners to actualize their visions."

Both Howland and Rembisz noted that VirBELA's success has been possible because of the GMAC grant (VirBELA was funded by a $1.7 million grant from the GMAC MET Fund Ideas to Innovation (i2i) Challenge in 2012) and its development and growth at the Rady School.

"We are certainly grateful to the Rady School and GMAC for making this all possible," Howland said.

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