Brent Brisbois is like any regular 16-year-old. He plays lacrosse, enjoys the occasional round of paintball, and proudly owns a driver’s license. However, this year, while others his age were enjoying the freedom of summer vacation, he was busy starting his own business.
Brisbois owns Verge of Reality, a new virtual reality (VR) arcade located in downtown Traverse City’s Warehouse District. Armed with a headset and a couple of specialty hand controllers, patrons can fully immerse themselves in one of 50 different VR games and experiences, while family and friends relax on a couch and watch the fun from a monitor.
“Most people haven’t tried VR,” said Brisbois. “They usually start out with 15 to 30 minutes their first time, and then they want more.”
Brisbois has always enjoyed video games and building personal computers, but it wasn’t until a trip to the Upper Peninsula that he thought his hobby could become a business.
“At the time, I was looking into getting a VR headset, but I was dragging my feet because I had tried one for my phone and it wasn’t very good,” he explained. “Then, we were up north in Marquette for a bike race and stopped by a VR arcade. I thought, ‘Why not just do that here inTraverse City?’”
With support from his parents, Cherryland members Peter and Mary Brisbois, Brent jumped headfirst into making his idea a reality and putting together a business plan—something he admits was a big learning experience. “My business plan stunk before I got help from the Small Business Development Center. Before I was trying to use the website wikiHow,” he laughed.
The guidance and hard work paid off for him. After receiving funding (including winning a check for “Best Pitch” from TCNewTech, a local tech enthusiast group), he acquired and renovated the space, set up the equipment, and opened the doors of Verge of Reality within a couple of months.
Since opening in June, Brisbois has been busy handling his storefront, seven days a week (outside of the occasional day off with the help of his parents). Do the long days bother him? Not really. It could be, in part, because the arcade has already seen success, particularly during Traverse City’s busy festival season. “Cherry Fest was great! The last few days when it was cloudy and rainy everybody came in here,” he said.
Now that summer is coming to an end and his junior year of high school is in full swing, Brisbois is thinking about his future and his business. He sees room for both in his plans. “I want to go to college for computer hardware engineering, but Verge of Reality could keep going indefinitely,” he explained. “In fact, we have four VR stations in here right now. I would like to add another four.”
Teenager or not, owning a small business is no cakewalk. But with a great idea and a can-do attitude, Brent Brisbois knows anything is possible. “Don’t be afraid to get help and just do it. You’ve got to keep working on it, and eventually, it will happen.”