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WIN Project Has Students Exploring How Virtual Reality Can Foster Business Growth

The Westchester Innovation Network’s City Labs initiative launched a new project in New Rochelle on Wednesday to explore how virtual reality can foster business growth.

Students from Iona University’s Introduction to Ideation and Design Thinking class will spend the next six weeks engaging with New Rochelle stakeholders and business owners to brainstorm potential new uses for NRVR, a virtual reality tool created by New Rochelle to help residents experience new public spaces in the rapidly transforming city. The Westchester Innovation Network (WIN) matched the Iona students with New Rochelle as part of the Business Council of Westchester’s focus on making Westchester County more attractive to startups and new technology.

“We are focusing on innovation as the foundation for economic development,” said Marsha Gordon, the BCW’s President and CEO. “WIN’s City Labs initiative has already delivered solutions for Mount Vernon and Yonkers, and we are eager to see what the students develop for New Rochelle.”

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson welcomed the collaboration with Iona students because of emerging opportunities posed by the arrival of new residents. “This is a marketplace for goods and services that will be a stimulus for a healthier business climate in our city and we want to make sure that we position ourselves to take full advantage of those opportunities,” Bramson told the students.

NRVR uses 3D goggles to help residents visualize projects. City officials are using NRVR to design a linear park along Memorial Highway that links downtown with Lincoln Avenue.

“With virtual reality, we’re bridging that gap between somebody telling you what the project is and what the project actually is going to be,” said Jorge Ventura, New Rochelle’s Director of Economic Development.

Students in Iona’s design thinking class study problem solving by prioritizing consumers’—or the public’s—needs. The practice relies on observing people’s interaction with environments.

Rob Kissner, Iona’s GaelVentures Program Manager at the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, called the use of NRVR to design projects an opportunity to apply classroom studies.

“What we’re learning is understanding our users first before we define a solution,” said Kissner. “This project incorporating this incredible stakeholder engagement tool to facilitate people to open their businesses in New Rochelle, hire local and shop local is a great thing.”

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