Jordan Renda

Imagine an immersive art experience that engages all five senses — a place where artificial intelligence seemingly controls a fungus that hums, where water pools beneath a rain tree of neon tubes and tracks visitors’ footsteps, where alien insects fill an entire zoo, and guests wearing menacing white masks attend a Renaissance funeral.

Welcome to the mind and vision of Jordan Renda (BSBA '15), the entrepreneur and founder of Otherworld, a growing franchise of immersive experiences that — unless you’re Renda — belies any explanation or description.

Scene from Otherworld Philadelphia.
A scene from Otherworld Philadelphia

“Otherworld is truly a self-guided, immersive experience where people feel like they are entering into a 3D video game or are inside of a film where they are the protagonist guiding their own future,” he says. “Otherworld is a lot of things wrapped into one — a puzzle to solve, a gamified experience, an escape room, an art installation, a science center and even a little bit like the Burning Man festival.”

To understand how Renda built his techno utopian empire — locations include Columbus, Philadelphia and, eventually, Cincinnati — it helps to know how it all started.

“All things unusual and strange”

“As a kid growing up in Ohio, I gravitated to all things unusual and strange,” he says. “I was always creating haunted houses in either my basement or friend’s basements for Halloween.”

When, as a young teenager, his family moved to Florida, Renda looked for haunted houses but didn’t find many options. At age 13, he unsuccessfully pitched his parents on opening a haunted house. Undeterred, he developed a business plan that included designs, how to buy props, and details on insurance, zoning and costs. Two years later, and with the backing of his parents, Renda opened Night Terrors Haunted House in Jacksonville in 2009.

Jordan Renda with a scene from his Night Terrors Haunted House
Jordan Renda at his Night Terrors Haunted House. (Photo appeared in The Florida Times Union in 2009 and was provided by Shari Renda.)

Over the next two years — and despite a family move back to Ohio — the haunted house grew in popularity and success. That success led to a series of discussions between an 18-year-old Renda and his parents about his future, specifically whether college was his next step.

Mom and Dad eventually won out.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I chose Fisher and a business degree,” he says. “The experience and education have made me a much different person.”

But college didn’t stop his entrepreneurial endeavors; if anything, it helped them. Every weekend from August through November during Jordan’s first two years at Ohio State, he traveled back to Florida to oversee the operations of the haunted house. The rest of the week he focused on his specialization in finance.

“I chose finance because understanding capital was important for me to understand how to grow and expand my business,” Renda says. “The education I received at Fisher really helped me understand the world of finance, cash flow and how to negotiate deals. It has really brought me an air of credibility when I approach various lenders, real estate proprietors and investors.”

He learned to fine-tune his financial planning skills, understand different business structures and how to develop polished business plans — far more complex than the one that convinced his parents to invest in Night Terrors.

“For a few summers I also worked in the university’s Technology Commercialization Office and thought about creating a start-up company through them. But ultimately, I had the bug for creating unusual experiences,” he says.

“I tried to fight it for a bit, but it ultimately pulled me back and won.”

After closing Night Terrors in his second year at Ohio State, Jordan became owner/operator of Adner Heights Entertainment in 2013. He created the Creep Haunted House Festival in London, Ohio, which included three themed haunted houses, food trucks, fire performers and an outdoor cinema. Renda eventually sold the business to a St. Louis company to focus on his classes and finishing college.

His first post-graduate venture was opening Codescape, an escape room-type experience in Charlotte, North Carolina, he operated until 2020. Much like his haunted houses, Codescape had captivating scenery, special effects, soundscapes, storylines and multi-sensory puzzles.

“While Codescape was successful, it was too small of a footprint. I could only accommodate 10 people at a time and I wanted to expand on the concept,” Renda says. “I was looking for the next-generation idea, how I could gamify the experience to the next level.”

Art meets business

Glowing Tree scene from Otherworld Philadelphia
Glowing Tree scene from Otherworld Philadelphia

In 2017, while still operating Codescape, he began working on his ideas for Otherworld, creating concepts, scoping out locations and creating a network of artists and designers he could collaborate with. He opened the Columbus location in 2019 and the Philadelphia facility in August. Between the two locations are 95 scenes of large-scale art and mixed-reality playgrounds spread across 73,000 square feet.

“When people come to Otherworld, I want them to be enveloped by the space, to use all their senses, to shift their perspective, change their day-to-day outlook and lose a sense of time and space,” Renda says.

That’s part of the reason he chose big box environments — the spaces allow for expansive displays while revitalizing and bringing to life empty buildings.

Renda has a team of 30 full-time employees that designs and fabricates the rooms, turns 2D drawings into 3D design, creates lighting effects and brings the interactive exhibits to life through technology. All the displays for both Philadelphia and Columbus have an overarching theme and are intentionally designed and created in Columbus.

Otherworld scene from Columbus
Scene from Otherworld Columbus

The additional 40 to 50 people he has on staff are on one-to-two-year contracts for specific projects, including local artists that concept and create a quarter of the exhibits based on a theme. The remaining rooms — 10% of which change every quarter — are manufactured by his staff through creative briefs, floor plans, concepting and design.

“I always wanted to do something with a creative outlet,” says Renda, who works with an outside partner – Thirteenth Floor – to run the day-to-day operations of the Philadelphia location.

“I see myself as more of a director than an artist. I’m able to integrate the artistic side with the business side by leading the design team from conceptualization to creation.”

As for his plans for expansion? Renda is currently in contract for a space in Cincinnati and is exploring how he will creatively shape it into an elevated Otherworld.

“At first, I had a bit of hesitation about the unique path I’ve chosen, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing to life experiential, immersive spaces that alter reality and let people become one with the art,” he says.

"I chose finance because understanding capital was important for me to understand how to grow and expand my business."

Jordan RendaBSBA '15