Hailing from 26 countries across the world, people came together in virtual reality to cheer on these top female founders in the XR industry.
An orange robot head whizzes by me, powered by a propellor hat and gestures with floating mechanical arms. It settles in next to another bot by the stage. Although this second bot has no eyes, it seems like the two know each other, immediately trading heart emojis and high fives.
A group of cartoon-looking androids, buzzing with anticipation, enter the large assembly hall. Some are acquainted, others meet for the first time. Soon a crowd of avatars gather around the platform and stare at me with expressionless faces—I can tell they’re excited by the cloud of heart and smiley face emojis bubbling over their heads.
But this is no animated video and I’m not watching this on a screen.
Instead I’m virtually inside a rendered auditorium with a large presentation screen behind me. The avatars gathered around the virtual space are real people from across the globe, wearing VR headsets like myself or logged in via their desktops or mobile devices.
We are all in AltspaceVR, a VR social platform that lets you meet people from around the world and attend live events. Represented by a digital avatar of my choice, I’m about to host the WXR Pitch Showcase alongside Martina Welkhoff and Abby Albright. The free to attend showcase features women-led businesses in immersive technology (XR) and is hosted by the WXR Fund, a venture fund dedicated to amplifying female founders and XR startups committed to gender equality.
Over seventy women-led XR startups applied to the 1st WXR Cohort, and it was no easy task to narrow the applicants down to our Top 8.
These founders are a well-rounded group of leaders and entrepreneurs with a variety of focuses— from combining brain control interfaces with VR for wellness, to creating the world’s first search engine for immersive content, to using AR to accelerate skill sets and reduce costs in the construction industry.
Here are the eight female Founders of the 1st WXR Cohort:
- Vivian Tan // Beast, Inc. (San Francisco, CA) – creates magical pets for XR, like pet dragons or unicorns, that will become your faithful digital companions.
- Cheryl Bayer // Living Popups (Los Angeles, CA) – interactive content and media company bringing together IC, AR/VR and EQ.
- Sophia Dominguez // SVRF (New York, NY) – the first search engine for immersive content for virtual reality and augmented reality.
- Sarah Hill // StoryUP XR (Columbia, MO) – combines virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, story, and neurofeedback to shift brainwave patterns associated with stress and has created a “corporate chill pill” that can reduce brain stress in as little as four minutes.
- Lori-Lee Emshey // Future Sight AR (Houston, TX) – bridges the knowledge gap for industrial work instructions with augmented reality, helping people like field engineers and construction workers in the oil, gas & chemical industries.
- Spandana Govindgari // ARAD (San Francisco, CA) – easy-to-integrate advertising platform for developers and advertisers to deliver AR ads to better target users and gain insights.
- Morgan Mercer // Vantage Point (Los Angeles, CA) – immersive training tools for corporate HR departments who are aiming to effectively train their employees on how to prevent and solve workplace issues like sexual harassment.
- Julia Winter // Alchemie (Troy, MI) – immersive chemistry curriculum learning tools for higher education, providing real-time assessment via machine learning and data analytics to bridge the knowledge and communications gap between students and professors.
Check out this short “flattie” video showcasing the 1st WXR Pitch Showcase, held in VR.
The founders received a Microsoft mixed reality headset and are currently enrolled in the WXR Mentorship Program beta. This program provides strategic alliances and entrepreneurial guidance over 10 weeks. Each female founder has been paired with complementary women leaders from companies such as Google, Magic Leap, Norwest Venture Partners, and Warner Bros., who bring an expertise in everything from venture capital, product development, and marketing.
During the WXR Pitch Showcase, the founders pitched their companies to a panel of investors, venture capitalists, angel investors and industry experts.
Providing feedback to the founders and supporting gender equality in XR and beyond were Marco DeMiroz (The Venture Reality Fund), Maddie Callander (Boost VC), Timoni West (Unity), Dessy Levinson (645 Ventures), Peter Rojas (betaworks ventures), and Jesse Draper (Halogen Ventures).
With this being the inaugural WXR Pitch Showcase, we were blown away by the support from the immersive tech community globally. Acquired by Microsoft last fall, AltspaceVR was our social VR venue because of their great team and cross-platform functionality, which allows anyone with Wi-Fi and a screen to tune in.
This was all about accessibility— people could watch the 2D live stream on YouTube, join in via a mobile or desktop browser app, or put on a VR headset and step inside the virtual room. Women and allies from Canada to Latvia to South Africa joined in on the festivities.
8 She-EOs in a virtual pool. Thx @women_xr for the valuable feedback/connections. #inspired @TheMalia @AndyFidel_ @peterrojas @marcodemiroz @TheMorganMercer pic.twitter.com/6ftEBDfnLX
— Sarah Hill (@SarahMidMO) January 6, 2018
After the official event, there was of course an afterparty. A kind of virtual backyard cookout—attendees were jumping in the digital pool by the night’s end.
I’m looking forward to more people embracing events held in VR—no one had to spend money on a plane ticket or wait in an airport. By popping on a VR headset, not only did we save the world from a few more carbon emissions but our sanity was saved from stressful travel too.
Social VR can make the world more accessible. It’s fun bonding with people from around the world over shared animated robot avatars. I even met some Twitter friends for the first virtual time at the afterparty.
Trading good-to-meet-you virtual handshakes is always a good time, but knowing that the other avatars are also advocates for equality? That just makes it better.
For more information on the WXR Fund, visit www.womenxr.com.