The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association sat down with Amy LaMeyer, Managing Partner of WXR Fund. WXR Fund invests in women-led early-stage companies that are transforming businesses and human interaction by leveraging spatial computing and artificial intelligence.
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Amy LaMeyer, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. Let’s first talk about your XR story. What sparked your interest in working on XR?
I’ve always been inspired by new technologies that help connect and enable people. I started in tech at a company called Akamai Technologies which helped build and scale the Internet. That was a really interesting place to be as it grew because we were pushing the boundaries of what was possible both in terms of technology and customer adoption. Eventually, the internet became ubiquitous.
In early 2016 I was in mergers & acquisitions and we were doing diligence on a cybersecurity company at CES. The VR headsets Rift and HTC Vive had just come out. I saw people using VR and I thought, that’s it. That’s the next wave of computing. That’s how we’re going to talk with each other, where there’s going to be more presence, more immersion, and more empathy. There’s a specialness to it, and for Augmented Reality, a fluidity between the digital and the physical. I did more research on virtual and augmented reality and although I knew it was early, but I also knew I had to be part of it.
In 2018 a trio of women started WXR (which stands for women in XR) as a movement to encourage women and diversity in the XR space. This included an accelerator program for women-led AR and VR start-ups. There was an incredible amount of interest and support for this program. Among the hundreds of people that offered to mentor, I was one of the eight mentors of the first cohort. The initial lunch of the accelerator was done in virtual reality. After doing a second cohort in 2018, Martina Wolkoff, WXR’s co-founder, approached me about creating a fund. We’ve been managing the fund for the last three years.
2. How do you feel that your background and your identity have shaped your ability to do your job and to be a leader in this industry?
Akamai was a large part of my background and enabled me to experience many different parts of the business. At Akamai, I worked in several roles, through a tremendous growth period as well as several periods of downsizing
I started early in engineering enabling scale, then worked for our CFO and gained experience creating profitability models. Most of the time that I was there I was part of a small corporate development team focusing on M&A. We looked at what the strategy of the business was and what sort of startups might fit in, and we considered how to identify startups that were in a strong space to succeed. We worked on integrating them and really getting to know every part of the business and how to run a business successfully at every point, from engineering to marketing. That was really formative and I use those skills to this day.
3. What has been some of your proudest moments with WXR Fund?
The success of the portfolio founders is always a thrill. Also hearing the appreciation of women founders in general is always a bit of surprise to me— remembering that we inspire women beyond those we invest in. I feel strongly about the need for, and impact of, diversity, particularly in emerging technologies so that there are a variety of perspectives in the platforms and applications that are created.
4. Are there any strategies you found that help combat burnout?
It’s a great question and I’m really glad people are asking it these days. I think it’s really personal depending on what type of person you are. But for me, what has been fundamentally life-changing is meditation. These days there are so many apps out there, just pick one and start with a few minutes a day – I think I’m on day 3000 or something like that right now! It helps with focus, calm and clarity. Exercise is also important- I ride my peloton bike every day, but I’m not traveling. Finally, especially for technologists, I think grounding oneself in nature is helpful. Fully stepping away from technology and connecting with trees, plants, grass, is another strategy I think can help prevent burnout or get you back into a better mental state.
5. It’s so important to have those on-ramps and those support systems when you’re just starting off in immersive technology, especially in a field that is predominantly male like tech. Besides accelerators like the WXR Fund, what can the industry do to attract more gender diversity into the talent pipeline?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. And I think there are a couple of different things I’d love to see. I think education and reaching younger generations are really important- inspiring students that are in college and just starting their careers, or even the people that have yet to choose their careers. There are more and more colleges and universities having a spatial computing or XR-based component to their education. If we can demonstrate the potential and support for what’s possible, it may help to encourage more women and minorities to engage.
One of the portfolio companies that we have is Prisms of Reality which teaches math in VR. It was just released on the Oculus Store, but it used to just be in schools participating in the program. Now, any child can experience it. So I’m hopeful for more initiatives like that.
6. What do you think the XR industry needs?
I’m very excited about the XR industry even though it is taking time to grow. I remember what it was like to be building the internet in the early days, and how long some of those technologies took to actually be popular. For example, we didn’t really stream a lot on our laptops, much less our phones until the late 2000s. Zoom didn’t really become for everyone until three years ago. So I understand that these things take time.
A lot can be done in spatial computing today with our smartphones. But I really think that the significant shift is going to be in wearables when we can be heads up and hands-free and interact digitally between the physical and digital worlds.
And I think that’s going to take some additional technology hardware shifts: in the goggles themselves, in 5G infrastructure to support data processing and processors. Thankful for the work that Qualcomm and Intel, Apple and others are doing in this area.
For mass adoption, wearables need to be comfortable, easy to use and affordable. Beyond that, we need easy ways to create content that is consumed on these devices. I’m glad to see a lot of companies supporting this with development engines and content creation tools like unreal engine by Epic, Unity, and start-ups like WXR portfolio company Shapes XR.
7. Do you have any predictions or goals for how the industry will continue to evolve in terms of its diversity?
I’d love to see it be an easier place for more diverse people to raise money and build companies. Obviously, XR is a space that’s near and dear to my heart. So I’d love to see that continue. From hiring to inspiring more people to take on this career, and therefore having it be easier to hire. A lot of people reach out to me to ask if I know any women that could be CTO for their company. In particular, if there was one request that I could have of the universe, it would be to instantly make five times as many female CTOs. We would use them in a heartbeat.
8. At XRA we like to say the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
Limitless reminds me of the early days of the Internet or smartphones. These technologies impact all people and all businesses – that is limitless. And that is why diversity is so important as well. It is hand in hand. That’s why Limitless is a great theme- if we want to enable all people to use it, then we need to think about the limitless, diverse set of people we are building for.