Women in Virtual Reality – The Top Women to Watch in VR

Virtual reality is an exploding industry, predicted to close out its first billion-dollar year in 2016. Its impact is much farther reaching than just entertainment. From medical therapies and marketing to construction and interactive shopping experiences, VR is transforming the way we live, play, work and shop. 2016 has been the year of wide-spread adoption, and we’ll be watching closely to see how enterprises leverage VR in the new year to experiment and create break-through immersive experiences for their clients.
In the meantime, check out our roundup of incredible women making waves in VR.
Tricia Clarke-Stone, New York
CEO and co-founder of Narrative, a creative, tech and innovation agency that works with brands like UnderArmour, JCPenney and Universal Pictures.
A typical day:
I play a lot in our innovation studio. Our studio is focused on future-proofing brands through IP development fueled by code and culture that results in the invention of products, platforms, services, experiences, new brands and businesses.
What she loves about VR is:
VR allows you to truly create an immersive experience that can dimensionalize a story. Imagine, just a few years ago, we only had a few platforms to tell stories: radio, TV, digital. But today, technology is redefining how brands find, use, and bring their voice to life.
Tips on using VR for branding and marketing: 
VR has to be more than a gimmick. There needs to be real value in the activation for your audience. I see VR as an effective method to help people ‘walk around’ in a brand’s story – to take part in the narrative. As such it should be used to enhance a larger strategy, rather than just pushing tech for tech’s sake.
Where VR will really grow is when we can monetize it. For instance, we’ve built a prototype of a “Shoppable VR” experience where as you go through the story, users can buy items that are in the environment directly within the app. In a real life experiential that we built as a holiday campaign with JCPenney, participants and shoppers were given coupons that they could redeem in the store, taking the VR activation back into a real life experience.
Robyn Tong Gray, Los Angeles
Chief creative officer and co-founder of Otherworld Interactive, working on everything from design to programming to art.
What she loves about her work:
We have a team of 10 people with interdisciplinary backgrounds. One of my favorite aspects of our team, besides the fact that we have a fun and laid back atmosphere, is that we’re comprised of almost exactly half women and half men. This mixture benefits the projects we work on as we have a diverse pool of opinions and voices as well as skill sets.
How she got into VR:
I completed my undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon in Computer Science and Fine Arts. During my senior year, I took classes at the Entertainment Technology Center where I got to work on short projects using experimental technology like very primitive HMDs and Kinects. From there, I went on to complete my masters at University of Southern California in Interactive Media.
During my first year at USC, I worked with Mark Bolas as a research assistant at his Mixed Realities lab. I had the opportunity to work with the equipment that would become the Oculus Rift, amongst other cool alternate technologies and research projects. On graduating from USC my co-founder, Andy Goldstein, and I were given the opportunity to complete a VR contract on the early Google Cardboard platform. The rest is history!
Her favorite VR project to date:
Café Âme, an atmospheric experience that gives the player a sense of embodiment. It was created as an experiment with the Oculus DK2. At the time it was the first easily accessible VR experience (we had it up on Oculus Share) to show a full body reflection. Players found themselves seated in an after-hours Parisian café, observing their reflection in a rain-streaked window.
Dr. Fiona Nah, Rolla, Missouri
Professor of business and information technology at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
What she loves about VR is:
The feeling that it’s real, right in front of you! The technical term for this feeling is telepresence or spatial presence. The ability to manipulate, that is move, create and edit or modify objects in VR as if they’re real, like in the real-world, is an amazing experience. My research also examines VR implications in business, education and gaming.
She’s inspired by:
My former advisor, Dr. Izak Benbasat, a guru in human-computer interaction, particularly in examining and studying human-computer interaction and how it relates to business.
Her favorite VR project to date:
Studying the implications of VR in gaming. My research findings suggest that even though participants experienced higher telepresence with Oculus VR, they still prefer to play games on their desktops due to bouts of dizziness, nausea and motion sickness that were experienced with an Oculus headset on. Hence, desktop gaming is not going away any time soon!
Danielle Dy Buncio, Chicago
As president of VIATechnik, she leads the team that creates Virtual Reality solutions for architects, engineers, and constructions companies. They use VR to simulate real risks in a controlled environment.
Her typical day looks like:
A multi-dimensional explosion and unpredictable, in a good way! Leading an innovative company pulls me in multiple directions, that is filled with challenging problems and interesting projects.
She’s inspired by:
Innovators who push the boundaries of what we can do and risk everything to succeed. One great example in today’s world is Elon Musk. He straddles the line of failure and success constantly to make moon shot bets that have the potential to change the world.
Her favorite VR project to date:
It was our very first VR project.  It was a project to help a nuclear power plant solve a huge problem. The solution was a very simple graphical, technical and gaming implementation, but the problem it solved was gargantuan. How do you safely bring in a 74ft long vessel into a dense power plant that is in full operation? How do you avoid unforeseen and unsafe conditions? How do you help your client avoid unnecessary demolition and non-operational days, saving millions of dollars? Our VR model solved it.
Dioselin Gonzalez, San Francisco
As senior VR principal engineer at Unity Labs, she leads projects on authoring tools and advises on research areas to pursue.
What she loves about VR is:
It is not a purely technical career.  It combines and requires knowledge on psychology and perception, creativity and art, math and software engineering.
How she got into VR:
Since I was young I knew I wanted to do something related to computer graphics and 3-D animation.  In 2002 I entered a M.S. program in computer graphics at Purdue University. The school had just started building a new virtual reality research lab: The Envision Center for Data Perceptualization. I heard about it and got super excited. I applied for a research assistantship, asked the professor in charge to be my advisor, and did my all my master’s coursework and thesis on virtual reality.
She’s inspired by:
Amazing talented women engineers:  My undergrad advisor and first computer graphics professor, Marilenis Olivera, was the one who encouraged me to volunteer at conferences, which also became a self-exploring journey in learning what I like. Dr. Laura Arns, my grad school advisor, taught me to not give up, even when things go wrong or you get rejected. And Hilder Mock, one of my DreamWorks Animation managers who later became a mentor, taught me to not doubt myself and dream big. These are women I admire and who inspire me!
Rebecca Perry, Boston
Software Engineer on Wayfair’s R&D team, Wayfair Next. The team main builds VR and AR experiences to enhance customers’ shopping experiences and get our suppliers excited about the future of e-commerce.
A typical day:
I typically queue up code to convert raw scan data into 3-D models overnight so that I have a whole batch of results to review in the morning. Seeing the successfully-generated 3-D models is incredibly rewarding, and I flag any unsuccessful models for further examination. At any given time, you might find me working on an image-analysis algorithm at my computer, tinkering in our 3-D scanning lab, or visiting our photo studio where we have deployed two 3-D scanning systems.
What she loves about VR is:
How immersive the VR experience can be! The first time I put on a VR headset, I thought I would feel self-conscious with other people around, waiting for their turns and watching. I didn’t at all! I was so engaged in the experience and felt truly transported.
How she got into VR:
In 2015 I got a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. My post-graduation job hunt fortuitously led me to VR. My dissertation is on the motion and interaction of microscopic particles. To study these particles, the vast majority of my time was spent developing 3-D imaging techniques and writing software to analyze images. Because Boston is a renowned biotechnology hub, I thought I might find a position in biomedical imaging, but I am glad I widened my search.
Sophia Dominguez, New York
CEO and co-founder of SVRF, the first search and discovery engine for virtual reality content.
What she loves about VR is:
I love VR for its potential, for the incredible people that are driving the industry forward, for the creativity tools that are empowering both trained and new artists to create with the medium. For all the rules that have yet to be written and for making us think about a world where we are not confined to screens and will be unlimited in our imagination and creation.
How she got into VR:
I read Feed by M.T. Anderson when I was 13, which depicts a world in which we have chips in our bodies, everything is AR/VR. This freaked me out to the point that when I went to college, I ended up writing my entire senior thesis on the future of Big Data and its effects on privacy in AR/VR worlds. After graduating, I traveled around the world with Google Glass to document people seeing and experiencing the first consumer ocular device.
She’s inspired by:
Walt Disney and his brother, Roy Disney. Together they created one of the most creative and inspiring companies in the world. I look to their relationship in my personal and professional life as it reminds me to always have people around you that compliment your own traits and potential. I am also inspired by Isaac Cohen, a VR artist, who is constantly driving the world of VR forward through open-sourcing his projects, and not being afraid to push beyond the limits of what possible.