25 Most Influential Women to Follow in VR in 2020
When it comes to the tech industry, there is a well-documented diversity problem amongst men and women in the workplace.
However, a 2017 survey of 70 international VR and AR companies revealed that 64.3 percent of those companies were led by women. Even though the data also revealed that men still hold the majority of technical roles within those companies, this positive trend suggests women are leading the development of VR/AR technologies.
We are now in 2020, and this notable increase in the number of visible female role models in the VR/AR landscape has been made apparent. The VR industry has been making major leaps and bounds in recent years, and it continues to evolve rapidly.
So, here is our list (in no particular order) of some of the most innovative, creative, and inventive women you should follow to stay in-the-know for VR. This list includes anyone we believe is pushing the boundaries of the respective industry forward.
With the tremendous work that the ladies around the globe are doing in the fields of VR, AR, and XR, we sincerely apologize in advance if we have left anyone out!
1. Yasmin Elayat
First up on our list is Emmy-award winning immersive director, Yasmin Elayat. She is Co-Founder at Scatter, a next-generation creative company dedicated to defining the emerging language of “volumetric filmmaking”. The company specializes in creating vivid films by means of immersive stories and AR/VR creativity tools.
Yasmin directed the award-winning Zero Days VR (Sundance 2017), a documentary about cyber warfare and the Stuxnet virus, which won the Emmy for Original Approaches: Documentary. Zero Days VR was called “revolutionary” ( VRScout) and “one of the most powerful VR documentaries” ( Voices of VR Podcast).
In 2014, Elayat was listed in GOOD Magazine’s GOOD 100, an “issue dedicated to showcasing 100 people who are pushing the world forward in inventive and inspiring ways.” She has won several awards and accolades for her contributions to the creative community.
We recommend giving Yasmin a follow on her Twitter, where she routinely shares her thoughts, ideas, and opinions on all topics related to cybersecurity, VR/AR, and Depthkit (Scatter’s first and most widely used toolkit for accessible volumetric video capture).
You can also check her out on her website, where you can keep up-to-date on all of her concurrent projects.
2. Amber Osborne
Next up on the list is award-winning VR/AR marketing consultant — Amber Osborne. Currently, she is self-employed specializing in the immersive tech industry. She helps VR, AR, and XR clients with product marketing, content strategy, and social media marketing.
Previously, Osborne was the Chief Marketing Officer at Doghead Simulations. The company is most well-known for rumii — a social-virtual reality space that enables people to collaborate and communicate in one room from anywhere in the world, as though they are all in the same physical location. It has made an impact on VR’s relationship with and advancement of education, allowing users to step into virtual offices or classrooms.
In 2014, she was listed as Forbes #2 most influential CMOs on social media. These days, you can follow Amber on Twitter where she frequently shares updates on the landscape of the XR industry. We recommend giving her a follow, as well as checking out her blog on her website.
3. Jeri Ellsworth
For many female entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, the obstacles that land in the way of their success can seem daunting. However, Jeri Ellsworth is someone who has been able to overcome them. Jeri is a self-taught computer hacker and chip designer who gained fame in 2004 for creating a complete Commodore 64 system on a chip housed within a joystick, called C64 Direct-to-TV.
With the belief that augmented reality (AR) is the next computing platform, Ellsworth co-founded the company, castAR, back in 2012. Prior to that, she was the R&D Hardware Engineer at Valve Corporation. Currently, she is the CEO and Founder of Tilt Five, an AR company that brings tabletop games to life through the use of realistic 3D holograms that users are able to interact with.
Needless to say, Ellsworth has had her hand in in the impact of gaming and technology, and we believe she is playing an important role in the advancement of AR in our daily lives. To keep up with what she has to offer, we recommend following her on Twitter, where she shares updates on Tilt Five as well as VR, AR, and XR in general.
4. Ana Garcia Puyol
Ana Garcia Puyol is the AR/VR Product Design Lead at Oculus/Facebook as of April 2019, where she researches, plans, designs and prototypes user experience features for VR and AR software. Oculus is one of the top leading innovative companies paving the future of VR, much of which can be attributed to the success of 2019’s Oculus Quest.
Originally from Spain, Ana Garcia Puyol went to the US to pursue a master’s degree, but when she started learning more about opportunities in fields that didn’t exist in Europe at the time, she decided to stay permanently. Studying architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, she went on to become the Director of User Experience and Integration at IrisVR.
Currently, you can find Ana on Twitter sharing her thoughts, opinions, and ideas on all things VR. Also, be sure to check her out on her website for more insight into virtual reality and what we can expect from Oculus in the near future.
5. Saku Panditharatne
Next up on the list is Sakunthala Panditharatne (Saku), a computer graphics programmer, VR enthusiast, and Founder of Asteroid AR. The company designs software for next-generation hardware — such as AI chips, AR/VR displayers, and HD camera sensors.
Panditharatne is a former VC analyst at Silicon Valley’s famous venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz, former intern at Oculus, and creator of a neural network named MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). As a kid, she started with web and html, moved onto C# games, and then onto GPU programming.
She believes that technology is one of the few ways you can affect the world in a positive-sum way, which is a belief we share in common with her. With over 21K followers on Twitter, Saku is able to influence them with her knowledge in the tech space, and periodically shares updates on Asteroid VR.
Be sure to go ahead and give her a follow, and check out some of her older blogs from her Andreessen Horowitz days, as they are quite insightful.
6. April Speight
VR has made an impact on a wide variety of industries since its inception. As someone who began her career in luxury fashion as a menswear stylist and visual merchandiser, April Speight can attest to that notion.
Although she has been in the tech industry for 7 years, her story into the fields of mixed reality began in the summer of 2019, where she was at the airport waiting for her flight to board. She recounts scrolling through her Twitter feed when she came across a Hololens 2 demo. She was so impressed with the potential of the technology that she familiarized herself with the technology and the respective industry.
Currently, Speight has found herself a home within Developer Relations at Microsoft. As a Cloud Advocate for Microsoft’s Spatial Computing team, she works daily on helping beginners learn about spatial computing and how to get started.
Speight is launching a children’s Python Programming book in July 2020 titled, Bite-Size Python: An Introduction to Python Programming. She also has a YouTube channel full of tutorials of that type of content.
With 18K followers, we recommend giving April a follow on Twitter, where she is usually talking about whatever she and Microsoft are working on. Be sure to check out her website as well, where you can find more tutorial-type content and insight.
7. Helen Situ
As far as VR evangelists go, Helen Situ is one of the top leaders in the VR and AR space today.
Situ is the Founder and Editor of Virtual Reality Pop, the fastest-growing virtual reality publication on Medium. Since 2016, the publication has cultivated a community of over 30K creative individuals who are passionate about news, analysis, and techniques about VR, AR, Oculus Rift, HTC VIVE, Gear VR, Steam, PSVR, Daydream, 360 Video and more.
Previously, Situ was one of the first employees at NextVR, a leading VR company focused on live entertainment where she led the launch of the company’s Gear VR application in 2014, drove social media strategy, and worked closely with partners like Oculus and the NBA.
Helen has spoken at industry conferences such as Games Developers Conference, Comic-Con, Slush, World News Media Congress, BroadwayCon and has been featured by USA Today, Voices of VR, and Yahoo Tech. Helen sits on the advisory board for SXSW Accelerator.
8. Liv Erickson
Liv Erickson is someone who discovered a love for emerging technologies, art, and exploring upon her graduation from Virginia Tech back in 2013.
Since then, Erickson joined the startup, High Fidelity, in 2017 — an open-source virtual reality platform where she lead the engineering team for content development and developer tools as both lead engineer and manager.
In March 2019, she left High Fidelity to join Mozilla, where she worked on the Mixed Reality team in bringing the immersive web to life through Hubs — virtual rooms that can be shared with friends where they can watch videos, play with 3D objects, or just simply hang out.
As of January 2020, Erickson is on leave from working full-time at Mozilla as she completes a technology policy fellowship with the Aspen Institute in San Francisco.
We believe Liv has had an influence on the world of VR and AR as we know it. Follow Liv on Twitter where she shares her understanding and experimentation with today’s tools at the intersection of programming, art and policy with her 16K current followers. Be sure to check out her personal blog as well.
9. Eva Hoerth
Even if you’re not that familiar with the VR community, you may have seen this video. Within a few weeks, the creator of that video, Eva Hoerth, got over 5000 retweets, 330,000 views on YouTube, 5 million views on Imgur, and the video even made the top post on Reddit for a day.
Eva believes that we will look back on videos like these the same way we look back on people using old, clunky computers from back in the day. Other than recording funny videos, she has worked as a Design Researcher alongside Tom Furness, considered by many to be the “Grandfather of VR”. Furness has been working on virtual reality displays since the 1980s.
She plays an active role in supporting women-led immersive tech startups and connects creators, educators, students, and organizations using VR/AR to make positive change.
We recommend giving Eva a follow on Twitter, where she feels like she has a duty to share VR with the world, build stronger bonds within the VR community, inspire others and empower women in VR. You can also read her VR Evangelist Manifesto on her website.
10. Timoni West
Unity is the most widely used VR development platform, and developers around the world can count on it to make their XR creative visions into reality. Timoni West is the XR Product Director at Unity Technologies, leading advanced product development for spatial computing tools that help users make the future with AR/VR/MR.
One of her team’s first tools, EditorXR, which is a tool for editing Unity projects directly in virtual reality, won San Francisco Design Week’s first-ever Virtual Tech Award in 2018.
Previously, West was also Principal Designer and XR Research Director. Her main goal is “to make computers better tools for a wider swath of humanity; not just available or useable, but really useful.”
We recommend following Timoni on Twitter, where she shares her passion for computers and her journey of leading XR research today. Also, we recommend anyone considering becoming a (better) VR/AR developer to check out her 2018 VR/AR Global Summit talk.
11. Sarah Hill
Healium is the world’s first virtual and augmented reality media channel powered by brainwaves and heart rate via the users’ wearables, such as an EEG headband or Apple Watch. In three peer-reviewed journals, Healium reduced moderate anxiety by a third in as little as four minutes.
Hill is a 20 year veteran of the interactive media industry who was introduced to augmented and virtual reality through her work in the newsroom several years ago. After leaving that industry, she began working at Veterans United Network.
After noticing how veterans’ bodies reacted to the virtual reality tours, Hill decided to get some real results and run brain tests on the effects on all people, not just veterans. Since then, she went on to found Healium, and we think it is safe to say that the results speak for themselves.
The impact that VR can have on physiology, mental health, and overall wellness can be revolutionary. If you would like to keep up the progression of this technology as it pertains to its power on human healing, we recommend giving Sarah a follow on Twitter.
12. Malia Probst
Malia Probst is a virtual and augmented reality connector. As one of the Founding Partners of VRScout, one of the world’s leading immersive media companies, she is the go-to person on anything VR/AR. She also hosts two podcasts, the interview-focused Real Virtual Show, and the VR/AR news-based VRScout Report.
Probst is also a co-founder of the WXR Fund, a venture fund focused on investing in startups with significant female ownership that are building the future with spatial computing and AI. She’s been named in the Top 20 Most Influential People in the VR/AR industry, one of the Top 20 Women in VR in LA, and one of the Top 100 Global Digital Influencers.
Having worked with companies like Google, Unity, Snap, Participant Media, LG, Facebook, YouTube, and more on a variety of projects, we believe she is one of the most influential people to follow in VR today.
Follow Malia on Twitter to keep up with how she is empowering creators and furthering diversity in the VR industry.
13. Nicole Lazzaro
The next person on our list is someone who has twenty years expertise in Player Experience Design (PXD) for mass-market entertainment products. Nicole Lazzaro is the founder (1992) and President of XEODesign, Inc., a company that envisions new game-inspired products and services.
Widely recognized as one of the top women working in video games and a leading figure in mobile and social games, Fast Company considers Nicole one of the 100 most influential women in high tech, and Gamasutra voted her one of the Top 20 women working in video games.
Lazzaro is a world-renowned game developer who understands the relationship that humans and video games share. Working as an XR developer these days, she is constantly exploring the numerous ways we can become more immersed in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.
14. Nonny de la Peña
Nonny de la Peña is a virtual reality pioneer who has used VR to bring viewers up close to and inside of the stories of a variety of people. She is the CEO and Founder of Emblematic Group, an award-winning VR/AR/XR company filled with leading producers, filmmakers, journalists, designers, and veteran game developers of immersive virtual reality content.
Nonny is regarded by many as the “Godmother of VR”, is recognized as one of the most influential people of the VR/AR industry, and was given the award WSJ Technology Innovator of the Year.
Nonny de la Peña has been a journalist for her whole life. She has always been compelled to make stories that can make a difference and inspire people. When she discovered VR, she knew the power it had as a “visceral empathy generator” that could be used for next-level type storytelling.
Fast Company tagged Nonny as “One of the People Who Made the World More Creative”.
We suspect that anybody who is reading this list is interested in keeping up-to-date with VR, so we highly recommend following the Godmother of VR on Twitter. Also, check out this awesome TED TALK where Nonny discusses virtual reality’s role in the future of news.
15. Amber Roy
Amber Roy is a WebVR Software Engineer at Oculus/Facebook who has worked as a software developer in Silicon Valley for over a decade.
Roy has been building web-based VR games and apps since 2014, and has previously worked at Google and several startups including AltspaceVR. She has also hosted a YouTube channel dedicated to VR game reviews.
With a master’s degree in Computer Science, Roy is someone who definitely understands the technicality of VR development. We recommend following Amber on Twitter, where you can keep up with her work at Oculus and indulge in her thoughts, opinions, and what we can expect from the company in the near future.
Oculus is one of the top leading innovative companies paving the future of VR, much of which can be attributed to the success of 2019’s Oculus Quest.
16. Cher Wang
One of the most powerful women in technology, is the co-founder, chairperson, president, and CEO of HTC — the Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer that was, at one point, the largest in the world.
Wang was on the list of Forbes World’s Billionaires from 2010 to 2012, and in 2011 she and her husband, Chen Wen-chi, were together ranked No 1 in Taiwan with a net worth of $8.8 billion USD. Together, they run VIA Technologies — a company that develops silicon chip technology.
HTC is better known in the VR space for working together to create the successful VIVE and VIVE Pro virtual reality systems.
Due to the massive popularity and usage of these VR platforms, we recommend following Cher on Twitter, where you can keep up with her work at HTC as well as her exploration into how technology can be used to improve lives.
17. Dr. Sana Farid
Dr. Sana Farid is one of the key strategists developing an implementation framework for the education and healthcare sectors in the Middle East.
Farid is an AR/VR Strategist in the MENA region, and the co-founder of Munfarid Consulting — a MENA-based AR/VR Education Consultancy consortium. The company is regarded as the largest immersive EdTech and e-learning drive in the region.
A native Arab speaker and author traveling the world and making her contributions to improving learning experience using AI and AR/VR-based programs, she has played a vital role in highlighting the needs of AR/VR adaptation in MENA.
Farid strongly believes these future tech solutions will help us achieve societal well-being.
Listed among the top 100 women transforming the future of Bahrain, and featured by Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Entrepreneur ME in 2018, we recommend following her on Twitter to stay up-to-date with the VR/AR advancements being made in the Middle East.
18. Samantha Kingston
Samantha Kingston is the co-founder of Virtual Umbrella, a marketing consultancy working in the immersive technology space. The company provides marketing and consultancy to developers and the growing companies in the VR/AR industry.
Virtual Umbrella ran the biggest VR event in history in London (February 2016) — the VRUK Festival. The company loves to bring the UK community together as they work across sectors from gaming, engineering, education, healthcare, and more. They make sure that VR content is made right and created for the right reasons.
Kingston won the New Business Award at the Southampton Venus Awards 2016 and the National New Business Award 2016. She is also apart of the BIMA100, nominated for Unsung Hero in MCV Women in Game Awards 2016. Featured in The Drum’s 50 under 30, a list of women disrupting the status quo and is the Games Industry business rising star.
As a big supporter of women in VR, Samantha has done tremendous things for women in the VR sector, and for tech in general. For that reason, we recommend following Samantha on Twitter, where she shares VR thoughts, opinions, and news.
We also recommend checking out Samantha’s passion project, Anonymous Project, a 360 narrative film that gives a voice to difficult conversations.
19. Jazmin Cano
Jazmin Cano is a 3D Artist, VR Advisor, and is currently working as a User Engagement Manager at High Fidelity — an open-source virtual reality platform where she manages a remote team of in-world staff that onboards and assists users in discovering how they can best use the company’s platform for their interests and needs.
Having discovered VR many years ago, Cano has developed a deep love for it. Since then, it has been a goal of hers to explore it as much as she could. She has emphasized giving every new user the “wow” factor when using VR (for the first time), so comfort, safety, and providing knowledge to users is a top priority.
As someone who is very active in the VR/AR/XR social community, Jazmin is an advocate for women in VR and is passionate about sharing the work of everyone involved in the advancement of the technology — both socially and technically.
We recommend following Jazmin on Twitter to become more enveloped in the current landscape of social VR as it continues to evolve.
20. Rosie Summers
When asked about the beginnings of her creative journey with VR, Rosie Summers recounts that everything started when she saw a video of Glen Keane painting Ariel in Tilt Brush in 2016. She was so enamored by the artist’s work and his ability to create, that she bought a VIVE headset the very next day and has been using Tilt Brush as a tool ever since.
Summers is a 3D animator, VR artist, and Tilt Brush live performer. She currently works at XR Games, which recently released Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure for PlayStation VR. Obsessed with the performance aspect that comes with creating art in VR, her painting turns into somewhat of an interpretive dance routine in the process, which is a sight to behold.
She has performed live VR paintings at numerous festivals and events for clients including Google, National Football Museum, and Manchester Animation Festival. One of her most recent projects was working with the BBC and creating Seven Worlds One Planet VR art and performance promo material.
We recommend following Rosie on Twitter where she reveals her latest Tilt Brush projects. Here is one of our favorites. Also, be sure to check out her website and YouTube channel to see her wide variety of projects.
21. Joanna Popper
Joanna Popper is a Hollywood and Silicon Valley media executive. She became HP ‘s Global Head of Virtual Reality for Location-Based Entertainment in 2018, spearheading the innovation of sharing experiences with VR.
Popper is also an international speaker, award-winning strategic and creative media, content, and brand builder specializing in VR/AR/MR/XR, entertainment, and technology.
She is on the Coalition for the Women in XR Fund and was selected as “50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment,” “Top Women in Digital: Game Changers” and “101 Women Leading the VR Industry.”
As a highly active member of the VR/AR/XR industry, she is constantly working to share the work of those working around the world in the respective space. That is why we recommend giving Joanna a follow on Twitter to stay up-to-date on how she uses the platform to keep her followers informed.
22. Jenn Duong
Jenn Duong is an immersive director and producer. With VR as her native medium, she has directed and produced a range of cutting edge projects, from short-form VR documentaries to VR music experiences for artists like Banks to a VR/AI experiences with Taryn Southern.
Duong is the Head of Content & Growth at Good Today, a non-profit platform democratizing philanthropy by empowering everyone to donate to charity. She works hard to fight prejudice and discrimination in future technologies and is a big supporter of diversity.
She has also co-founded SH//FT, an organization that supports equality and inclusion in future technologies. The organization offers education, help, and scholarships, especially for women and minorities. She has become a leader and advocate for women and underrepresented groups in the emerging technology space growing the role models of tomorrow through advocacy today.
Previously, Duong was the Director of VR at 1215creative, a company specializing in immersive experiences, VR, and traditional video production as well. The company has worked for some really big-deal companies such as Google, Adidas, Jack Daniels’ and Samsung.
Named in the top #25 in Onalytica ‘s 100 Top VR Influencers 2016, she is also a Future of Storytelling Fellow 2016, a featured creator that piloted the Google Jump Start program, as well as one of LA Weekly’s People of 2017.
23. Navah Berg
Navah Berg is a social VR trendsetter who is combining her social media expertise with virtual reality. She recounts the first time she read about social VR was in Vanity Fair’s October 2015 issue on why Facebook’s $2 billion bet on Oculus Rift might one day connect everyone on Earth.
Since then, we can say that the issue still holds up for both the present and the future. So does Berg, who had been working in social media marketing at the time and is currently the Social VR Host of The Hive VR, a publication devoted to creating unique virtual reality productions to engage the community.
As a freelancer in VR, she has been able to achieve an extensive community following. She is passionate about connecting with other women in AR/VR, and can attest to the power of social VR from personal experiences. She has many stories of meeting others first in social VR such as Facebook Spaces, then later in real life, and having a special bond with them for that reason.
Follow The Hive VR on Twitter as well as Navah personally, and check out their channel on AltspaceVR. They host a Social VR talk show every Thursday at 8:30 pm EST that features various guests in the VR space, many of which are also on this list.
24. Lydia Choy
From 2014 to 2019, Lydia Choy worked at Oculus/Facebook as the Lead Product Design/Engineer and Technical Art Director. In addition, she is the co-founder of Oculus Medium, Oculus’s creation platform that sculpts with digital clay in VR.
She worked on virtual reality software tools that artists use to create 3D art for games, film, and sculptures. She would talk to artists about what they need for digital art creation, and then design and code those features into the tools.
Currently, Choy is the Principal Engineer/Designer at Adobe. This makes sense, as Oculus Medium has recently joined the Adobe family. Her interests have always been video games and special effects, as she really enjoys graphics and exploring their applications.
In addition to Computer Science, she double majored in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. We recommend following Lydia on Twitter, where she frequently shares artistic creations made with Oculus Medium.
25. Yuka Kojima
Yuka Kojima is someone who is determined to bring human connection to the virtual world by combining eye and head tracking into one package in order to provide users with a better immersive experience within VR.
Kojima co-founded FOVE, Inc., a company most notable for making and selling the first virtual-reality headset that came equipped with eye-tracking functionality. The product, which uses infrared technology to track eye movements with accuracy and low latency, went on pre-sale in November 2016. Since then, the customer reviews so far have been excellent.
Her work has pioneered eye-tracking technology and has inspired technological advancements such as foveated rendering. Foveated rending is regarded by many experts to be an integral part of the advancement of VR, since it will greatly reduce the rendering workload by greatly reducing the image quality in the peripheral vision region of the headset.
Founded in 2014 using seed and Kickstarter money to get the project off the ground, the company raised $11 million in Series A funding, including from Samsung, Foxconn Technology Group, and Colopl VR Fund.
Previous to FOVE, Kojima was a game producer at Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, where she was a team leader that contributed to the development of games for the PlayStation 3, PSP, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation Move. She left Sony after discovering her love for VR.
Kojima was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2017: Consumer Technology list and was on the cover of Japan’s Forbes magazine in an issue about the world’s 100 most powerful women.
She also enjoys writing graphic novels and has worked on many projects in this field over the years. Although many of her tweets are written in Japanese, we recommend giving Yuka a follow her on Twitter and follow FOVE as well to see the impact that eye-tracking has made on the past, present, and future of VR.
Got any other influential women to follow in VR that you want to share with us? With the tremendous work that the ladies around the globe are doing in the fields of VR, AR, and XR, we know we may have missed a few!
Originally published at https://basereality.co on May 6, 2020.