Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Emily Friedman is a New York-based enterprise immersive, wearable and emerging technology advocate, journalist and facilitator. She is Head of Content and Lead Writer at BrainXchange, lead journalist and senior editor of the EnterpriseWear Blog, and Head of Marketing and Communications for AWE USA and AWE EU.
Emily, tell us a bit more about your background and your projects so far.
I entered this space soon after the first Google Glass was released, which was great timing. Sifting through all the “Glasshole” articles, we (BrainXchange) realized that doctors, airlines, field service providers and more were innovating with the device, so we began organizing the Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit, which is going into its sixth year this September in Dallas. Since the market for enterprise wearables was/is largely concentrated in AR/VR, we crossed paths with Ori and Tom of AWE. Last year (2018), we co-produced AWE USA and AWE Europe and are currently organizing the 10th annual AWE taking place May 29-31 in Santa Clara, CA.
What does your current job role entail?
I like to think of myself as a kind of matchmaker between companies making immersive/wearable tech solutions and the companies that want to use those solutions. I don’t know how to develop an AR app but what I do know is how your company should use AR glasses.
I view AWE as an essential benchmarking and networking event for the AR/VR world, and my role as, really, head of Partnerships, to make sure that the event is accessible to everyone. It’s not hype—spatial computing is the future, and no matter your generation or your industry, AR/VR is going to touch your life.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on content, for my company’s blog EnterpriseWear, and for the AWE Blog. Lately, I’ve been very interested in millennials/Gen Z and women users of enterprise wearables, given that those entering the job market are going to need higher and more flexible skills and that wearables – technology worn on the body – are so intimate. At the moment, as it’s Women’s History Month, I’m interviewing inspiring women working in AR/VR on the AWE Blog. I’m just blown away by all the women who volunteered to share their experiences!
How is AWE USA event different from AWE Europe one? Are there any differences in these two markets and how do you approach them from organisational perspective?
Well, AWE USA is larger and more established, as it’s turning 10 this year! We’re expecting around 6,000-7,000 attendees. AWE EU is going into its 4th year, but I don’t see the two as an either/or kind of thing. AWE’s research partner Digi-Capital has a much more accurate take on both markets, but the way I see it, given the increasing pace of AR/VR advancement, a lot can happen over the nearly five months that separate the two events. Both are necessary to really stay on top of the beat of the AR/VR space.
What do the #WomenInTech and #diversity movements mean to you?
Though I never thought I would end up in the tech world (I was an Art History major and at the core BrainXchange is a boutique conference company), the #WomeninTech and #diversity movements have become personal to me. Just speaking as a woman, there are clear statistics (pay gap, VC funding, leadership positions) and there are a million subtle, humiliating microaggressions against women coded into the systems that have been shaped for us, not just in tech but work and society in general.
With technology as intimate as AR/VR, the female body and experience should be a major factor in hardware design and content development. Beyond equality, AR/VR/WT will never reach their potential, or achieve mainstream adoption, if the user experience is inferior and/or unappealing for half the population.
What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech / VR/AR industries?
Feeling like we constantly have to prove ourselves…As a tech writer and event organizer, all I can do is use what platforms I have to help raise up women in AR/VR. Events are so critical for women in tech; they’re opportunities for women to get recognition and publicity, for women-led startups to attract VC funding and find partners, and for women in general to grow their skills, make critical business development contacts, grow support systems, and even find jobs. While the tech event industry is paying closer attention to the optics of speaker lineups, the gender imbalance extends to the audience, too. The AWE Partner Program is largely focused on changing this, giving more women and other underrepresented groups the opportunity to attend AWE not just for the content but really the face-to-face networking.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and VR/AR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
On the enterprise side, I see smoother and larger-scale rollouts of AR/VR and wearables in all kinds of work environments; on the consumer side, of course, I’m hearing all the 2020 rumors of Apple’s AR glasses. In general, I see devices getting lighter and more powerful, and what I’m hoping for is content that, as a private person, makes me want to actually spend time in VR.
Who are your 3 inspirational companies / individuals in wearable tech and VR/AR?
Peggy Gulick. Peggy spearheaded the adoption of AR at AGCO, a large agricultural equipment manufacturer. She’s a pioneer who is undoubtedly shaping enterprise adoption of smart glasses.
The women of ARVR Women and Allies, not just the founders of the Facebook group but the women who every day support and share opportunities and knowledge with one another.
And, honestly, Marija Butkovic, who has done so much to create communities of women around the globe and who approached me early on in my career and by interviewing me made me consider how important platforms like WOW, tech blogs, and events are for women.
AWE (Augmented World Expo) is the world’s most essential AR+VR conference and expo, with annual dates in the USA, Asia, Israel and Europe, as well as meetup chapters around the world. AWE brings together a diverse mix of CEOs, CTOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors, founders and top press in a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn, inspire, partner, and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.
AWE is turning 10 this year! The 10th Anniversary of AWE will take place on May 29-31 in Santa Clara. This year’s event will be our biggest and most experiential conference and expo yet! Hear world-class speakers, groundbreaking ideas, and real-life use cases while experiencing the greatest disruptive technology since the Internet. Learn how startups are creating solutions and organizations are using AR & VR to drive economic growth, encourage empathy and collaboration, democratize healthcare and education, and change the world!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.