Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Amandine Flachs is a Virtual Reality Specialist, involved in this industry for the past 3 years and is now events and communication manager at the Realities Centre, a new place in central London dedicated to Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and immersive technologies. Amandine is also the co-founder of Unfold, an initiative to promote and facilitate diversity in VR and AR industries.
"Find what you love and do what you love, particularly if this means taking risks and experimenting, no matter what you are told by others and particularly when you are told not to do so."
What company / companies are you currently working with?
I am working for the Realities Centre, supporting Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and immersive tech startups building the place to bring together the different communities with a co-working space, an incubator program, regular community events… We run every month many events including conferences, hackathons and soon other formats.
What does your role at the Realities Centre entail?
The Realities Centre is a new place in central London for VR/AR/360, we have recently opened a co-working space dedicated to immersive technologies and soon we will launch an incubator program, a mixed reality facility and more. For my part, I am in charge of the communication and event management. We are bringing the VR and AR communities together through regular events including monthly conferences and hackathons focused on different verticals. For example, December 2016 was dedicated to Virtual Reality for medical application. We had amazing speakers joining us for an evening conference with academics, doctors and tech startups as well as many demonstrations mixing Virtual Reality and haptic devices. The following weekend, we organised a 24 hours hackathon with 3 teams competing to create a VR application for emergency situations. My role involves supervising all those events, creating partnerships, growing the communities and developing the awareness of the centre and what we want to do.
What do you like about working with start-ups? Which have been your favourite?
I have been working with startups for the past 6 years and love supporting passionate entrepreneurs, people who are willing to work hard not for a pay check but because they believe in what they are doing. I have the chance to meet a variety of innovative startups on a daily basis and definitely can’t say I have a favourite as each startup is different with its own team vibe and approach. When I moved to London, I felt in love with the Tech scene and I think the different communities have a serious impact on the development of the entire ecosystem.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you?
I admire all the #WomeninTech initiatives that support and connect women. They definitely inspired me when I decided a few months ago to start Unfold with 2 amazing women also involved in VR. The purpose of Unfold is to promote and facilitate diversity in the VR and AR industries through regular community events, a directory of professionals for more diversity and better representation in events, as well as online support and exchange.
How has your career progressed since your degree? How did you get into VR?
Let’s say I quit school quite early compared to my initial plans. I started working as an independent consultant when I was still a student, supporting a tech startup with its marketing and development. Since then, I almost always had the freedom to work with a limited supervision, bringing my ideas to a project and managing my own time and workflow. In 2013, before Oculus was even a thing, I joined an international Virtual Reality software company. Back then most of people never heard of Virtual Reality. I learned as much as I could, observed the industry evolution until I decided to be really part of it. So I moved to London, got more familiar with the London Startup scene and the VR community to eventually use my knowledge of VR combined with my experience of working with startups.
Was your first public speaking experience at the GeekGirl event? What happened on the day? How did you feel/who did you meet?
I had the pleasure to give a talk about Virtual Reality during the GeekGirl annual conference. It wasn’t my first public speaking experience but the first one in English and it was really frightening. I find public speaking stress really exciting but when you have to talk in your second language it becomes a lot more challenging. Once I finished my presentation, I did not want to leave the stage and felt way more comfortable answering questions and exchanging with the audience.
Have you found any challenges working as a female in your industry?
During my previous experiences I sometimes found it hard to be a woman in the VR space but now that I took a step back, I understand it was mainly due to one individual. The truth is there are many women working in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (and more joining everyday) but the issue is in the representation. Too many events still feature only white males and this is one of the reasons why Unfold came to life. In the past years, I developed a good understanding of the technical side of VR, quite often during events I have to set up complex systems by myself, moving things around, setting up computers and managing cables. During those installations I regularly hear comments regarding the fact I am a woman and not qualified to do such things but it never comes from people in the VR space, always from outsiders.
What will be the key trends in the VR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
The question of the development of VR for the next 5 years is discussed a lot during conferences and panels. I am really excited about the future of VR and would love to have a look into a temporal window to see its evolution. For the past 3 years we observed and built massive changes in the VR space, from a highly expansive technology used by industrials and unknown from the public to affordable headsets and content for a larger audience. In the next 5 years I think we will be able to experience a lot more VR content at home for education, entertainment and games but not only. I also expect to see more Virtual Reality experiences in stores, art galleries, museum and schools. Regarding the hardware, all the current providers (as well as new ones) are currently improving user experience with more comfortable headsets, accessories, improved tracking, etc. I am convinced once the hardware will be less complex, we will see a massive adoption especially with wireless devices, accessories, tracking improvements (simpler tracking, mobile tracking).
Who are your 3 inspirational women in VR?
I admire many women in the Virtual Reality industry that are not afraid to start their own initiatives such as entrepreneurs, independent creators and producers, hackathon and competition organisers. I can mention many names first in the UK starting with my friends and co-founders at Unfold Luciana Carvalho Se (tech evangelist) and Nina Salomons (filmmaker) but also Jessica Driscoll who produce 360 and VR experiences including many NGO projects.
Many great initiatives also take place in the USA from the diversity organisation SH//FT lead by Jenn Duong and Helen Situ in Los Angeles, or the fantastic Eva Hoerth managing many community events in Seattle.
Startup Marketing Blog: www.diveinthecrowd.com
Linkedin: Amandine Flachs
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and 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.