Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Deepa Mann-Kler is a creative content maker working in immersive technologies across entertainment, games, education, health, tourism and marketing based in Northern Ireland. She directed and produced her first virtual reality experience called “RETNE” which was built for HTC Vive and demoed at SxSW17. Deepa is an internationally acclaimed, multi-disciplinary artist with over ten years experience of major international exhibitions and public art programmes.
What is the idea behind NEON and how did you come up with it?
I am a visual artist and played VR on the Vive with Bjork's Vulnicura made by the agency by Rewind at the Harpa, Reyjakavik last November and was blown away. It was the most immersive experience of my life. I came back home to Belfast wanting to work in VR and so my company Neon was born. There are blogs on my site which detail how I came to work in VR in more detail.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
It all started in November 2016 and my life has changed completely. I am now the full-time CEO of Neon and contract in staff on a project by project basis. I do have excellent go to people with an incredible skill set in development, spatial audio design and 3D artists.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Well it depends how you look at this question. On one level it has not taken very long at all and has been staggeringly fast - I have consciously had to stop and take stock - within four months of experiencing VR for the first time I had directed and produced RETNE, which is an all age animated immersive VR experience built for HTC Vive that crosses the genres of gaming, education and entertainment and demoed this year at SxSW17. But then on another level, everything we do is connected in life and so everything I have undertaken in my life so far has brought me to this point.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Creating content for VR in Vive is not cheap and trying to break from a funding to a business funding model is the biggest challenge.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Directing and Producing RETNE built for VIVE which demoed at SxSW17 and becoming the CEO of a tech company.
What are your projects you are currently working on within your company?
We have two projects currently underway. One is a new VR game for HTC Vive and the second project is in VR demo phase where we plan to do some testing on its efficacy of helping to contribute to a reduction in pain. Healthcare has been one of the biggest and early adopters of VR and its fulfilling to be working in this field.
What will be the key trends in the AR/VR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Hopefully VR hardware costs will continue to fall making it more accessible but the game changer is definitely going to be mobile AR. There enough market evidence now from real world performance to help inform our knowledge. Predictions from TechCrunch are that mobile AR could become the primary driver of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021 with AR taking $83 billion of this alone.
What are the challenges of being a female founder and entrepreneur in AR/VR?
This is an interesting topic. On a personal level so far I have not experienced any particular challenges that I am aware of as a female founder and entrepreneur. However I am personally sensitive to issues of both gender and race and the recent reports to emerge from the tech world of the blatant discrimination and sexism are deeply disturbing.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in AR/VR out there?
Find good mentors who inspire and motivate you and with whom you have complete confidence in and above all stay focussed.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in AR/VR?
This is a tough one just to narrow the answer down to three. So my inspirational women, in no particular order are firstly the singer songwriter Bjork. This woman has been at the forefront of using the latest technology in the most creative way her entire career - she is so unique. Her work just continues to get more and more interesting and creative. She is the whole reason I am working in VR/AR.
Secondly it has to be Cher Wang who is the Co-Founder & Chair of HTC Vive - she is one of the most powerful women at the centre of the tech and mobile industry. The fact that she has been working in this field for over 35 years is incredibly impressive and is responsible for one out of every six smartphones sold in the US is quite simply a staggering achievement.
Thirdly Nonny de la Pena, who is using VR to transform journalism. Her piece that debuted at Sundance 2012 of a recording of a diabetic who collapsed while waiting in line at a food bank showed audiences how intense the experiences could be. Interestingly her intern then was none other than Palmer Luckey, the Oculus VR founder.
Linkedin: Deepa Mann-Kler
Facebook: Discover Neon
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO 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.