18 women leading the way in wearable tech and VR in 2016
One of the lovely things about writing about wearable tech and VR founders, execs and creators is that you don’t need to look that hard for the women. This list was supposed to be 10 strong and yet here we are with 18 awesome ladies, a testament not only to my poor editing skills but also to the shifting dynamics of two emerging industries. This is the third time we’ve compiled this list on the site so a few names have dropped off, though we’re sure many will be back in the spotlight in years to come. Plus a shout out to anyone we’ve missed – let us know who we should be writing about in the comments. If you want more wimmin in wearables, check out our Meet the Boss interview series.Check out last year’s list: The women in wearable tech 2015In no particular order, and with contributions from the whole Wareable editorial team, here’s our 2016 list of the women to watch in wearable tech and virtual reality. Ringly really is a wearable tech startup done good, with $5.1 million of investment secured last year, its second product, the Aries smart bracelet, on the way and MasterCard powered payments coming in future smart jewellery. Mercando d’Avignon puts her now 15-strong team’s success down to the fact that they do everything in-house from hardware to jewellery design to e-commerce. Read this: Christina Mercando on her new Aries smart braceletsWe’re pretty stingey with our star ratings here but Moov is one company that comes away with more than most. Since Meng Li first came up with the idea for a fitness product that really knew her body, after a running injury, we’ve been impressed by both the first device and its cheaper follow up, the Moov Now. Both offer no nonsense, real time coaching that actually does something with all that data. And that’s really something. Read this:Our in-depth Moov Now reviewA familiar face at Oculus events, Anna Sweet was poached from her Valve role in business development for Steam to head up developer strategy. She’s a total VR nerd, describing its potential as “boundless” and it’s clear that what we can do with this tech will make or break not just Oculus but the whole industry. If E3 is anything to go by, Rift owners have some very exciting titles to look forward to in 2016 and beyond. Read this: The best Oculus Rift games so farWith stints at Marie Stopes, UNESCO and ActionAid under her belt, Tania Boler turned her attentions to tech three years ago when she co-founded Chiaro (self-described “British women’s tech company”) and launched Elvie, the smart pelvic floor exerciser. The device is designed to help the one in three women who have pelvic floor problems as well as those who have related back issues. Kegels just got connected. A bit of a newbie to the wearable tech scene, Bethany Koby’s passion is getting kids coding, learning, imagining and moving. Her London-based company, co-founded with her partner Daniel Hirschmann, makes DIY kits and worked on the BBC micro:bit, a codeable computer given away free to one million schoolchildren. Koby’s latest device is the Kickstarted Mover Kit, a wearable that encourages kids to really play. With an awesome emphasis on rainbow LEDs. Read this: Bethany Koby on designing wearables kids will loveWhen Mary Lou Jepsen steps down from her display tech and engineering roles at Oculus and Facebook, she won’t be returning to her Google X days. Instead, she is forging ahead into wearable tech’s potential in healthcare with her new startup Open Water. Essentially she wants to build affordable, wearable MRI machines to help doctors detect all sorts of diseases, with a sideline in reading our thoughts. With her track record, we reckon she’s the woman to do it. HTC is betting big on VR turning its financial fortunes around and already it’s seeing copycats in the form of Acer and its new StarVR partnership. Cher Wang, HTC’s CEO, has decided to spin off its virtual reality business into a separate venture, after the success of the HTC Vive amongst gamers. The Taiwanese smartphone maker also made a huge $10 billion investment into the VR dev community last year. Who woulda thought it a few years ago? Even when you’re selling as many trackers as Fitbit is to us regular folk, the corporate wellness sector is hella important. Amy McDonough is in charge of Fitbit Group Health, which not only sees schemes like Target offering trackers to 340,000 employees but also Fitbit rise to the top of every clinical trial’s wishlist. The tech has been used in over 100 research studies so far. Read this: Amy McDonough on Fitbit’s heart rate accuracyThis lady boss thinks VR – and its sibling, 360 degree video – will be “an important part of storytelling in the future” and it shows. YouTube is already planning a dedicated app for Google’s upcoming Daydream platform for mobile VR with exclusive videos and experiences from BuzzFeed and the NBA. Oh and on the side she’s been asking influential YouTube stars to call out racism and violence on their channels. Uh-mazing. Yasmine Mustafa’s personal safety wearable Athena, which looks less like a panic button and more like a stylish Misfit, is the result of travelling alone around South America for six months and returning home to news of a rape in a Philadelphia neighbourhood. As well as getting her first Indiegogo product into mass production for the campaign’s 2,500 backers, Mustafa is putting her background in software to good use by leading her local Girls Develop It scheme.It’s difficult to do a health and fitness tracker differently but Bellabeat, which Urska Srsen co-founded, has managed precisely that. The Bellabeat LEAF is a smart jewellery device, and app, which knows women and what they want to measure and improve. Periods and fertility, for one. Stress and breathing, for another. It all sounds so simple but there still isn’t anything quite like it. We’ve championed Diana Chang’s industrial design work before, on Jawbone and Misfit devices as well as fashion, interior design and packaging projects. Misfit is now owned by Fossil Group but still retains its own magic, not to mention existing partnerships with the likes of Swarovski. With a new focus on accessories, customisation and positioning Misfit as a lifestyle brand, design has never been more important. Heading up Adidas’ wearables division, Stacy Burr, who started out at e-textiles company Textronics, has more opportunity than most to put her dream for connected clothing into production. Lately we’ve seen Adidas buy Runtastic for a cool $240m as well as launch its Adidas Zone heart rate monitoring band to get kids moving. But we can’t help but think that there’s a big MiCoach product – be it a wearable or smart clothing range – to rival Under Armour’s efforts coming this year or next. Read this: Why sports brands are spending big bucks on fitness appsAnouk Wipprecht’s striking, emotional, robotic dresses, which respond to the wearer’s body and surroundings, have been commissioned by Intel and Audi. Now the Dutch designer is running the R&D studio Codame Labs in downtown San Francisco to look into the future of smart clothing and textiles. A four day showcase, including Lisa Lang’s ElektroCouture (below) is planned for this October.Vinaya, Kate Unsworth’s London smart jewellery startup, builds gorgeous pieces including Altruis, a modular accessory system to fight alert anxiety. But it’s her focus on building a software platform that can act as an everyday therapist and life coach that could really make an impact. If Unsworth can get even close to her vision for Zenta, it will usher in the next wave of emotion sensing wellbeing wearables. Read this: Kate Unsworth on building an emotional AI life coachSamsung’s principle designer on the Gear S2 earned a spot on our list of 50 gamechangers for 2016 for her work building a stylish, intuitive, easy to use smartwatch which genuinely surprised us. Eunjoo Kim has said that her team is looking to find out what Gear S2 users like and don’t like for the next iteration. After plenty of false smartwatch starts from Samsung, we gave a big thumbs up to the Gear S2’s rotating bezel, Tizen OS and customisable design.Lisa Lang’s Berlin-based fashion tech house already has a line of ‘wearable light’ smart garments for sale on ASOS but what really makes her a powerhouse is her collaborations with the rest of the industry. The wearable tech entrepreneur has worked with other tech-inclined designers including Lina Wassong and Lilien Stenglein and she is also an ambassador for Fashion Tech Berlin. Read this: 8 future designers from Fashion Tech BerlinHeart rate monitoring has been Liz Dickinson’s jam since 1999 and now the competition has done a wrist-based bpm tracking me-too (Mio got there first), the Vancouver based founder is widening her focus. The upcoming Mio Slice will be the first device to debut with Mio’s new PAI software, also coming to existing wearables. The rolling seven day calculation of your heart rate intensity, based on age, gender, resting and max HR, could add years onto your lifespan if you keep it above 100.