#552: Promoting Diversity in VR: Lessons from the Oculus Launchpad Program

dale-henry-avatarIn March 2016, Oculus announced their Oculus Launchpad program with the idea that in order for VR to be successful, then there needs to be a diverse range of content created from diverse set of creators who are informed by different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and gender identities. Oculus brought together over 100 diverse content creators for a one-day training, and awarded scholarships to 11 projects from the dozens of prototypes submitted at the end of the program. Oculus Launchpad participant Dale Henry wrote up a detailed critique of the Launchpad program that provided a lot of constructive criticism for improvements that he’d like to see.

I reached out to Henry to unpack his feedback on the lessons learned from the Oculus Launchpad program, but we also talk what the larger VR community can do to support diverse initiatives such as different community-driven mentorship models. We also talk about his personal journey in using VR to help children on the austism spectrum deal with bullying, and some of his struggles as an aspiring VR developer. We also dive into some deeper systemic issues, and have some difficult conversations about how only 1% of funded start-ups have black founders, larger diversity in tech issues, some of the unconscious biases that women and people of color face in raising funds, and whether or not VCs even know how to evaluate people of color.


I reached out to Oculus for a comment on the improvements that they’re making for the second iteration of the Oculus Launchpad program, and it looks like they’ve integrated a lot of the specific critiques from Dale and expanded their mentorship program. Here’s the kickoff message from Oculus VR’s program manager for diversity and inclusion, Ebony Peay Ramirez.

Henry would also like to see more transparency in how the money is being allocated, some of the metrics for success, a more detailed road map that shows how to grow and sustain these diversity initiatives, whether there are other external diversity initiatives that Oculus/Facebook is supporting, and some candid feedback of their own internal lessons learned so that other VR companies can learn from these programs. Henry argues that everyone benefits from diversity in VR initiatives, and that he’d like to see more openness and transparency in these efforts to provide more opportunities for feedback, but also the possibility for more collaboration amongst competing VR companies to share insights and combine resources to support larger diversity efforts in the VR and tech ecosystem.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So diversity in the virtual reality community is a huge and complicated topic. I mean, it kind of is a subset of the diversity and technology question. But there's also all sorts of larger institutional biases and all sorts of other things that just make it a difficult topic to really dive into. But what I'm going to do today is look at the Oculus Launchpad program and what it was able to achieve and some of the potential improvements that could be done to not only the Oculus Launchpad program in the future, but also to any company or individual that wants to be involved in trying to think about what they can do to help with the larger issue of diversity in VR. So the Oculus Launchpad program was announced back in March of 2016. It brought together about a hundred different diverse virtual reality creators. They did a one day training. And then over the course of a number of different months, they were in the process of building a prototype of their idea. And at the end of this period, there was announced 10 to 11 different winners of a scholarship to be able to go off and create their project and to continue it. So there's about $250,000 that was allocated towards that. So, Dale Henry was a participant in the Oculus Launch Pad program, and he had a number of different critiques about it. This was the first time the Oculus Launchpad program happened, and it just thought that there's a lot of room for improvement. And in general, anything when you're trying to create something, there's this Hegelian dialectic where you put out a thesis, and then somebody else put out an antithesis, and then you try to combine those two to create a synthesis and something better in the end. And so in the spirit of that, we're going to look at the Oculus Launchpad as a thesis to an approach towards the diversity issue within virtual reality. And Dale Henry is going to provide what his antithesis or his improvements to see how it could be improved. And I think Dale also brings up a lot of other uncomfortable topics about diversity, as well as the percentages of Black founders that are funded by VCs. And I think that it's just a worthwhile discussion to dive into some of his perspectives and how each of us, no matter whether we're an individual or we work at a company, what we can do to help promote the cause of diversity within virtual reality. So that's what we're going to be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. And I'm going to start today's podcast by playing a short clip of some of the announcements that were made at Oculus Connect 3 about the funding that was going to be made available for some of these diversity initiatives. And it's going to start with Jason Rubin, who is introducing the Program Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at Oculus VR. From games, to art, to education, to experiences, we believe that your imagination is going to connect people. And we take that mission very seriously. For that reason, we believe a very diverse group of creators is absolutely necessary to unlock VR's potential. And to tell you more about that, I'd like to invite on the stage my friend, Ebony P.A. Ramirez.

[00:03:18.586] Dale Henry: Virtual reality will only succeed if it represents and reflects a diverse ecosystem that speaks to different people and opinions. We want to see a wide variety of richer voices. We know that a platform that is built with diverse thought, personalities, perspectives, and imaginations, it's a much more engaging and dynamic one. This year, we took our first steps to removing the barriers of entry for new VR creators and kicked off Launchpad. But there's so much more that we can and will do. So I'm excited, enthusiastic to announce that Oculus is committing $10 million to diverse programs for VR. We're going to increase funding for Oculus Launchpad, VR for Good, and create entirely new programs like the Diverse Filmmakers Project.

[00:04:12.505] Kent Bye: So those were the announcements that were made at Oculus Connect 3. And so with that, let's go ahead and dive into this interview that I did with Dale Henry, who is a participant in the Oculus Launchpad program and wrote up a blog post called, Why I Won't Promote the Oculus Launchpad Opportunity. But as an alum, here's my advice to those who get accepted. He wrote that post on April 23rd, and I had a chance to catch up with him on June 18th, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in. So my name is Dale Henry. You know, my background is actually in education. I have a doctorate in education from USC. I have a master's in special education. Went to Amherst College, a BA from there. Currently, I'm a grant writer for a nonprofit up in South Pasadena. The Oculus Launchpad opportunity, like that's what really gave me the VR bug to make me actually want to put both feet in terms of like a career path and a trajectory or career aspirations. So that's kind of how that happened, of how I got interested in VR. But I just think the transformative potential of the medium is truly significant for our culture and for our society. So I was really excited to be a part of that and just wanted to be involved in the space. Great. Yeah. So I had a chance to talk to a few people from the Oculus Launchpad program, and I'll be airing those interviews. Part of my hesitation from airing them right away was I was also getting a lot of information through back channels, just talking about some of the things that could be approved upon, I guess. And the second iteration of the Launchpad just launched. And so you wrote up a whole post with your takeaways from the program some of the good things that you got out of it, but also some of the critiques that you had about it. So maybe you could go into a little bit about your experience of the launchpad and some of your positive, but also constructive criticism that you had with that program. Hopefully it was constructive. I don't know exactly if it was taken as such, you know, once it kind of made its way over to launchpad. So yeah, so I wrote the post for a couple of reasons. One, I'm a big fan of Arlen Hamilton and the Bootstrapped VC podcast. And one of her major takeaways from that podcast is she's like, document your path, you know, your entry into your industry or people behind you. So that way, as they're coming through, that they can kind of understand some of the struggles that happened to you. And maybe they can bypass some of the pitfalls that maybe tripped you up. And so that post that I wrote was actually my first meeting post. I'd never written anything. I'd never written a blog or anything before, but I did it just to kind of stay in that vein. of trying to open the door behind me. But then also, there was definitely, I know, and this is unfortunate, like there was definitely a frustration motivation of why I wrote the post. And it was the frustration that, you know, I felt like some of what was marketed wasn't the outcome of what our experience was. You know, I was frustrated at the unevenness of the feedback across projects. You know, if you have 80 to 90 projects, I understand it can be difficult for everyone, you know, to give feedback because that's a lot of time that you're offering. But there was an unevenness to the feedback that was given. Some people got feedback, some people didn't. And I just felt like that was odd. There was like a lack of communication that happened. You know, we weren't always sure what was happening at different times. And I felt like they could have done a better job at communication. And the survey that they sent out at the end, you know, it was like 16 questions, and 15 of them were multiple choice. So there was only one area that you could like give an open-ended comment. And I felt like trying to get feedback in that way, where there wasn't a lot of opportunity to really talk about how you felt about, I just felt like that sent a message to me that their plans for improvement for the program weren't fully developed because there were a lot of gaps in the multiple choice answers. Like there were just like so many gaps in the multiple choice answers of like how you could have felt about things. And I was like, it just didn't make a lot of sense to me that there was a plan and intention for a lot of improvement to happen after the program. So I wrote the post just so I could kind of have like a longer discussion of ways I thought they could improve. Yeah, one of the things that I was hearing in the back channels of people that I was talking to at Oculus Connect 3, there's a little bit of a disconnect between what they were saying on stage as to what had happened and then what I was hearing from people as to what had actually happened. One of those disconnects was that all the people that went through Launchpad were mentored throughout the entire time. And my impression was that people got together for a one day event and then there was a cohort that was formed within this Facebook group where people that were in the Launchpad program were mentoring each other, which I think is great, but I think it's different if they're up on stage talking about how people were kind of mentored through this system. It sounds like they're going to be making some changes to that mentorship model moving forward. And I think it's a question to put forward to the entire VR community, which is how do you mentor people who do not have access to either the resources or power or privilege to be able to get into the industry, to be able to create the diverse content that the industry really needs in order to really take off and to create the content that's going to actually be interesting to a wider range and audience of people. So I don't know, I'll just kind of pass it off to you and kind of your direct experience of what you experienced in that cohort, but also what you think would be great moving forward in terms of mentorship models. Okay. So in terms of the mentorship, like that, that was just something that I just felt like didn't happen, you know, and I said this in my piece, I felt like it was, you know, ultimately in that first iteration, it was more of a one time, you know, you come up to us and we'll give you, this deep download of knowledge, and then you guys just kind of run with it in the way it was marketed, like they did marketed that there would be like ongoing mentorship. And, and I guess, you know, we really didn't push back on that a whole lot, because we weren't sure if that discussion was going to happen as we were moving along. You know, were they going to wait maybe towards after we submitted our projects and be like, okay, you guys are done and you submitted your projects. So now let's talk about like this mentorship piece. Like I feel like, you know, as a group and as a cohort, we gave them a lot of space and, you know, opportunity to kind of let us know what was happening. But that was the thing, like when things didn't happen and when things didn't feel right, you know, there was an uneasiness of, whether or not to speak up about things because you weren't exactly sure how that was going to affect your ability to be selected for funding at the end of the program. You just didn't know how it was going to affect things. And we were all just so caught up in the excitement of just having the opportunity because 100 people selected, you just felt awesome about the opportunity in and of itself. So at first, the excitement of it just kind of disallowed to even want to push back at all. But then when the mentorship discussion didn't happen at all, And then, you know, just kind of like the unevenness of the feedback and, you know, some of the other things that were issues, then just things just kind of felt wrong. And then it was like, OK, so really, how do we or any of us stand up and say something about what we felt actually happened in terms of, you know, the mentorship moving forward? I mean, I know that one of the changes that they made is that now that they're supposed to have ongoing biweekly check ins with different people at Oculus. So you can kind of ask questions and be connected to someone that has more knowledge about the space than you on a consistent basis. And I think that that's a good change. You know, I don't know if they want to look at mentorship models where, you know, maybe one person at Oculus, like one of the engineers or whoever they might be, just who has a passion for this particular space and just getting more diverse groups involved. I don't know if they want to assign maybe like three or four people to one person and then kind of like have, you know, cohort pods or mentorship pods in terms of that. I'm not sure. I'm not exactly sure in terms of like the mentorship model that I would like to see. I'm glad they're taking this first step, at least offering some sort of a check in. But that was something that we didn't have with the first cohort. And it was something that they told us was supposed to happen. So you know, like that part was a little bit disappointing. Yeah, the thing that comes to mind is I've attended a mentoring retreat. It's a men's retreat. And their model is that there is an opportunity for anybody to kind of speak into the room. And the mentorship kind of happens organically in the sense that you had people who, if they really resonate with what someone said, then they can go up to them and ask for insight or additional questions. And so there's a little bit of this self-selecting process where the person who wants to be mentored actually is the one who usually chooses the person they want to mentor them. And that person who is mentoring them has to be available for that. And so this kind of gathering that I go to is generally made available for that kind of relationship to happen. When you're dealing with 100 people, it has this extra layer of difficulty, which is how do you scale that out?

[00:12:52.217] Dale Henry: Right.

[00:12:52.578] Kent Bye: But I think that type of model, it requires the people who are in the position of having that knowledge and success in their career to make themselves available for that level of mentorship. So anybody that's listening to this podcast, I would just encourage you, if you've kind of reached a certain part of your career to then just make a statement, maybe like, Hey, I'm available to mentor people. And then It's something like that where it's kind of both sides. People have to make a commitment on their time and their energy to be able to help the industry grow in that way. And so to me, that's how I at least think of mentorship and kind of an ideal situation. And if there's people who are available, I think that's a great opportunity. And then from people from there, then you can kind of You really start to dive in and ask questions once you get to a certain point in your career where you have these intractable situations where you really don't know, and you can't look it up online. You actually just need to talk to somebody to figure it out. Yeah, absolutely. I feel like if that's going to be one of your core features of the program that you're offering, at least have some... One of the whole principles of VR is just that iterative development. I see that as being a necessary component of sort of this process as well. I mean, like, you know, you're not going to get everything right the first time. I felt like there were some things that they should have gotten right the first time that they didn't. So like, something so easy as like a feedback piece, but you know, and I understand that a mentorship aspect is a lot more difficult. But that's something that you can look at some different models and do some deep dives into which ones actually yield some great results. I know that there's aspects of this in terms of mentoring people of color, that there are some differences there as well. Because I remember reading when I was in college for office hours, the person that was assigned to my office hours was actually a former president of the college. I felt intimidated to ask, and that's something that I've read about among people of color sometimes, You don't ask things that may have been known or implicit in terms of your understanding from a person of another culture. To us, it might not be the exact same. We might not have the same kind of understanding. For example, right now, I'm reading this book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. It's this kid, super smart kid, super poor, ends up getting into Yale. But he went to this prep school in Newark, New Jersey. And the last senior year banquet deal, One of the benefactors of the school comes up to Robert Peace and he basically hands him a blank check for his entire Yale experience, which at that time he had no way to pay for. And Robert Peace was actually not going to take him up on that opportunity of a free ride to Yale because he felt like that was imposing upon, or that it was asking too much. upon this individual that had offered. So sometimes we kind of have some cultural differences in mentorship spaces. So I think that's something that should be looked at as well. I mean, it always feels a little awkward to say that there are differences in almost every single aspect of who we are as people, but I do feel like that this is appropriate to look at in terms of a mentorship model as well. Yeah, and I think there's also a certain component where it comes down to funding and resources and money that's made available. I know that the Oculus Launchpad was essentially like you either just kind of do it in the evenings, like moonlighting from whatever your day job may be. I mean, there's some people that may have had the resources to do it full time, but this was kind of like a side project for most people and kind of thinking about how the way the model was working in this instance was there's 100 people and that everybody was kind of competing for like 10 or 11 grants at the end. And I thought it was interesting you were making the point that they got up on stage and said, hey, we're going to be giving even more money to all these different diversity initiatives. But yet at the end of the day, when it came down to the scholarships that are being given to the launchpad, that there was no additional money that was seemingly allocated to what they had said from the very beginning. So I think it comes down to this perception of like, okay, well, if you are going to fund these, and you're going to announce an increase, but we don't see any evidence for that, then how much of an initiative are you really committed to here? And is it something that's being done for PR purposes? I think that's an impression that some people could have who were kind of waiting to hear, in addition to like the three-month delay as to the people who were going to actually get the funding. I know that when I was talking to people at Oculus Connect 3, a lot of them were saying they should have announced it by now, but they hadn't. And then it was another couple of months after that before they had even announced who was going to receive the funding. So there was something there that had obviously, you know, not optimized in some way. They didn't follow through in their word in order to announce and give the money, which gives another layer of bad perception. But I think at a certain level, it comes down to, are you going to provide the money and resources to these projects? At the end of the day, for me, that was one of my major frustrations. Because for Mark Zuckerberg to be up there, and I can't even express to you how excited we all were when we heard that there was going to be an extra $10 million across three different funds. And if you want to try and like, you know, slice that amount of money, you know, equitably, so you can just assume that there was going to be an extra $3.3 million, you know, in the launchpad fund, you know, we were all really excited about that, because that meant on our end, that they could take a few more risks in terms of who they might want to fund. you know, if there was a project that didn't look like it had, you know, great execution, but looked like it could be a potentially great passion project, I just felt like that could have created a real opportunity for projects like that, that could have been on the bubble of whether or not to get funded to get funded. So I was excited about it, I felt like, you know, the cohort was excited about it. But as you say, I mean, I think that ultimately, I did look at it as sort of like a PR stunt. Because up to this point, we still haven't heard what has happened to that commitment of money. You know, if it was just a verbal commitment, or we don't know what amount of money was supposed to come to the Oculus Launchpad, you know, so I don't know if they have any intention of being transparent about that. I would really like to see them let us know what other initiatives like around diversity and inclusion that they're supporting outside of just Launchpad. So we have an understanding of what their commitment is. You know, if they're supporting Black Girls Code or Girls Who Code, Founders of Color, or the Last Mile Prison Coding Program, like let us know what your commitment is outside of this. So we can truly see that you're committed like that. I feel like that would really mean something. And I also feel like, you know, that it's okay for them to kind of share the story of like what their struggles were. where they felt like they might have fell short about some things like Michael and Susan Dell, they say their foundation because I work in philanthropy, they're like your outcomes, both good and bad are opportunities for others to learn and do better. We all win when we learn together. So if they share some of those difficulties, you know, like maybe HTC takes up an initiative, you know, the Oculus and HTC. If there's something that those two could work on together involving minorities in the space, I think would be a wonderful thing to kind of like show, you know, it's not all about the competition between the two. It's about like making sure that VR as a space is successful. And I think it's going to require like, you know, the contribution of everyone from all backgrounds and all pathways of life to make contributions to that space. So, you know, so more people get involved, you know, feel like that's really important. Something else I'd like to know is like, what are their metrics for outcomes for the program? Like if they have any, I'm not exactly sure right now that they do, you know, and if they do have metrics for outcomes around everything else that they're doing at the company, I don't see why this should be any different. So, you know, and sharing that with the group. So that can be like a discussion. I feel like that could be really helpful. And, uh, we also didn't know what their intentions were with the programs. I just felt like they could have been a lot more. open with where they wanted the program to go. Because if you're committing all this money, and that means that you have real intentions in terms of like growth and development. And we never heard anything about what their plans were for growth and development. And I actually asked them, as well as like, you know, can we hear about what your roadmap is, or where you see this program going? So you know, maybe we can have some sort of discussion about it. And you know, from our side of how we think you guys can do better. And I don't understand really why they wouldn't share a roadmap resource like that. Because, I mean, to me, it's not like, I really don't feel like they're trying to corner the market on people of color in terms of like, you know, their VR projects or, you know, like our businesses or anything like that. And I actually see if you share that roadmap so we can contribute. And then that roadmap also gets shared over at HTC or somewhere else. I mean, at that point, you're talking about a rising tide lifting all boats. I mean, best practices being shared across the board, you know, like engagement practices being shared across the board. You know, I only see it as a win win because you're just you're looking for like a nascent technology and they said medium and you're trying to get as many people involved as possible. Why wouldn't you try and open the doors to as many people as possible? And if that roadmap can assist in that process, then I think that that's something that could be shared. I know I understand that there's all sort of intellectual property, you know, things going on. And they're not in it for, you know, they're not in it for social responsibility. You know, they're in it to make a profit. You know, they're in it for shareholders and stakeholders and things like that. I get it. But I also see this as like sharing the roadmap. I see that as an opportunity to allow more people to get into the space and to improve on processes that can really make that happen in a much more direct and hopefully much more impactful way. So I don't understand why that didn't happen here. You know, in terms of you had mentioned earlier that the deadline for funding when they said that our projects were going to be approved. They got pushed back, you know, and I'm pretty sure it got pushed back three times, you know, but we never, they never came to us and say, Hey, you know, like this is what's happening. You know, this is why, or we just felt in the dark a lot. There was a lot of like Willy Wonka feeling, you know, around the entire experience. And, uh, I felt like if they were just a little bit more transparent about their communication as to what was happening, it would have made us feel a little bit less uneasy. And I felt like that part could have been improved. Yeah, like, and I'm still like, we're still waiting to hear like, you know, what happened with the commitment that Mark Zuckerberg made in terms of the money, because I'll tell you what, I mean, since my background is education, you know, and all my projects that I'm thinking of pretty much our education focused, that's supposed to be a $3 million $3.3 million fund for VR and education. And I still don't know what that program does. You know, like even being in the involved with Oculus Launchpad for now for a little over a year now. Like I don't know what that program is about. I don't know, are there application processes? Like I don't know anything about that program at all. And it's supposed to have three plus million dollars in a fund somewhere. I would be very interested to know like how I could access some of those funds or at least, you know, at least be involved in the discussion of what sort of projects are getting developed. So I could kind of take a look and see if there's any way that I could contribute or help someone else out or if they could help me. You know, but I haven't heard word one about that besides the fact that they just released Some Oculus stands at public libraries. So now you can access different catalogs and things, you know, through a rift at different public libraries. But other than that, that's the only thing that I've heard that's related to VR and education from Oculus. Yeah, from my perspective as a journalist, this is an issue that's actually very difficult to cover. For example, if Facebook gets up on stage and says we're committing this amount of money, it's actually really difficult for me or anybody else to really verify if they're actually able to follow through with that. And so I think at the end of the day, there is a certain amount of transparency that's put back onto them to say, okay, this is how we've been spending and this is the initiatives we've been doing. I know that they've been fairly hesitant to open up all the budgets in terms of how much money people are getting, and I think that's kind of standard business practice. But in these types of initiatives, it would be helpful to hear some level of transparency from these big announcements that are being made versus what is actually happening, because there are people like yourself who are in limbo waiting to hear if those funds are available, whether you're doing specifically for education or Whether you're part of the Launchpad program waiting to hear who's going to get the scholarship. So there's a certain just amount of transparency and disclosure that I think would be helpful. And part of the reason I want to talk to you is just to kind of like talk about the gaps that I see, but it's hard for me to cover this story because it's like, I can't prove it. And it's like, I agree. I can hear what is happening in the community, but I can also hear what they're doing. And it's also just the intention is like, okay, this is what we need. You sent me a note from Brian Brecken about some of the other diversity initiatives that have come out of Silicon Valley. So maybe you could talk about some of the core problems that you see and what you would like to see in an ideal situation. From your perspective, what would be helpful for you in terms of these diversity initiatives? Oh, wow. Core problems that I see. All right. I'm going to, I'm going to try and be really honest here, Kent. I think one of the difficulties that I see is those acted like a VC partner in this instance. They were the ones with the money. You know, they conceded. You're sending pitches, you're sending texts. You know, like, I really felt like it was like a venture capital type fund situation. So that's why I'm kind of drawing on it from this particular aspect. But I feel like, you know, a lot of these companies and a lot of VCs, they have difficulty evaluating people of color, and evaluating their background that might not go down the particular checklist of top SAT scores or pedigree of really great schools, or you know, if you came out of like Y Combinator or something like that, just things that look great on paper in terms of like an application or a particular day. Sometimes I feel like looking at the life experience of where people are coming from, can be just as much of a true indicator of how much dedication that you can get out of a person and how much passion their commitment can take them to overcome obstacles that they may face. I really see that as being an issue because, and one of the reasons why I say that is because, like, right after I had posted this article, I saw maybe four or five articles that same week, you know, and it was all these founders of color. And they were talking about, you know, all these diversity programs that were happening in different companies, but how there were all these great initiatives that were being touted and lauded everywhere. especially like this one particular founder who runs one of like the largest coding programs for people of color in the entire country, you know, this person was like, founders of color aren't being funded. And it became this thing where it wasn't just seeing it in one or two places in one or two articles. I saw it in like in four or five articles in the same week. And I saw it more as a pattern, you know, as opposed to something that was just kind of like a one off exception. And so I feel like VCs have funds and they're looking for new opportunities. I think they're going to have to, you know, make themselves a little bit more uncomfortable in terms of like their understanding and their methodology of how they're selecting their candidates. You know, I also heard from Arlen Hamilton's efforts. I know, I think it's at like Kapor Capital. Well, one of her things that she's really pushing is that for a lot of VCs to basically set aside a portion of their fund for founders of color, you know, just so there's an opportunity that may exist for them. I think it's something like 97 or 98% of all VC backed opportunities are from white males, you know, so with only 2% of opportunity, I mean, like that's a highly competitive space. And not saying that everything isn't like a super highly competitive space, but You know, from that same vein, you know, that article that essentially the author of that article, Brian Brackeen. So he does facial recognition. You know, he has a facial recognition product. And I heard one of his podcasts where he was talking about he was on a panel with someone else from the FBI. And as Brian Brackeen is describing, like the outcome metrics of his product, it's incredibly impressive. Everyone's blown away. And the guy from the FBI turns to him and says, what you have is far and away better than anything that we have at the FBI currently. And Brian Bracken was still talking about how he was having difficulty finding funding for his efforts. When I hear something like that, I'm just like blown away. I'm like, you're kidding me. You know, like you were absolutely kidding me. Like that can't be the case and this can't continue. So either there is a disconnect in terms of like, you know, the evaluation criteria, the evaluation understanding. or there's an implicit bias or something, I'm not sure what it is. I'm not sure what it is. And I'm not one of these people to jump up and down and say, oh, just because someone's a person of color, you're not funding me. And I don't think that that's the issue. But I think it is part of the issue. I think we do have to have some uncomfortable conversations about some of the things that are happening out there in the space in terms of funding, in terms of opportunities, so we can get to a place that we can have, one, open conversations about it, and two, you know, some really talented, some exceptional business people, businessmen, businesswomen can have these opportunities to take their ideas to fruition and make impact in their communities and make impacts on our culture. Because that's something else that I feel like is that we pretty much solve problems that affect our own communities, right? You know, like, unless you're involved, you know, in a specific community, you're not going out of your way to solve somebody else's problem. Right? So we solve the problems that affect our online. So if we start solving problems that affect our own communities, not only are we solving more problems because we're reaching a wider, more diverse audience, we're also creating opportunities for collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas and solutions. And if only the best ideas are getting shared and embedded in what we're doing, when we start scaling opportunities, it's going to be a large-scale operation based on great ideas. So to me, I just see it as a win-win. But I know that there's a lot of hesitation out there anytime, you know, just conversations about money. I know there's hesitation because there's a lot of risk involved and you're risking money on people that you really don't have a whole lot of understanding about. But that's what it's going to take. You know, it's going to take that. So sorry for the super long wounded. answer. Well, what's clear is that it's a complicated issue that has many different dimensions and facets, some of which are conscious and some of which are completely unconscious. The conscious stuff in terms of the methods of evaluation, which are very quantified in a certain way, like the market fundamentals or what data you're able to show versus what you're talking about, some of the other dimensions of the challenges that you as a Black man have had to overcome in order to get to where you're at and the perseverance and passion, it may actually be a larger predicting factor of success, but it's also much more difficult to capture and quantify and to prove to somebody your degree and level of perseverance and passion. But it sounds like at the heart, that's what we're talking about at the conscious level, the unconscious level of all the other dimensions. I mean, I think that's something that I don't think we can sort of deconstruct or fully even understand all the dimensions that are happening there. But I do think there's a certain amount of bias that is not even at the level of conscious awareness for a lot of people. Yeah, I agree. And so the other thing is that you're talking about education, and education is one of the topics, I think, in virtual reality and augmented reality. that doesn't necessarily show a lot of high growth money, and it's not typically something that I think a lot of venture capitalists are funding outright, although I do see that there's more educational startups that are out there. But yeah, I don't know if you had any additional thoughts. Yeah, no, I definitely agree. Super complicated. I think it's conversations that people don't typically have. They can be a little prickly sometimes, which is something that I think VR is very capable of doing. you know, you have to allow people to make mistakes. You know, like, you have to allow them the space, you know, to say something that, you know, that might not be the most PC thing, but if that gets us forward in terms of, like, our conversation and our understanding of one another, like, we can have opportunities for it. Just, it's okay to make mistakes in terms of that conversation because, you know, like, us fixing this, that's going to be a messy process, right? It's not going to be clean. So, and I know we want things to be clean all the time, but that's just not going to be the case. But in terms of like, you know, the VR for education, that's really interesting to me too, because I, I see so much transformative like power within VR for education. And actually that's what Mark Zuckerberg is doubling down on right now, because his thing, he has a new, you know, a new initiative, like the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. And because I work in the philanthropy space, I try and pay attention to what's happening in a lot of different areas. But my understanding is that they've only given money. to one particular idea, you know, from the Chan Zuckerberg initiative so far, and it revolves around personalized learning. And I think that particular model, especially for within virtual reality, is gonna be huge, you know, for a couple different factors. Like one, you know, with my background in special education, I'm always looking at things through a lens of like, how can VR help people with disabilities? You know, so what sort of like training can we give? What sort of like, you know, different opportunities that they might not be able to have because of their mobility Or if it's someone with autism that needs to see things like repeatedly over and over again, that a person that, you know, if you're given a lesson on money, the teacher or the aid, they may get tired and not do things with fidelity over and over again. But with a machine, you know, with a virtual reality machine, you're always going to get that fidelity. You're always going to have that safe, repeatable experience. Also in terms of personalized learning. Oh. cannot and I don't know if a lot of people are aware of this, but we're on the brink of a really serious teacher shortage in America. I think within the next like three to five years, I think it's about like 50% of all the teachers in the country are supposed to retire. You know, it's definitely going to happen within the next decade. You know, if not within the next three to five years and there's just whatsoever and people becoming teachers right now, like, you know, there's way too much accountability in terms of like dealing with parents and some of like the headaches that can happen there and just the sensitivities. There's just no interest. So we're going to have to find a different way to maintain and continue like our public education model. And I think, you know, just having virtual reality and augmented reality be a part of. You're going to have to have teachers that are basically channeled in through these mediums if you're going to be able to reach all the kids that need to be taught in this space. So I think that there's a lot of opportunity there to take VR and use it as a really transformative tool within and among education. I'm super excited about that. Well, because we're talking about education, I know that that was the topic of your Launchpad project, working with children who are on the autistic spectrum. So maybe you could talk a bit about what your project, what you imagine could be and what you were able to achieve with that so far with the Launchpad. Okay. So the name of my project is Underdog. what it is is it's basically like a module-based, you know, scenario trainer for kids on the autism spectrum to practice situations where they're getting bullied, right? And that was actually my entry into VR because I had read an article in like 2011 about soldiers that were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan using virtual reality as like exposure therapy for PTSD. And it was talking about how they needed a safe repeatable space in order to be able to have that exposure therapy. And I was like, wow, that's exactly what my students need in order to kind of like deal with some of these bullying situations. Like if there are triggers that are going to happen to my kids that, you know, that I know is going to set them off, you know, one, I want them to feel safe. And two, I want them to have the opportunity to kind of like get of the moment, you know, when some kid is coming at them, you know, with whatever situation that might be, you know, just the increase in autism. you know, with some of the severity of the bullying situations that I had seen that happened to people, you know, I just felt like it was a highly worthwhile project and I think it, you know, can make a real impact in families. So I was super excited about it in that respect. And that was what I submitted to Oculus. And I mean, like the, what I submitted was actually, You know, it by no means was it a great project, you know, didn't have like a great mechanic that would like, you know, truly engage you. So you'd want to keep going. But I spent a lot of time in terms of how I envisioned, you know, the different things that it could do, you know, for someone on the spectrum, you know, just the embedded feedback that could happen, the ability to kind of like adjust all of the like, in terms of like universal design, how do you adjust all of these things that controls like lighting and sound? like the text size and all these different things you know so someone that had different abilities with some I know is disabilities so that kids could adjust it so it could be effective for them individually. I was excited about that. What I wanted to kind of create is like a platform for kids on the spectrum to be able to You know, have a social experience. And that's something that I know is a difficulty in VR in general anyway, is how do you make it more social? Because kids on the spectrum have a difficulty making friends. But if you create a product where, you know, the only people that are really involved on the platform are other people with autism, and you can kind of like bond across common interests. Because I was going to have this thing where each player in the game, you can create your own frequency, which is basically like a flag. And your frequency is kind of denoted by all your different interests that you're into. So you could find other people within the game based on other common interests. And then once you achieve certain skill levels in terms of your bullying, understanding that you could earn certain rewards, a lot of kids on the autism spectrum are really into trains. So I was going to take them So they can all as a team together, you know, like take a ride on the bullet train in Tokyo and kind of see what that experience is like. So I don't know. I think it's something that a lot of kids on the spectrum could benefit from. I think it's, uh, it's something that I want to see out there. I like, I don't care if I end up working on it or if somebody else ends up working on it and they turn it into a great project. Like, you know, something like that will help children, you know? So I just want to see that develop. You know, so hopefully someone ends up hearing this and they want to work on something together. Hey, you know, great. Or if they want to take it and run with it themselves, you know, that's good on them too, because, you know, I just want to be helpful in space. Yeah, and it sounds like you were able to get it to a certain point and that it still has a while to go before it's like kind of ready for primetime. And I just wanted to bring up from my perspective as a journalist, the challenge of covering stories like this. I'm at the point now where I've traveled over, you know, 35 different conferences over the last three years, done over 750 interviews. I have a huge backlog of over 200 interviews. Most of those interviews have been about projects that have gotten to the point of being completed. and I've covered and talked to them. So there's a dual challenge here for people that are in your position, which is you have a project that is not completely finished, and it needs to get to the point where either somebody like Oculus funds it and gets to the point of completion, or you get coverage like this, which is where we're talking about a project before it's actually fully finished. But to me, it's challenging because it's like, I like to have a direct experience of the thing that we're talking about. But if people don't have the time or resources or the access to be able to create the content to get it to that point, then it's like this kind of cycle of which they're not getting the coverage because they're not getting to the point at which other projects are getting to. And so I'm just curious to hear your thoughts on that. Yeah, I mean that's a huge problem. The follow through is a problem. A lot of times it comes down to resources. I know that's one of my major issues right now. I'm working off of this. My computer died, so I don't even have my computer. I was fortunate enough that a friend of mine, he just had a couple extra computers, so he was able to share his, and I've had it for months. like I don't own like a rift or vibe so I have to go to different friends places or sign up for a free trial somewhere upload or you know or somewhere where I can have access to the different things that I would need in order to develop or just to raise enough money to have somebody build it for me you know all those things are challenges that I know that people face and sometimes it's just a passion and commitment thing but I don't know I mean I think it's something that you want to complete whatever it is that you're working on, because one, you just, you know, you want to have that ability to go to the next project or to the next funder to be like, look, this is done, this is completed, you know, like great artist ship, you know, here it is. And I don't know how to, you know, like, I don't know how to go about fixing that. I don't know what the real answers are for that. I am thankful for a community like Launchpad because having a somewhat large, this actually kind of feels to me like a large community of like committed members and people are very responsive and receptive to helping us out, you know, when we get stuck at a certain point or something like that. So if I wasn't involved in the Launchpad community. I don't know what my recourse would be because I don't know who I would reach out to. A lot of times, if you go to one of these conferences and you go up to a representative at one of the booths or something and you're like, hey, could I get a new touch handle or could I get this new thing that you guys are working on so I can try and develop something, you get the stonewall. So what it feels like for me right now is that I have a certain degree of access and it's just a matter of willpower for me to make sure that I'm doing the things I'm saying I'm going to do and that I'm completing the projects that I'm intending on completing and just taking advantage of the opportunities that are in front of me. So that's all I'm trying to do each and every day. Yeah, it seems like there's at least a number of different levels, which is having access to the resources and the equipment that you need to even develop it, getting it to the point that it is either showing it to other people where they can come and join you and help build it or raise enough money to do that. And then sort of the overall funding model, which is the people that are willing to see a project that have gotten to the point of being a demo and then being willing to fund it. to completion, so there's like a number of different gates that you have to cross in order to kind of get to the point where it's actually out in the world. Yeah, no, I mean, you hit the nail right on the head, you know, in terms of like those three levels of operation, that's exactly what you're encountering, you know, and each one has its own set of challenges and sometimes you got to go through all three, you know, so which makes that whole process even more difficult. But I mean, but I would feel like, you know, if the funder found someone that like went through all of those challenges and still succeeded and still made it, you know, like to me, that would tell me something about that person, you know, like, and maybe this particular project might not be the one that I might be interested in, but if this person, if they can face all that and come through all that on top and still have something that's like, you know, just like worthy of demoing to begin with, you know, like, well, maybe if they worked on something else that maybe I might be interested in helping them out with that. So I would, I would always keep an eye on that person, but that's just me. But I know a lot of, you know, Not everybody operates in that kind of way or has that particular mindset, but I think that particular kind of mindset would help a lot of people of color in the space if venture capitalists kind of took that upon themselves to be like, all right, I know that this particular project isn't something that I'm fully interested in right now, but the fact that you came all this way, that tells me something about who you are. Yeah, it kind of gets back to moving beyond just the market fundamentals and then seeing that passion and perseverance dimension that is so ineffable, but yet could actually be the biggest predictor. And like you said, when you get to that point, then are you able to actually get the resources to make it fully happen to its full potential? Absolutely. I mean, they, I mean, they, they say, and I forget what the definitive numbers are, but I mean, like one of the things I've definitely heard a lot is that SAT scores and GPA are like the worst predictors of success in college, but they are not reliable predictors of college success. So people are going to have to look at different metrics for what they think will take somebody to the end of a project and, you know, to successful projects. Yeah. Yeah. That's the great point. And finally, just to kind of wrap things up here, I'm just curious to hear what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is and what it might be able to enable. This is funny to me, Kent, because, you know, I'm a fan of the show. I knew the question was coming. And I'm still like, oh, man, like, what the hell is it? But there are a couple of things. And to me, this is almost like, Deezus and Miro, I don't know if you watch them on Vice, but they have a rainbow at the end of their show and they're like, what do you want on your rainbow? You know, so you're asking me for my rainbow right now. Yeah. What do you want on your rainbow? But in terms of like, you know, where do I see VR going and what do I think its potential is, two things I'd really, really like to see happen with VR. I'd really like to see VR start dealing with issues around peer pressure. And I have this theory that for a lot of times, you know, young people in high school, in order to have like a really successful high school outcome, you have to have a socially isolated experience. Because you have to have the ability to just like, you know, have your own lane and focus on what you think your, you know, your intended goals are. You know, for me, it was, you know, I'm 14 and black and in really advanced classes and being a swimmer. Those two things just kind of like isolated me enough where, you know, if I had like a peer group that was like, Hey man, you know, like let's go out and go smoke or go drink or whatever. Like it just, I just wasn't around that, you know? And I think VR could hopefully take a lot of people through a process that, you know, kind of helped them build some defenses against, you know, some peer pressure situations that can make real impacts on their life outcomes. I would also really like to see it be like go to this like this whole Yoda idea of you must unlearn what you have learned like I'd really like to see VR do something where it teaches like a beginner's mind sort of like that zen space where you start unlearning like bad behaviors or you unlearn you know like these ideas that are really intractable very difficult to deal with you know like racism like the discrimination like uncomfortableness you know with trans people or anything like that. We, I think we really need to make real efforts to, Bob Marley says you have to burn these ideas out of your mind, you know, and I think you have to train yourself to go to a place where you can kind of look at some ideas that are not culturally compatible or compatible with other people that really gives you an opportunity to kind of look at that idea from a larger space and get to the root of why you believe that and is that really a true ideal. So if you can deal with peer pressure and you can deal with helping people learn different ideas or unlearn certain ideas, I think that would be an amazing thing for VR to accomplish. Awesome. Is there anything else left unsaid that you'd like to say? I just, I really just wanted to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. Like I said, man, I am a huge fan. I love what you're doing for this space. You're so important to this space. I just, you know, like I haven't been able to contribute financially to you yet, but I just, you know, what you're doing is just like super, super important. You're going to be remembered for this, you know, for, for your contribution. So thank you for everything that you've done. Awesome. Yeah. And thank you for coming on and talking about these, these issues that are very complicated, complex, but you know, I think it just starting the dialogue and hopefully my intention is that people can hear this and start to come up with other methods and models to go beyond what the existing system is because the existing system isn't working for a whole lot of people. So whether it's from each other and a peer in a community, or if it's more systemic from the top down, but finding ways to just get beyond the quantified numbers and data and looking at these more qualitative aspects that, at the end of the day, actually may determine success and bring these types of ideas into the world. Absolutely, absolutely. And if we know, if we help contribute to that in some small, you know, some tiny kind of way, Kent, man, I mean, you know, hey, you know, the good work has been done here, so I would, I'd be highly appreciative of that, so. Yeah, thanks for everything. So that was Dale Henry, and he was a participant in the inaugural Oculus Launchpad program. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, the post that Dale wrote ended up going back to Oculus and it sounded like it was able to reach a lot of the decision makers that were creating the Oculus Launchpad program. I reached out to Oculus before airing this and I got a message back from a post that Ebony P. Ramirez made announcing the upcoming Oculus Launchpad programs and some of the improvements that they were going to be making. And they kind of go through a lot of the same things that Dale was talking about. So they're going to be making sure that everyone gets feedback on their projects. They're going to have bi-weekly video check-ins with different Oculus experts to be able to kind of have a direct dialogue with them. The attendees are going to have the opportunity to pick different topics to focus in on. And then there's going to be different tracks and deep dives into those. So it sounds like they're expanding their training and mentorship program in that way. as well as they're launching the Oculus Launchpad Circle. So it sounds like the very first cohort that went through the Facebook group that they had ended up being a very rich collaborative learning environment. And so they're going to be creating these different circles to be able to continue that as well. So that's great that Oculus was able to get that feedback. I think that some of the other things that Dale was saying that he would like to see more transparency about is, you know, how is this money being spent? There was an announcement that $10 million is being allocated to these three different initiatives. And yet, at the end of the day, the Oculus Launchpad, when it came down to announcing the different projects, there was no new money that was allocated. Also, just being transparent about what went right, what went wrong, such that, you know, anything that they were doing with this program, they'd be a little bit candid about why did they drop the ball in these different cases? What was going on with the not communicating? Why were these delays of when money was going to be announced? Just stuff like that from the logistics of what was happening, but also stuff that would be transferable to the wider VR community in terms of their lessons learned for what works when it comes to having these different types of diversity initiatives. And also, what are the metrics for success? How are you measuring whether or not this is successful or not? And also a larger roadmap as to where this is at now and where you plan on going in order to kind of grow and sustain these initiatives. Dale would like to see a little bit more transparency to see other initiatives beyond just the Launchpad in terms of what other types of initiatives are being supported to support diversity. Because there's just a lot of larger systemic education issues and there's a number of different programs that Dale had mentioned. The other thing that I thought was really interesting was that, you know, Dale was saying that he didn't think that venture capitalist entities were really all that well suited to evaluate people of color. And he threw out the statistic of 1% of all the startups were black. founders and I looked that up that was from a 2010 study from CB Insights where they did a survey of all the different companies that were funded and it was about 1% of the founders were black male and about 8% were female. So there's this huge disparity of diversity when it comes to companies that are being funded by these venture capitalists and Dale is saying that this is like an uncomfortable situation because you kind of have to either take more risks with people of color, or kind of take a step back and look to see if there's some of these unconscious biases that may be seeping in. The Harvard Business Review did this study that just got published. It was titled, Male and Female Entrepreneurs Get Asked Different Questions by VCs, and it affects how much funding they get. And what they found was that there's one of two different types of questions that a VC could ask. And they say, according to the psychological theory of regulatory focus, investors adopted what is called a promotion orientation when quizzing male entrepreneurs, which mean they focused on hopes and achievements, advancements, and ideals. And conversely, when questioning female entrepreneurs, they embraced a prevention orientation, which is concerned with safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. And they found that 60% of the questions posed to male entrepreneurs were promotion oriented, while 66% opposed to female entrepreneurs were prevention-oriented. And that at the end of the day, they found that this bias resulted in that the male-led startups in their sample raised about five times more funding than the female ones. So they looked at the TechCrunch Disrupt that's all recorded, it's on public stage, and they just kind of went through the 190 different entrepreneurs and did their study and found that like two-thirds of the questions to the males focused on promotion, while two-thirds of the questions to the female founders were focused on prevention. And I think it's probably safe to say that there's a similar unconscious bias that is likely happening to people of color as well, since the funding of black male startup founders is even lower, by some accounts around 1% or so, even though the population is around 11%. So there's clearly some implicit bias that is happening that is kind of at the root level of the funding structures and the available resources that are out there. And I face that as a journalist, because I kind of have these similar different gates that I'm looking at to evaluate whether or not to do a story on a particular virtual reality experience or company. So you start an idea, everybody can have an idea, and then you go from taking the idea to building an experience that's a prototype that you can at least try and experience. And then from there, it takes a lot to actually launch that as a finished, complete project. So you can go from an idea, to it works, to it just works. And each of those different phases are different gates that you have to go through, and you have to at least get it to a prototype stage, in most cases, in order to even get funding to kind of bring it to completion. But as a journalist covering this space, it means that the type of coverage that I'm doing on projects is kind of a reflection of what is happening in the larger industry. And if there aren't those projects that are coming to either the prototype or finished stage for me to cover and experience, then I have to kind of take a step back and look at things when they're just in the idea phase, which is just honestly a lot harder to discern whether or not this idea is going to come of something or not. So, you know, one of the uncomfortable things that Dale is saying is that it may be possible that there needs to be new methods of evaluation as to determining whether or not some of these diverse content creators should have a chance taken on them. And I think one of the things that Dale was saying is that looking at someone's life experience and the level of adversity and perseverance and passion that they've had to exhibit in order to overcome different obstacles in their life. And that is just a lot harder to evaluate by just looking at a series of numbers. It kind of gets into this listening to the anecdote and the story of somebody's life, and then just kind of getting a gut feel as to whether or not you feel like they're going to be able to actually make this happen. And so when I talk to different venture capitalist investors, they often talk about the market fundamentals and the numbers when it comes down to evaluating whether or not something is worth investing in. But also I hear from a lot of investors that it comes down to the team and the experience of the people that are involved. That above else, if you get a strong team together, that's dedicated and passionate, knows a market, then they're going to be able to be worth taking a chance on. And it seems like this is a discussion that is like happening, not in just the Oculus launchpad, but in the entire technology industry when it comes to how capital flows. So I'm super glad that the Oculus Launchpad program exists and that they were willing to invest the money that they have so far and be open to this dialogue. And I would just love to, you know, have more transparency, have more of a wider discussion and to have some of an honest discussion about, you know, what happened, what were some of the lessons learned. not only for the people that are involved within the program so there can be more dialogue for people like Dale and other people that are in it but also for the wider VR community when it comes to other companies whether it's HTC or Google or individuals who maybe you want to offer your time as a mentor and maybe you want to be connected to some of these Facebook circles or groups or just generally making yourself available to be able to open up a dialogue with some of these diverse creators who are trying to get a break into the virtual reality community. And at the end of the day, I do seriously believe that the more diverse voices that we have within the virtual reality community, the more diverse content and interesting content that's going to be more widely interesting to many different people and demographics. Dale said that, you know, you come from your own different communities and you know the problems of your community in a very unique way so that the more that we have diverse creators, just the more problems and more interesting content that's going to be available for people. And I think at the end of the day, it's going to help make VR more successful. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then you can just, you know, spread the word, tell your friends, you know, share this podcast with somebody who you think would be interested in hearing this discussion that you just listened to. And, you know, seriously consider becoming a donor to the Voices of VR Patreon. I'm doing what I can do to try to discover and promote the different voices of diversity within the VR community. And I think that I've gotten a huge amount of insight from the many diverse voices that I have. And I think that's one of the strengths of this podcast is that you can come here and hear people from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences. And at the end of the day, it just helps me and everybody take these ideas and be able to help make VR a lot better. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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