In our latest ‘Meet the team’ blog, we talk to Erin McDowell, our CRO, who joined FlexEnable this year and brings a wealth of experience to the team. Erin tells us about her career to date, and where she sees the AR/VR industry heading in the future.
Tell us about your career so far. How did you get into business development and sales?
As a young child I received a walkie-talkie and was less interested in actually using it, than in the mystery of it all. This curiosity led to getting a degree in Electrical Engineering.
My time on the bench was short-lived; I quickly gravitated towards understanding customer problems and market opportunities. I enjoy working with customers and bringing cutting-edge capabilities and devices to market.
Why did you choose AR/VR optics as your career focus?
In 2012 while at 3M, I had the opportunity to explore white space in the electronics market. We were looking for new technology platforms and wearable technologies was one of the areas where we took a deep dive. Our team was able to participate in the growth of a new segment, with the thrills of strategic planning in a rapidly evolving environment and the development of technologies with high reaching but shifting goals. Most of our products were based around polarization optics, including the pancake optic that is seen in most VR devices today.
The AR/VR space is exciting because it’s an area where we can still make a fundamental impact rather than iterative improvements. In 2023 I joined FlexEnable, who provide new capabilities for AR/VR optics with the ability to manufacture liquid crystal optics that are thin, lightweight, and biaxially formable. These optics can be used in a variety of applications that modify light to the eye, including dimmers, tunable lenses, beam steering, and wave plates. FlexEnable’s ability to make these liquid crystal optics on plastic creates a new design space for developers and OEMs.
Where do you see the industry in five years’ time?
There are many studies that show undeniably that AR and VR can improve efficiency in operations, improve retention in learning, and can even reduce pain significantly for medical patients. Devices are getting better, though there’s still a way to go to provide comfortable experiences by reducing discomfort to eye, brain, and body. Areas holding back the adoption of AR and VR include the ability to easily integrate applications into back-end systems, and the difficulty in managing multiple headsets and users. I have great hopes that over the next five years, AR and VR devices will become more widely adopted in enterprise and educational settings.
What do you find most enjoyable about your role at FlexEnable?
I enjoy working with driven and innovative people, both at FlexEnable and with our customers and partners.
As part of a global team, how do you like to stay connected?
My preference is to meet in person, whether at a customer site, trade show, or at FlexEnable HQ. It’s more fun, everyone is 100% present, and I get a better understanding of the people and the issues. I love getting or giving demos, and there’s an overall stronger relationship and business connection from face-to-face meetings.
The reality is that I am based in the US and most of my communication is via phone, text, email, and of course: video conference. I’m comfortable with any form of communication that increases clarification or speed on programs.
Is there a piece of a career advice you have been given that has stuck with you?
“Erin, you should continue to make decisions without having all the data”.
In many new business or technical areas, key items are unknown or unknowable when a program or business gets started. If we wait until everything is known, we probably won’t be one of the leaders. For AR/VR some of the big business questions have been: What’s the killer use case? What are consumers willing to pay? When will the adoption curve start moving up the hockey stick? It is important to track the unknowns and to get answers, but a business/technology solution in a white space typically does not have all the answers before it gets started – It’s better to keep gathering data and reassessing as the program progresses, and pivoting as needed.