Building the Metaverse:
What Is It, and How Can We Get There?

Description: Experts from leading immersive content studios and XR training platforms come together to discuss how to leverage the strengths of XR to build truly engaging content that challenges perceptions, all while showcasing stories from a diverse range of people



Alex Howland, Ph.D., is president and co-founder of Virbela, a virtual world platform for remote work, learning, and events. Howland created Virbela in 2012, before it was purchased and made public by eXp World Holdings in 2018. 


Virbela’s mission is to help organizations and people thrive in a remote-first future. Alex leads the development of Virbela’s products and services -- continuing to expand the platform to accommodate not just business workspaces, but classrooms, event spaces, and recreational

areas as well.  


Prior to co-founding Virbela, Howland was an instructor in the Psychology Department at University of California, San Diego, where he taught Industrial and Organizational Psychology to undergraduate students. His expertise in organizational psychology gives him a unique perspective on creating virtual work and education spaces. He designed Virbela specifically to create a unique virtual experience where users feel psychologically safe and are more likely to collaborate, brainstorm, and succeed.   


Howland has a bachelor of science in psychology from Providence College, and his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Alliant International University, San Diego.

Alex Howland,
President at Virbela



Cathy Hackl is a leading tech futurist and globally recognized business leader with

deep expertise in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), spatial computing, & the metaverse. She is one of LinkedIn's top technology voices (the highest honor on the platform) and a champion for diversity in tech. Hackl also serves as VP at Avatar Dimension, the only Microsoft Mixed Reality volumetric video capture studio on the East Coast helping brands in entertainment, fashion, enterprise, and beyond create holograms.

Hackl has worked with some of the biggest names in tech including Amazon Web

Services (AWS), Magic Leap, and HTC VIVE. She leads the Futures Intelligence Group & Future Metaverse Labs, an emerging technology consulting firm and lab that helps brands through strategic foresight and next-gen actionable strategies, helping brands and businesses enter the metaverse via virtual goods, virtual worlds, AR VR, and gaming.

Cathy Hackl,
VP at Avatar Dimension

Peter Rojas is a partner at Betaworks Ventures, a pre-seed and seed stage venture capital fund investing in the future of how we live, work, and play online. Prior to founding Betaworks Ventures he was VP of Strategy at AOL and Co-director of Alpha, the company's experimental products group. He is also the co-founder of several successful startups, including Weblogs Inc. (acquired by AOL in 2005), where he created and was editor-in-chief of both Engadget and Joystiq; Gizmodo/Gawker Media (now part of G/O Media); music discovery service RCRD LBL; and gdgt, a social commerce platform (acquired by AOL in 2013).

Peter Rojas,
Partner at Betaworks Ventures

Lauren Frazier is the co-founder and CTO of Ramen VR, an independent game studio working on Zenith. Prior to Ramen, she held lead engineering roles at Unity and Google. In her spare time she enjoys listening to music, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and chasing after her unruly bulldog.

Lauren Frazier,
Co-founder and CTO of Zenith MMO

Yuji Higaki leads the engineering teams at Niantic, Inc as they build a 3D map of the world and leading augmented reality games. Prior to joining Niantic he served in engineering leadership roles at Facebook for nearly 10 years, building the Facebook Platform and the Payments and Commerce platform. He’s led engineering teams at Google, and spent the first three years of his software engineering career developing games at Electronic Arts. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and enjoys photography, fitness and poker when he’s not playing with his family.

Yuji Higaki
Head of Engineering at Niantic

Building Empathy:
How Immersive Storytelling can Challenge Perception and Bring People Together

Description: Experts from leading immersive content studios and XR training platforms come together to discuss how to leverage the strengths of XR to build truly engaging content that challenges perceptions, all while showcasing stories from a diverse range of people


Martina Welkhoff
Managing Partner at WXR Fund

Martina is the Co-founder and Managing Partner at the WXR Fund, an early-stage venture fund investing in women-led spatial computing (AR/VR/AI) companies.  Prior to launching the fund, WXR hosted an accelerator from which 26 companies have graduated.  


Before shifting her full time focus to investing, Martina was an entrepreneur who founded her first company, Zealyst, in 2010.  Zealyst was a corporate gaming platform that strategically helped employees to build their professional network and in turn collected data for their employer on culture, morale, and engagement. After 6 years of building Zealyst, Martina founded a virtual reality company called ConveneVR that was focused on pushing the boundaries of social VR.  She was inspired to transition into the VR industry after recognizing the unique opportunity the creation of a new computing platform provided for women and underrepresented minorities. 


Martina is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Council, and an advisor to the Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking at the Foster School of Business.  From 2013-2017, she served as the board president of Seattle Women in Tech before transitioning the nonprofit to a for-profit company that is scaling the model globally. In 2018, Martina won a Lumiere Award for Distinguished Leadership from the Advanced Imaging Society.  She received a BA in English with a minor in Chemistry from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.



Larry Cutler is the Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Baobab.  He brings deep technical leadership over the past 20 years in the area of animation creation and development. Larry currently serves on the Digital Imaging Technology Subcommittee for the Oscar Technical Achievement Awards. He was most recently the Vice President of Solutions at Metanautix, a big data analytics startup company (acquired by Microsoft). Prior to that, Larry spent 10 years at DreamWorks Animation where he served as Global Head of Character Technology and held several leadership positions in the areas of character development, animation workflow, rigging, and character simulation. Larry began his career at Pixar Animation Studios as a Technical Director on the films Monster’s Inc., Toy Story 2, and A Bug’s Life. Larry holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in computer science from Stanford University.

Larry Cutler
CTO and Co-Founder of
Baobab Studios

Carrie Cusker is a fervent advocate for older adults and their care partners. In her role as the Learning Design Specialist at Embodied Labs, Carrie draws on her 25 years of nursing experience to create meaningful, immersive content that encompasses both the clinical and human aspects of healthcare. Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Dementia Sciences at the University of Hull, Carrie continues to challenge the social construction of aging. She has lent her voice to multiple conferences and webinar panels in efforts to inform, inspire, and celebrate innovation in aging services.

Carrie Cusker
Learning Design Specialist at Embodied Labs.

Mr. Miller is a fifth-year Ph.D. student with the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University, co-advised by Prof. Bailenson and Prof. James Landay. His research interests include behavior tracing, the study of rich behavioral data produced by computationally-mediated interactions. His current research investigates the nonverbal signals that underlie team dynamics. He received his B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mark Miller
PHD Researcher at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (Stanford University)

Productivity in XR:
Supercharging How We Learn and Work 

Descriptions: The COVID-19 Pandemic has truly disrupted working norms around the world. Leaders from a wide range of fields discuss best practices on creating immersive educational content and how XR can be the workspace of the future.



Dr. Michael Casale is a cognitive neuroscientist whose research is focused on understanding the biological underpinnings of learning and memory. His research is aimed at understanding how best optimize training for a variety of learning situations as well as understanding how to optimize training in order to ensure maximum benefit to the learner. He has also led multi-year / multi-million dollar research projects aimed at understanding how virtual technologies can be used to facilitate the effectiveness of behavioral therapy and the brain basis underlying such processes. His work has been published dozens of times in notable peer-reviewed journals such as Memory & Cognition and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. At Strivr, Dr. Casale is able to blend his academic and applied research expertise to help develop training methodologies that optimize performance using immersive technologies along with developing immersive analytics that provide new insight into learner behaviors.

Michael Casale
Chief Science Officer at Strivr



Jake is the Director of Community at Spatial, a venture-backed AR/VR startup focused on improving how companies & organizations work, collaborate, and meet with one another face-to-face (virtually).


Companies across the Fortune 500, such as Ford, Pfizer, and Mattel are already using the platform today to improve how they get work done by leveraging Spatial across AR/VR, mobile, and web. Over the past year, Spatial has also seen explosive growth in new fields like cryptocurrency, as well as a wide range of innovative uses for their VR platform as a result of the pandemic.


Jake has nearly a decade of experience working in the AR/VR industry, including founding the first AR/VR team at Dow Chemical, founding a Google Glass startup focused on driver safety, and working with hundreds of companies to implement AR technology as a Principle Engineer while at PTC/Vuforia.

Jake Steinerman
Director of Community at Spatial

Joy Horvath is a Senior Instructional Designer within the Real-Time Learning team at Unity Technologies, where she develops educational content for the Unity Learn platform. Prior to joining Unity, Joy taught game development for five years at different schools and tech camps in California.

Joy Horvath
Senior Instructional Designer at Unity

Anand Dass leads FRL’s efforts to incubate the third-party VR & AR content ecosystem for non-games including productivity, collaboration, meetings, creative & design tools and business apps. Before FRL, Anand helped launch Facebook’s first productivity and collaboration platform for businesses-Workplace (5M+ paying users).  After graduating from MIT, Anand co-founded a Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz, Highland Capital Partners-funded startup, which was acquired in 2014. Before Facebook, he led merchant Partnerships at Postmates, a leading on-demand delivery startup (acquired by Uber) where he helped grow the business to $1 Billion GMV and helped launch Postmates Plus (lower priced deliveries) and Postmates Unlimited (like Amazon Prime but for all retailers on Postmates).

Anand Dass
Director of AR/VR Content at Facebook