By Megan Sayles
McKinsey and Company defines the “metaverse,” as the emerging 3-D-enabled digital space that uses virtual reality, augmented reality and other advanced internet and semiconductor technologies to allow for lifelike personal and business experiences online.
The term’s roots date back to 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” written by Neal Stephenson, but in recent years, it’s gained popularity due to Facebook rebranding its corporate name to “Meta” and other leading tech companies investing billions into the concept.
The metaverse enables people to interact with one another in digital worlds without even leaving the couch, and innovators are racing to design platforms that capitalize on metaverse technologies.
Two women at the forefront of this emerging digital space are Mary Spio, founder and chief visionary and product architect of CEEK Virtual Reality (CEEK VR), and Bianca Jackson, owner, and creative experience officer of BrickRose Exchange.
Spio, who hails from Ghana, began her career as a deep space engineer.
“I’ve always been interested in knowing more about our world and how technology influences it,” said Spio. “I believe I first fell in love with tech after wondering how the radio was able to play music, and my curiosity to discover this and a lot more about our world led me to become a space engineer.”
Spio has developed content and technologies for large companies, like Boeing Digital Cinema, Microsoft Xbox, Intelsat and Toyota.
At Boeing Digital Cinema, Spio pioneered four technology patents that transformed the movie industry, enabling Lucas Films, 20th Century Fox and other major film studios to streamline movie distribution.
In 2015, Spio founded Florida-based CEEK VR, a metaverse platform that allows creators and fans to come together in virtual worlds. Users can enter artists’ virtual homes and spaces and interact with them as avatars.
“I created CEEK as an opportunity for creators, particularly those who are affected by unfair practices by streaming platforms such as urban and global artists, to be able to directly monetize their work with fans,” said Spio.
“Today, a handful of platforms control who can make money with their content, and this is not fair. With CEEK anyone can directly connect with their fans and be paid for their work.”
Currently, CEEK VR offers numerous immersive, virtual reality experiences inside of “CEEK City,” which includes a theater, concert arena, sports complex and lounge. The platform has also partnered with Universal Music Group to provide live performances with major artists, like Bon Jovi, U2, Lady Gaga and Ziggy Marley.
Like CEEK VR, Jackson’s company, BrickRose Exchange, leverages metaverse technologies to create immersive, virtual reality experiences. But, the Baltimore-based startup allows users to host events in digital neighborhoods through the metaverse.
“It’s basically the future of events. It came to light with COVID-19 because people were not able to do live events in person, so we had to be creative in how we could get people to meet, convene and engage with each other,” said Jackson. “We found that holding these events through virtual worlds in digital neighborhoods allowed people from all over the world to be in contact with each other.”
Jackson comes from a technology background. She learned how to program in high school and studied information systems in college. In her early career, she managed USA Today’s emerging technology team, spearheading the creation of three virtual reality products.
In creating BrickRose Exchange, Jackson wanted to introduce entrepreneurs, artists and creatives to the multiverse, so they could bring their products to the virtual world. With the platform, users can host or attend networking events, listening parties, concerts, workforce training and more.
“Because there’s a lot of focus on workforce and economic development, our goal in Baltimore is to expose as many emerging technologies as possible to residents, so they can start thinking about the future of their work and the future of their businesses,” said Jackson.
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.