A pioneer in the mixed-reality space for the past seven years, Ashley Crowder is the co-founder and CEO of VNTANA, an industry-leading platform working in 3D Web, AR and VR, helping Fortune 1000 brands including Adidas, Lexus, AT&T, and others launch mixed-reality applications to increase conversions. Prior to co-founding VNTANA, she graduated from USC with Bachelors and Masters degrees in engineering, and gained valuable engineering experience at Gulfstream, Northrop Grumman, and BP. Crowder was featured as one of USC’s leading engineering CEOs of 2016 and is a part of the Microsoft Early Developer Program.
Crowder has spoken about the future of mixed reality at SXSW, Digital Summit, Internet Summit, Augmented World Expo, TEDx Venice, the World Economic Forum’s Global Growth Companies & Technology Pioneers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, The Montgomery Summit, Siemer Summit, Digital LA, and now she brings her expertise to the XLIVE and LDI's LiveXSymposium and LDI2019’s new focus on Extended Reality.
Live Design: What—in a nutshell—was your career path?
Ashley Crowder: I always wanted to start my own company. As a kid, I started by selling granola bars on the bike trail. I also always loved math and science and building things. I would tag-along with my dad to construction sites on the weekends as he was building his construction company. I got my Bachelors and Masters in engineering at USC. During school, I interned at Gulfstream for engineering experience then MTV to learn about entertainment, as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. After graduating, I gained valuable manufacturing experience at Northrup Grumman and BP, but I always had some sort of side gig. While at BP, I started importing glasses from China to resell, and that’s how I met my co-founder Ben who weirdly enough also had a glasses import side business. I later started programming light shows for DJs on the weekends, which combined my love of engineering and art and entertainment. This is where the idea for VNTANA sprouted. We wanted to take the light shows to the next level.
LD: How did you get involved in the areas of augmented and mixed reality?
AC: As I mentioned above, I programmed light shows for DJs, which brought my love of art and engineering together and really got me curious in how we could put the digital in the real world. I then got introduced to the Institute of Creative Technology (ICT) and experienced their current studies in mixed reality. I knew this was the future of not just entertainment, but also education, work, every aspect of our lives, and I wanted to be a part of shaping this new immersive universe.
LD: Do you feel as if you broke a glass ceiling as a CEO in this field?
AC: There need to be more woman CEOs in every industry. I don’t feel like I will have broken a glass ceiling until VNTANA has a successful IPO or exit. Female founded companies today only receive ~3% of venture capital. We need more female founded success stories to create more female investors to change that statistic. I really look up to the founders of Blackline, Stitch Fix, Eventbrite, and others who have succeeded in this.
LD: What are your five-year goals for VNTANA?
AC: VNTANA started by providing turnkey hologram solutions to clients at events, retail, and sport sponsorship locations. The industry was so nascent when we first started that clients required a turnkey solution to understand the possibilities. While doing this, we realized that no one had the 3D assets required for holograms, AR, or VR. This was a huge problem, and we built a robust content pipeline to solve this for ourselves. Now that more AR and VR devices are on the market and web can support 3D assets, we are starting to license our software as a service to enable brands to create and distribute their 3D assets across web, AR, and VR. Over the next five years, VNTANA will shape the future of e-commerce by making it easy to create a 3D version of every product in the world.
LD: What it the impact that extended or augmented reality will have on our futures?
AC: AR is going to impact every aspect of our lives. How we learn, how we work, and how we play. Its ability to seamlessly connect data to our everyday environment is extremely powerful, and we have only scratched the surface of what it can do. Enabling technologies like our software that helps create and distribute 3D assets across the spatial computing landscape will help accelerate more use cases. To date, the high cost and time to create content is what has held back the industry.