Ceeking a new reality
Born in Syracuse, New York, and raised in Ghana, West Africa, Mary Spio didn’t see a computer or a color television until she was 17. Still, she always had a fascination with technology and, despite her humble beginnings, that deep-seated interest led her to not only become an engineer, but a true rocket scientist.
Today, Spio is the owner of her own technology company, Miami Beach-based Next Galaxy, which develops innovative content and tools for virtual reality. The technology built is around Ceek – a VR content hub – and Ceekars, which are being billed as the first smart VR audio headsets.
She also is the author of the book “It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Achieving Uncommon Success,” in which she offers no-nonsense advice and insight along with stories designed to empower and inspire.
We caught up with Spio to discuss her triumphs and her tribulations.
When did you come to the U.S.?
I returned when I was 16. I lived for one year with friends of the family. I went into the Air Force at 17; I was in it for five years. When I got out in 1995, I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. I graduated No. 1 in my class and from there, I got a full scholarship to Georgia Tech where I studied engineering.
After a couple of jobs, you went to work for Boeing. What did you do there?
I helped them come up with technology for distributing movies via satellite. I have a few patents in the area of digital cinema.
And after Boeing?
A lot of companies were moving to digital and began contacting me as a consultant, so I started my own company. This way, I could work with more than one company at a time. We became a full-service enterprise offering content creation, content distribution and marketing.
How difficult is it for entrepreneurs to get funding and what has been your secret?
It’s very difficult. It’s changing, but it needs to change faster. The last company I owned (Gen2Media), the investor who came in said it would be easier to get funding with a young white male at the helm.
Over time, I have come to understand it’s better to find the right people – like-minded people – who understand the business. I don’t want someone who has invested in sandwiches. You have to take time to find the right person because the payoff is much greater.
How have you been able to mitigate racism and how can others do the same?
Racism stems from overcompensation for inadequacies – the fear that someone is going to take something you have, or something you don’t have but want. It’s ignorance-based and you can’t eradicate ignorance by marching only. I believe the biggest civil rights movement of our generation is technology entrepreneurship; it has the potential to level the playing field.
When people are in positions of influence or are successful in their industry, it automatically opens the aperture for others to see greater possibility for people like them.
Tell me about Next Galaxy’s relationship with Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
We are creating life-saving (virtual reality) models for learning how to administer CPR. It’s for the general population, but it’s also for medical professionals. We are creating a scenario for people to practice. There are so many incidents that turn tragic because people don’t know how to perform CPR. We also have plans to work on virtual reality for diagnostics and teaching people how to diagnose different diseases. They also want to enhance their telemedicine capabilities.
What one thing might people learn about you that would surprise them?
People are always shocked to learn that I’m a trained matchmaker – I trained under a Jewish matchmaker. I put myself through school working as a rocket scientist by day and a matchmaker at night. I’ve set up thousands of people and many are still together, some even with children. I was either going to be a relationship counselor or an engineer – I find ways to combine both.
Any last thoughts?
We are hiring, so for any game developers, programmers or people with interest in VR tech, please contact us by going to nextgalaxy.co. ?
Next Galaxy Corp. (OTC: NXGA)
Recent price: 9 cents (52-week range 2.1 cents to 40 cents)
Shares outstanding: 152 million
Background: An existing company registered in Nevada became Next Galaxy Corp. in 2012.
Stock market capitalization: $17.1 million
Total assets: $5.3 million,
Losses: $523,856 for the quarter ending Feb. 28 and $1.94 million for the nine-month period ending Feb. 28
Source: April 14 SEC filing, TD Ameritrade
Next Galaxy’s Ceek simulates the communal experience of attending live events. A preview version of the software is available at ceek.com.
How it works: Users put on virtual reality (VR) headsets, which are made by several manufacturers, and a pair of Ceekars 4-D headphones with 360-degree sound and tactile feedback. A Ceekars VR controller is used for navigation. Programming is selected from the Ceek Social VR Content Hub.
Perspective: The viewer’s perspective could be from a front-row seat, an owner’s box, a race car driver’s seat or the viewpoint of a lead singer.
Communal experience: Social media enables one-on-one or multiuser communication and interaction.
Business/education uses: Virtual meetings, presentations and virtual classrooms. Richline Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, used it to present a VR jewelry show.
Content development collaborators: Music producers Teddy Riley, Ron Diaz and Willy “Bum Bum” Baker; Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim; and University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari.
Next Galaxy Corp.: Chairman, president and founder, 2010-present
Gen2Media: Founder and CEO, 2005-2010; online video and social media for artists including Mary J. Blige, Will Smith, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears; clients and partners have included Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Gatorade.
Boeing Corp.: Head of Satellite Communications Systems, 2001-2004; developed a disruptive technology that redefined how major motion pictures are distributed digitally.
Intelsat: Satellite applications engineer, 2000-2001
Aerospace Corp.: Aerospace engineer, 1997-1999
Ultra Corp.: Aerospace engineer, 1996-1997
U.S. Air Force: Wideband/satellite communications technician, 1989-1995
Method and apparatus for very high data rate satellite transmission
Methodology for display/distribution of multiple content versions based on demographics
Georgia Institute of Technology, master’s in electrical engineering, global innovation management and computer science
Syracuse University, bachelor’s in electrical engineering