Miranda McCarthy: Improving Lives with Immersive Technology

Women in Tech

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Miranda McCarthy has been a lifelong patient. Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of two, Miranda spent her childhood undergoing multiple surgeries, going through rehabilitation, and seeking alternative ways to treat her condition. She was unable to take painkillers to treat her chronic pain due to their devastating side effects and risk of dependency. So, around the age of ten, Miranda started using visualizations, breathing techniques, mantras, and affirmations to deal with her chronic pain. Her self-taught techniques helped to distract her brain from the pain and interrupt the pain signals. Thirty years later, she is finally able to transfer her knowledge, by merging it with virtual reality technology. Partnering with Prof. Bob Stone, (nicknamed the Grandfather of VR and winner of two recent VR healthcare awards) and the dynamic University of Birmingham’s HIT Team has given Miranda the opportunity to push forward the use of virtual reality in pain management. 

“Keeping an open mind and adapting to the inevitable changes to your business plan is the key.”

VR for Good

Miranda founded London based Wavelength VR in 2017 and has built it around the motto ‘Nothing is Impossible’. Wavelength VR is a healthcare company that is producing a library of evidence-based content for children (and adults), which will be available to download as VR apps, to help manage pain daily, without the use of pain medication. The efficacy of Virtual Reality (VR) for pain relief has been proven through nearly two decades of clinical studies to be an effective adjunct or alternative to opioid (morphine-based) pain medications. The company’s first VR title is an experience called ‘BEYOND’– a magical garden environment that enhances the inherent fascination of nature and helps heal the body and mind. Wavelength VR aims to teach users relaxation and pain management techniques through games and guided meditation. 

“Success is seeing a kid who has had a hard day at school, who is physically hurting and emotionally exhausted, put on the VR headset and play a game that teaches diaphragmatic breathing – seeing the biofeedback from the device lowering their heart and respiratory rate. Knowing my content is working and helping others!” says Miranda McCarthy, Founder of Wavelength VR. 

Through the creative platform, Miranda is revolutionizing pain management, and is fundamentally changing what it is to live with pain.

However, starting a business in an emerging field of technology isn’t without its own set of challenges. The biggest hurdle Miranda has faced is the greed from some of the medical doctors she went to seek advice from. “Many of them were self-serving and could either only see dollar signs or their name in lights. A few of the potential co-founders I interviewed gleaned all they could from me and then left me in the dust. One even rolled out their own VR company, in direct competition with me, after working together for months! Virtual Reality is the next panacea and it’s like the Wild West – everyone is trying to get their hands on the gold and not everyone is on it for the right reasons.”

Miranda McCarthy, Founder, Wavelength VR

Miranda pauses to explain why she describes starting her own company as “the biggest emotional roller coaster ride”… “One-minute things are going according to plan, and the next, your business partner is running away with your trade secrets! It’s never a smooth ride but knowing and accepting this is fundamental.” Indeed, things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Miranda remarks that her key to success in her 12 years as an entrepreneur has been “to remember there is more than one way to skin a cat!”. “Keeping an open mind and adapting to the inevitable changes to your business plan is the key. The plan will continue to morph and change – but staying on your toes and being agile (in every sense) will allow you to keep moving forward.” She argues it is equally important to treat everyone fairly. “Manners and communication (especially follow-up), are integral to professional relationships, and ultimately success. If you don’t thank me after buying you lunch – I won’t work with you!” says Miranda. “I believe you must treat everyone with respect, give praise when it is warranted, and foster a sense of excitement around the work that you do. As a company – we aim to put the feelings of other first. Empathy is one of our most important values.” She also stresses on not taking ‘no’ as an answer. “I spent too long shying away from opportunity after I didn’t hear back from someone,” carries on Miranda. “People are busy and tenacity is an inescapable part of the business. I’m occasionally gripped by shyness, and it’s been the career advice that has helped me the most.”

Network your way to Success

When asked if she has a female mentor, Miranda said she has always looked up to her mother as a mentor and role model. “She has been an endless source of strength and knowledge and has encouraged me all along the way”. As a result, Miranda too has sought out many female-led initiatives and networking groups. At home in London, her favourite is Blooming Founders– a company that is building a scalable support infrastructure designed to give female founders a competitive edge in growing their businesses. Miranda appreciates the fact that the company has a network of over 2500 founders, freelancers, advisors, and investors and all their offerings are female-focused, but not female-only. Miranda is also a member of Women In Immersive Tech, Develop HER UK, Women of Wearables, Women in 3D Printing and many others. She would love to be a mentor someday.

As for now, she advises women who are aiming to set up their own companies and create equal opportunities to look at the culture of the bigger players: For example, IBM currently pairs top leaders (often male) with female mentors who have been identified as future leaders. The mentor/mentee meet regularly, each learning from the other, it’s informal, and helps break down some of the unconscious bias while creating visibility for female talent. Again, Deloitte does something similar, making diversity and gender equality an aspect of training. The company matches senior leaders (mostly male) to rising female talent for one to two years. They measure the results of the coaching efforts and results are then directly tied to the coach’s performance review and compensation. While for those working in an existing SME – authority comes with being an authority. Miranda, therefore, highlights that women can achieve a more prominent role by ‘creating a strong network’ to support themselves. “The key to making your way through the ‘leadership transition’ is the arduous (but worthwhile) task of networking,” emphasizes Miranda. “Creating a network of contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information is the best way of establishing yourself as an authority in your space. Seeking out kindred spirits outside your organization through associations, groups, clubs, communities, or better yet – starting your own, will help women gain new perspectives that will allow them to advance in their careers. These contacts provide important referrals, information, and, often, developmental support such as coaching and mentoring that will help you get a more prominent role in your organization. So start posting, partnering, throwing events, and getting your name out there!”

When Miranda is not changing others lives, she is a huge fan of meditation. She practices two different types of meditation each week. She is also helping to expand the Adaptive Yoga Network (an organization that teaches yoga to disabled people) in the UK. She spends most of her time studying the field of assistive technology in gaming, ranging from modified joypads to eye-control, to allow paralyzed and disabled people to play video games. She loves to read voraciously and recently completed reading Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk. She has also just started horse-riding lessons at the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Center. When asked to choose one person to have dinner with (living or dead) she says it would be Hedy Lamarr. “I’d ask her who the hottest man in Hollywood was in the ’40s when she was a famed beauty on the silver screen and I’d also ask how she came up with her invention of the “spread spectrum” – the technology that formed the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible!” says Miranda.

Next Level

Soon, Miranda hopes to create an AR / VR experience that will help trick the brain into feeling NO pain, through the embodiment of avatars. “The technology isn’t quite there yet but it is coming. It is based on mirror visual feedback and it is a technique I use every day to get me from A to B. My end game is to create a telehealth platform with a library of digital therapeutics that connects clinicians to patients helping people in pain, like me, have an easier time,” concludes Miranda. “Life is hard enough!”

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