TL;DR

WE ARE WEARABLES IS MERGING WITH GLOBAL XR COMMUNITY AWE

Over four years ago I started a community called We Are Wearables which quickly grew to become the largest wearable tech community of its kind in North America with Toronto being its largest chapter. In November of last year, I announced that We Are Wearables was merging with another large network, AWE, a global XR (augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality) community with conferences in the USA, Europe and Asia and meetup chapters in San Francisco and New York. With this change comes a new focus: augmented reality (AR), and a new meetup brand: AWE Nite, but the mission and spirit to foster adoption and facilitate innovation in this next wave of computing lives on.

The next chapter of We Are Wearables Toronto (WWTO) as AWE Nite TO welcomes the Toronto community into the larger AWE network in order to maximize the overall experience and strengthen the community's impact on both a local and global scale. AWE Nite TO will advance the augmented reality industry in Toronto by connecting and empowering developers, creators, investors, founders, corporate decision makers and those curious about this technology. For those in Toronto, including WWTO members, I encourage you to rally around the team at AWE Nite TO: Emily Smith, Ian Kelso, Isaac Rayment and Sophie Howe and myself as we build a community in Toronto around the most critical technology shift since the internet.  

The WWTO meetup page has been updated as AWE Nite TO and we have debuted a new website at www.awetoronto.com. Here you will find information about the team, events and our mission and can also contact us to get involved. AWE Nite TO will host regular meetups showcasing AR technologies and solutions being created in and around the GTA and facilitate discussion around how this technology impacts our life much in the same flavor as WWTO. The first official AWE Nite TO meetup event will be held in May and you can get on the list by RSVPing here.

The Chicago, Ottawa and Montreal We Are Wearables chapters will be closing down later this month in order for us to consolidate our efforts around these areas. I encourage all members of these groups to subscribe here to be notified of AWE events near you including the AWE USA 2018 conference happening in Santa Clara in May of this year. A huge thank you to all of the members in these cities for what you accomplished over the years and to the co-organizers, sponsors, partners, speakers, exhibiting companies and volunteers who made events in these areas possible.

While this is NOT goodbye but simply what's next, I want to take this time to thank YOU the We Are Wearables community including the sponsors, partners, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, attendees and my co-organizers Paula Kwan (WWTO), Meryeme Lahmami (WWMTL) and Jennifer Greenberg (WWOTT) who helped make it all happen. All of you helped the wearable space succeed at a critical time in its journey. Let's do it again for augmented reality under AWE!

Viva the Wearable Tech Revolution! And Superpowers to the People!

Your Man from the Future,

Tom Emrich

P.S. For the full story on the transition to AWE and a trip down memory lane in building the We Are Wearables community keep reading the longer read below.


We WERE Wearables

It was December of 2013 when I pressed publish on the first We Are Wearables meetup although at that time we were known as Wearable Wednesdays and had a presence only in Toronto. I had been writing about the wearable space for about a year prior to forming this community and was inspired to bring people together physically to give folks the opportunity to try out some of the wearable tech I had collected and to come together to discuss my strong belief that this wave of computing was going to change everything. I was inspired to start a meetup after doing an in-depth review of meetup culture in Toronto in a piece I wrote for TVO in addition to an increasing demand from people who wanted to demo my Google Glass. I had become one of ten Canadian Google Glass Explorers about seven months before kicking off the community and when I received the device I vowed that I would let anyone who stopped me get a demo so that they could see what I saw - that the future is now! Google Glass was already a very strange and new device on its own but, as you can imagine, with only 10 pairs across Canada the very few of us who had one quickly became walking tech unicorns in the wild. And so after being stopped and sometimes mobbed nearly anywhere I went by people wanting to get a try of Google’s formidable, and for some, scary invention, I decided I would take control of the situation and set a date for everyone to come to me to try it out.

The first We Are Wearables was hosted just days after my thirty-sixth birthday on an extremely cold January evening. It was held at The Lab, the home of Ladies Learning Code and Hacker You. The Lab had just completed construction on its new office and we were the first outside event to be hosted in the space. I still remember carrying boxes of wearables and trays of veggies and dip with my partner in crime Michael Finkbeiner into the Queen Street location expecting about 50 people to show up to check out wearables I owned and to hear the Kiwi Wearables team speak on their product roll-out. The event saw nearly 150 people brave the cold to show their dedication and curiosity to the wearable space. It was after that evening that I knew that we were all on to something big.

Life is full of pivotal moments that, when you look back, you see how they acted as a catalyst to get you to where you are today. Getting my hands on a pair of Google Glass was one of these. Asked to write a piece on Toronto’s meetup culture was another. And so was the day I met Karen Schulman Dupuis, who at the time was working at MaRS as the Business Manager of the ICT Venture Group. I believe it was the second Wearable Wednesday, hosted at Project Owl downtown Toronto in February, where Karen and I talked about the possibility to host these wearable events at MaRS Discovery District Centre. I still remember how freaking excited I was at the chance to give the wearables community a consistent home and one that could offer such an amazing experience to the community. With the help of Karen and the MaRS team, Wearable Wednesdays became We Are Wearables and our first event in March set the bar for the mini-conferences our events became known for in Toronto for the next four years hosting an average of 400 people in its auditorium and lower concourse every event.  

The brand, We Are Wearables, was inspired by the amazing “We the North” campaign created by MLSE’s Shannon Hosford for the Toronto Raptors. For me, the use of “We” gave a sense of ownership, community, and pride and I thought it was perfect for Toronto in particular as we Canadians often have a hard time making some noise and marketing ourselves. From covering the wearable space for many years I knew that there was a lot of activity in Toronto and Canada that needed to be celebrated. And so, just as We Are Wearables was on a mission to help foster adoption and growth of the wearable ecosystem, it was also there to champion Toronto and Canada as the hub for wearable tech, raising up the incredible number of startups and organizations that were creating often first-of-its-kind solutions in this space.  

Thanks to my amazing co-organizer and dear friend, Paula Kwan (who asked to join the Wearable Revolution in Toronto the same event I met Karen, another pivotal moment in the We Are Wearables journey), We Are Wearables Toronto, or as it is lovingly called WWTO, helped raise the profile of Canada and Toronto as a hub for wearable tech. So much so, that when I was travelling to places like Silicon Valley I would get asked “What’s happening in Toronto”!  The WWTO stage saw the launch of a number of game changing wearables including Bionym’s Nymi, InteraXon’s Muse, Meta’s first developer kit and Sulon’s Cortex . We turned MaRS into a zoo which included a lemur and kangaroo in partnership with Best Buy to celebrate the growing pet wearable space. We hosted our first all-female speaker and exhibitor lineup celebrating the “Women in Wearable Tech” including a nationwide startup competition to support one female founder in getting funding working together with the team at CFC IDEABOOST. We hosted the very first wearable tech fashion show at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week followed by our very own wearable fashion show slash 80s party event at MaRS years later in partnership with Amanda Cosco of Electric Runway. And at our last event we raised money to give one person the gift of sight by purchasing for them a pair of eSight glasses. You can revisit many of these moments captured in pictures by Billy Lee, Brian Da Rivera Simon and Shayne Gray here in the We Are Wearables gallery.

The We Are Wearables community soon expanded beyond Toronto to local chapters in Chicago (thanks to my friends Mike and Catriona Harris at Uproar PR and the teams at 1871 and TechNexus), Montreal (thanks to Meryeme Lahmami and Desjardins Labs) and Ottawa (thanks to Jennifer Greenberg, Design 1st and Systemscope). All of these chapters shared the same goal to build a community aimed at exploring the value of this new technology and to raise up local thought leaders, founders and brands to prove that innovation in this space was happening everywhere. In each of these cities, the sense of ownership through the brand gave local organizations, entrepreneurs and investors a boost of confidence by raising up the activity happening in the area and giving them a chance to showcase their contribution in making the wearable tech industry a success.

The We Are Wearables community soon grew to have a reach of over 120,000, with four chapter locations across North America hosting over 50 events which acted as a platform for over 200 speakers and 200 startups and organizations who demoed their wearable technologies and solutions.


The Next Chapter is AWEsome

In November of last year, I took to the stage at MaRS in Toronto to announce that this event would be the last We Are Wearables. It was a very emotionally charged evening for many reasons including our event theme which looked at how wearable tech was changing the lives of people with disabilities (a lens which always puts in perspective the power of wearable tech).

On stage I announced that We Are Wearables is merging with another large community, AWE. Founded nine years ago by AugmentedReality.org, a non-profit organization led by my partner, CEO and Founder Ori Inbar, AWE began as small conference not unlike the size of WWTO. It soon grew to the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo in Silicon Valley with this year’s event expecting 6,000 attendees. Like We Are Wearables, AWE has also grown beyond a single event into a larger community. It now produces conferences in the USA, Europe and Asia and has local meetup chapters in San Francisco (ARBA) and New York (ARNY) which are soon to be rebranded as AWE Nite SF and AWE Nite NYC respectively. In total, AWE’s global network has a reach of over 250,000 professionals all dedicated to fostering growth and adoption of XR (AR/VR/MR).

Beyond our community’s new focus on augmented reality and a new brand, the merging of We Are Wearables with AWE comes with many benefits. AWE’s global network provides members and those who participate on one of the AWE stages with a wider reach and worldwide exposure. The AWE social networks will act as a powerful tool to unite the AWE community and help each local area promote what is happening to the global audience.  

AWE shares very similar values and mission as We Are Wearables and two years ago both communities came together to celebrate wearables, AR and VR at AWE USA 2016. I have been involved in both communities for some time now, and it feels incredibly right to bring We Are Wearables under one brand at a critical time for augmented reality. Together I feel we can achieve great things in supporting AR just as we did for the wearable tech at time when it is most needed.

Why augmented reality? And why now? Well a lot has changed in the wearable space since We Are Wearables began in 2013. For one thing, the space has matured greatly. I used to feel like I could keep tabs on the entire wearable ecosystem back in 2012/2013 when Fitbit was new and Apple had yet to enter the space. But with 115.4 million wearable units shipped in 2017, up 10% from 2016 and everyone from tech brands like Google to fashion brands like Michael Kors with devices in market it’s impossible to cover. The growth in this space can also be seen in the creation of specific wearable categories from smartglasses and HMDs to smartwatches and brain-computing interfaces. Back then the entire space was grouped together as no one had seen a smartwatch, fitness band or heads-up display. Now these devices are pretty well known, at least in the tech industry. The time to discuss and discover the wearable space as a whole is over. It is now time to hone in on a specific category, like augmented reality, to have deeper, more meaningful conversations

It is a critical time for augmented reality. All of the major players, Apple, Facebook, Snap, Google, Amazon and so on have shown their support in ushering in this next wave of computing and investment dollars are flowing with a record $3 billion invested in AR/VR in 2017 alone. And while the eventual goal of AR is for it to use a wearable form factor such as smartglasses, augmented reality will be used by both enterprise and consumer users on smartphones, tables, windshields in cars, magic mirrors, projectors and even via audio well before the headworn devices are ubiquitous. AR could approach a 3.5 billion install base and $85 billion to $90 billion revenue within 5 years according to a recent report by Digi-Capital. But in order to get there, there are many problems to be solved and discussions to be had making it the perfect time to get in a room to ensure this industry’s success.


What’s Next

The Toronto chapter of We Are Wearables (WWTO) has officially been rebranded to AWE Nite TO with a new website at www.awetoronto.com and updated branding on the Meetup page. If you are already a member of WWTO, you are automatically a proud member of this community. If you are not already a member you can head on over to Meetup to join over 8,500 members in getting notified when our next events are.

Similar to WWTO, AWE Nite TO’s mission is to advance the augmented reality industry in Toronto by connecting and empowering its community. This community will act as a place for developers, creators, investors, founders, corporate decision makers and curious folk to come together to celebrate the activity and devote conviction around building an augmented reality (AR) hub in Toronto.

AWE Nite TO is part of AWE, a global AR community with a reach of over 250,000 professionals all dedicated to the adoption and growth of augmented reality as the next wave of computing. AWE produces conferences dedicated to XR (AR/VR/MR) in the USA, Europe and Asia and hosts AWE Nite meetup events in Toronto, San Francisco and New York.

With this new brand comes a new team to lead the charge. I am really excited to introduce you to a group of extremely passionate AR experts and founders who will work with you to make Toronto a hub for augmented reality.

  • Emily Smith - co-founder of *no campfire required, a company that made customizable mobile-navigated AR experiences and who previously worked for the International Olympics Committee using storytelling and technology to engage target audiences

  • Ian Kelso - co-founder of Impossible Things, innovating new ways to engage audiences with AR including the ReBlink exhibition which “remixes” and brings to life ten classic paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario

  • Sophie Howe - CEO and co-founder of Xesto, a gesture recognition startup building developer tools to bring natural user interactions to AR & VR experiences

  • Isaac Rayment - founder of MRSV.io, an immersive incubator working with international developers to build AR and VR experiences and who has previously worked with TED, Nike, Ubisoft, Cirque du Soleil to create high impact content

The official debut of AWE Nite TO will take place at an industry event hosted in partnership with OMERS Ventures, Super Ventures and AWE on April 10. This invite-only event will bring together AR leaders, influencers and creators to celebrate the activity and devote conviction around building an AR hub in the city. While spots are limited due to the size of the venue, you can head on over to the event page and apply for an invite if you wish to attend.

The first official AWE Nite TO meetup will take place on May 8 and is open for RSVPs now to all community members. The full agenda will be revealed soon. The AWE Nite TO team will continue to publish regular events on Meetup so be sure to sign up and keep your alerts on for this community to be the first to know when they are.

The Chicago (WWCHI), Montreal (WWTML) and Ottawa (WWOTT) chapters of We Are Wearables will be shut down later this month in order for us to consolidate our efforts around these areas. I encourage members of these chapters to subscribe to the AWE newsletter to be notified of upcoming events in and around these cities including AWE USA 2018 which takes place in Santa Clara May 30-June 1, 2018. A huge thank you to all of the members in these cities for what you accomplished over the years and to the co-organizers, sponsors, partners, speakers, exhibiting companies and volunteers who made events in these areas possible.


How YOU can help

Four years ago you rallied around a mission to foster adoption and facilitate innovation in wearable tech by providing a platform for the entrepreneurs, startups and organizations who are already making this happen and a place for those new to the space to be inspired to take action.

I ask that you continue to channel your passion, curiosity and conviction in supporting AWE and the AWE Nite meetup events in Toronto, New York and San Francisco along with the larger conferences in the USA, Europe and Asia.

Here’s how you can help:

  • If you are not already a member of one of the meetups, join today!

  • Subscribe to get AWE updates and the latest in XR news

  • Follow AWE on

  • Check out over 1,000 videos on the AWE YouTube channel

  • Sponsor, partner, speak, exhibit or volunteer at one of the events by reaching out to the event organizer or by emailing me at anytime at tom@superventures.com

  • Spread the word! Tell folks about AWE and AWE Nites and bring them to one of our events

  • Interested in starting an AWE Nite in your city? Contact me!


Thank You

While this is not GOODBYE but simply WHAT’S NEXT I want to take this opportunity to thank you the community for everything that we have accomplished up to this date. As I said on stage in November in Toronto, We Are Wearables has been my life for the past four years and you all have been my family. Every event we hosted felt like a homecoming and I want to thank you for your passion, dedication, excitement and support in what we built together.

I know that I am going to forget so many people and for this I apologize but I do want to especially thank the following folks (in no particular order) for your support and efforts in building the We Are Wearables community.

  • Michael Finkbeiner

  • Karen Schulman Dupuis

  • Paula Kwan

  • Janet Grant, Salim Teja, Sue McGill, Katrina Heisz and the entire team at MaRS including the amazing A/V team

  • Sean Mayers

  • Katherine Hague

  • Heather Payne

  • Neil Martin

  • Matthew Potter

  • Amanda Cosco  

  • Zayn Jaffer and the team at Best Buy

  • Intel Canada

  • Karen Kwan and the Meta team

  • John Fragella and Reuben Menezes and the Proto 3000 team

  • Ana Serrano and the CFC/IDEABOOST team

  • All the wearable startup teams and founders who demoed and spoke at the event

  • Steve Mann

  • All the volunteers

  • Ian Hardy and the MobileSyrup team  

  • Mike and Catrina Harris and the entire Uproar PR

  • 1871

  • Meryeme Lahmami

  • Jennifer Greenberg

  • Douglas Soltys, Jessica Galang and the team at BetaKit

  • Ori Inbar

  • YouX

  • TechNexus

  • House of VR

  • Billy Lee at Belight

  • Shane Gray

  • Brian Da Rivera Simon

  • NeuroTech TO

  • Keram Malicki-Sanchez and the team at VRTO/FIVARS

  • Genesys

  • City of Toronto

  • Ryerson University

  • Telus

  • Motorola

  • Reach

  • Northumberland CFDC

  • ST

  • N100

  • Amsterdam Brewery

  • Rithmio

  • Optimal Design

  • IoT 613

  • Design 1st

  • Systemscope

  • Desjardins Labs

  • Biomindr

  • The Next 36

  • Rogers Communications

  • Jeff Rustia and the TOM*FW team

  • IBM Canada

  • Ray Sharma and Josh Kerbel and the Extreme Innovations team

  • Nuheara

  • TV SUD

  • Cortex Designs

  • Abbott

  • EY Canada

  • Normative

  • Cloud Exchange

  • Make Works

  • Juice Mobile

  • Lovebot

  • Pizza Pizza

  • Lake Wilcox Brewery

  • Corey Herscu and the team at RNMKR

  • Hackernest

  • Girl Geeks Toronto

  • Emily Smith

  • Isaac Rayment

  • Sophie Howe

  • Ian Kelso


Have a story to share from your time at a We Are Wearables event or an idea on our next steps as AWE? Email me anytime at tom@superventures.com

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