In high school, Alex Poscente started Young Artists of Dallas to connect passion with profits.

CEO Alex Poscente Unveils Her Plan for an Augmented Reality App

If you have played or even seen Pokemon Go, then you’re already familiar with one of the hottest high-tech concepts around, augmented reality or AR. Augmented reality mixes the physical with the virtual, superimposing a computer-generated image onto the view of the real world so that it becomes an interactive experience of a real-world environment. 

Alex Poscente, a sophomore at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and an entrepreneur, is working on new and unique applications of AR technology. Her company, Space, Inc., is a mobile application that leverages a breakthrough, geospatial [data associated with a particular location] tracking and authentication platform with augmented reality solutions to create — in real-time — an infinite number of close-proximity interactions, facilitating in-person connectivity. It also provides a next-generation advertising platform, as well as empowering retailers by giving them more control of customer experiences within retail stores.

If this all sounds other-worldly, not to worry. KWHS interviewer Emmie Stratakis (also a U Penn soph) sat down recently with Alex to discuss her company and her entrepreneurship journey.

An edited transcript of the interview appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Hi, everyone. We’re here with Alex Poscente. She is a sophomore in the Wharton School, and her love for entrepreneurship started when she was much younger. But ever since then, she’s been working to turn her ideas into businesses. She’s most interested in businesses that will inspire change and make the world a better place. Hi, Alex. Thank you for being here.

Alex Poscente: Of course.

KWHS: Can you tell us about your most recent startup?

Poscente: Right now, I’m working on an augmented reality framework that we are going to license to companies initially, create a studio for AR, and then proceed to create a social media platform. Virtual reality is when you put the goggles on and you’re completely removed from the world around you. Augmented reality is [when] the technology that you’re using incorporates the environment that you’re in, into the framework that the world exists in.

For instance, [consider] Snapchat. You put the doggie ears on yourself, right? That’s a filter, but it’s two-dimensional. So, there are the dimensions of the phone and the person. If you were to be on your phone, you wouldn’t see the same filter that’s on my camera, correct? So what we’re doing is creating satellite signal interception, which means that it’s geospatial augmented reality. We’re integrating the third dimension, which means that if you were to have doggie ears on, I would see it from anyone’s platform, no matter what angle, no matter what device.

KWHS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how augmented reality might work?

Poscente: Sure. So, as part of our retail licensing of the [Space, Inc.] framework, say you would walk into a Starbucks [to buy some food], and we know exactly where that product is in the food section. We know exactly which food you reach for, because we’re able to track the person with their device, and the product inside of the actual physical retail location. So, we can track exactly where you reach, what you grab, and when you walk out. It charges you automatically. It eradicates the need for cashiers. Also, if you were inside the Starbucks space, you could expand your network, launching connections. You could play Connect 4. You were sitting across the table from me, I was sitting in front of you, we could literally just set up our device and play Connect 4 in front of each other. And because it is three-dimensional, it doesn’t matter where you are in the store. You can access anyone’s AR from your device. Another example would be, say someone ordered a drink and it looked really good. You could click on the drink from across the room and know exactly what they ordered, and walk up and order the same thing.

KWHS: That’s super cool.

Poscente: It’s hard to say exactly what augmented reality could be used for specifically, because there’s such a range. And of course, this is all hypothetical. Nothing’s set in stone [with our specific application].

KWHS: How did you come up with this idea? And how did you know that it would make the world a better place?

Poscente: I was interning at Microsoft this past summer, and I was connected to a couple tech-savvy entrepreneurs in Seattle, just through networking. They were really passionate about this augmented reality framework and weren’t sure about rollout or how to approach it. They came to me, and you know when you meet someone, it’s just like — immediately back and forth, hyper-connection. Just like, “Who are you, what are you doing, and how can I do it with you?” That was basically what it was. Now we’re working on it. His name is Josh Cohen. And my CTO [Chief Technology Officer], Jason Lucas, has been in the tech industry for a really long time. He’s 50 years old, so he knows what he’s doing.

KWHS: When you found this idea, how did you know that it could be successfully implemented? And then thereafter, what was your thought process in being able to implement it?

Poscente: I think the fact that it’s geospatial, and because it is three-dimensional augmented reality and that’s never happened before, nor is it physically possible except for the way that we’re approaching it. I think that was the most attractive part. And the reason why — to answer your previous question — I think it’ll make the world a better place is because it allows technical innovation to be integrated into social environments, real-time, real-space. So, if you wanted to launch a connection with someone inside of a coffee shop, right there, you could send your request and expand your network. Or you could grab and go, because we’re able to track everyone up to a decimeter of accuracy. So it could be applied to optimization, network expansion, and entertainment.

KWHS: You think you have a variety of different markets for this.

Poscente: Right.

KWHS: How do you know when it’s time to pull the plug on a project and move on to another project?

Poscente: I would say when things just don’t seem to fall into place. When you can’t find it in you to commit to a project or schedule the meetings or send the e-mails. When you’re not passionate about it- — that’s when I pull the plug. When I personally stop believing in it, just because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore, or my perspective changes.

KWHS: This isn’t your first business. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur, and what you would advise to young entrepreneurs out there who are looking to start?

Poscente: Sure. I have basically been an entrepreneur since I was born. When I was four and my parents were at work, I would sell their stuff at weekly garage sales in my neighborhood. And I would have my older sibling help me carry out all the things I couldn’t physically carry. I got into a lot of trouble. [Those were] the early days. Then I started a camp for kids. And then I decided that I wanted to do more socially focused entrepreneurship, so I started a company called Young Artists of Dallas, where I sold student art at market price. So, 15-year-olds were making $600 on their canvasses, just because I wanted to equate passion to profit.

Then I came to Wharton, and I was working on an anti-radiation product company. Then, AR just fell into my lap. That’s the bullet-point version of my journey as an entrepreneur. If I were to give any advice to entrepreneurs, it’s to meet as many people as you can, always, any time. Always form that human connection. And it’s not even for the ulterior motive of expanding your network. It’s just, get to know people at a really fundamental level, and understand what intrinsically motivates them. And know that there’s always something to learn from everyone. That is the main thing that I’ve taken with me.

Conversation Starters

What are your experiences with augmented reality, either through games, your phone or other ways? What intrigues you about this technology?

Alex Poscente's best advice is to "form that human connection." This is not always easy in today's social media culture. Do you feel this skill has been lost in your generation? What skills do you need to make deeper connections? What advice would you give to others for getting to know people on a "fundamental level," especially people who are new in your life?

Alex Poscente could be described as a serial entrepreneur, and she is only 19 years old. Research that concept and what qualities define serial entrepreneurs. Do you think Alex will run Space, Inc. for the rest of her life? Why or why not? What other well-known entrepreneurs fit this description?

2 thoughts on “CEO Alex Poscente Unveils Her Plan for an Augmented Reality App

  1. Poscente’s clear passion and string of creative business ventures strikes me as inspiring, and as a fellow student entrepreneur, I have to commend her for her dedication and perseverance to entrepreneurship – there is nothing more admirable than a clear commitment to a craft from a young age. And Poscente is almost the definition of commitment, as she continues to pursue an interest that had begun at the age of four. I also agree with many of her insights into entrepreneurship, like her assertion that it is key to “meet as many people as you can, always, any time” – this was one of the first things I learned in the LaunchX entrepreneurial program I am participating in this summer, and something I grew to understand the more interviews I conducted and the more people I reached out to. Everyone has something to teach you, and much of the time, connecting with new people gives you valuable insights into the consumer market that you are trying to appeal to with your business venture.

    However, Poscente’s augmented reality venture that is highlighted in this interview is less than perfect on some fronts. At first glance, her product strongly reminds me of the AR technologies seen in many sci-fi movies and comics – her descriptions of being able to click and see what drink someone has from across the room or play virtual Connect 4 with a stranger sound a lot like the augmented reality technology in Iron Man or Terminator. And while this technology may seem incredibly appealing on paper (or in movies), it is much less glamorous in real life. One issue would be the lack of privacy that comes with using Poscente’s AR product – she states that her technology will hypothetically be able to know exactly which food a consumer reaches for, what they bought, and their location down to a decimeter, and will then make most of this information available to everyone else using her technology. To your average everyday consumer, this sounds like it gives too much information away to too many people, and this in turn opens up more ways for stalkers and other criminals to gain information. In the same train of thought, her technology would allow companies to send out increasingly intrusive and specific advertisements – Poscente spoke about retail licensing and working with companies, and as sharing information with companies produces an incredibly large revenue stream, it is very likely that Poscente’s company will potentially divulge the information they collect about users – like what every product they bought in the last week was, or their daily schedule everyday, or even what their social habits are – to major corporations that will then use this to create extensively tailored advertisements to every customer. You and I have both dealt with those eerily accurate ads on social media, and I don’t think I would enjoy advanced versions of our current ads that are likely going to come with Poscente’s technology. Finally, her market timing might be off. One of the most essential lessons LaunchX teaches its students is that an idea for a venture must fit current market conditions, and the fact that the closest thing to Poscente’s technology on the market right now is AR gaming (which is in its early adoption phases) makes her idea seem more suited for the future than for right now. My team in LaunchX faced a similar problem in the beginning of the camp, where we hypothesized about building something like the Google Glass but with in-depth and interactive AR, but research and insights from our mentors told us that we were creating a product that was too far ahead of what the current market wants. And although there will definitely be people eager to try Poscente’s technology out, its incompatibility with the wants and needs of the market in the near future could very well lend itself to an unsuccessful company.

    However, I have to appreciate that there also are many merits to Poscente’s technology as well. It does a revolutionary job of adding a Poscente’s own twist on the most high-tech devices today, and sounds incredibly sophisticated and interesting. It may also do society a huge favor by making networking, shopping, and communication even more convenient than it already is – it’s claim of getting rid of lines may drastically improve shoppers’ experiences, and its potential to get rid of cashiers may also benefit companies. Other than it’s privacy concerns, Poscante’s concept seems like it would enhance our everyday lives and offer the market a variety of new entertainment and connectivity options.

    Poscente’s overflowing passion will likely lead her to entrepreneurial success, whether it be with this AR technology or with future ventures, and even though I feel as if this current concept has some flaws, who knows? With entrepreneurs like her, the sky is the limit.

  2. Reading this article immediately made me think of Tony Stark and J.A.R.V.I.S. They took full advantage of augmented reality when designing the next evolution of the Ironman suit. In Endgame, Tony used augmented reality to comprise materials and devices within the 3D space to map out and create the time machine. For many teenagers, including myself, an app for augmented reality would be undeniably cool. Poscente doesn’t just chase this idea because it’s unique. It was something she found passion in and something that fuels her innovation. This 3D world where you imagine is like the futuristic world that we see in movies. And yet, as I imagined playing Tic-Tac-Toe with a stranger across a Starbucks, I was filled with a sense of unease.

    Three years later, we see a world changed. The device Poscente mentions is nowhere to be seen, but for good reason. Her device feels dystopian and extremely unsettling, not to mention its irrelevancy. “You can access anyone’s AR from your device.” To me, that sounds like it violates the human right to privacy. Being able to be peered on, scanned, and followed perturbs me. Even as far as, ‘“So, we can track exactly where you reach, what you grab, and when you walk out.’” The ability to simply scan anything and see the details of it alone would breach all security measures and cause a significant amount of data invasion. Poscente would need to get her hands on data from so many different companies, that I don’t think the companies nor the people would appreciate. Even so, the problems that this innovation solves aren’t anything. It was an invention Poscete had a passion for, which is not enough to become the next big thing. Poscente’s invention failed due to its irrelevancy, ambitious scale, and dystopian nature, however, we can see her vision of augmented reality in our current society.

    A current innovation that uses augmented reality, one that might just break the market, is the new Apple Car. It not only uses AR but LiDAR, 3D simulation devices, etc. Augmented reality has now found a place in healthcare, where nurses can use 3D models to practice surgeries; education, where students get virtual hands-on learning opportunities from 3D visual models; and engineering, where 3D visualizations of the construct are used in planning. Playing around with models in a 3D space is certainly revolutionary, but Poscentens idea is far too unrealistic. Nonetheless, this level of data invasion could be used for the CIA agents when there is a world-bending event where they need to be able to identify everything and everyone to save the world.

    A more realistic approach would be retail. Using AR to identify certain clothing or shoes in the store, or even if you’re at home and you want to try it on. “72% of customers purchased products they hadn’t planned on after using augmented reality while shopping according to the study, ‘The Impact of Augmented Reality on Retail’.” You could even use AR to place certain furniture around your brand new house to see if it appealed to your tastes. Today, certain companies are already taking this approach. Speqs Eyewear uses AR that lets you try on eyewear. We can see certain companies are developing what Poscente brings in mind but on a far more private and realistic level. One that feels less unsettling and invasive to our right to privacy.

    Nevertheless, Poscente embodies the entrepreneurial spirit for me: she pursued something she genuinely believed and chased a product that was arguably ahead of its time. Even though it was ambitious, she admitted that she would put her time and passion into the project, but if it was something too difficult to handle, she would drop it. She sends out a powerful message, but with just the wrong product. Poscente reminds me of myself. A spitting image of doing what I want with confidence and pride. A message all present and future entrepreneurs should be following: an innovation that you create without passion isn’t innovation at all – it’s a profit project.

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