Interview with CEO Meghan Athavale

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Meg! How did you first enter the world of interactive design?

Photo by Evan Eggers

Photo by Evan Eggers

I entered the world of computer graphics almost by accident. I drew a lot of pictures as a kid, and I knew I was good at art. When I was in high school I started teaching myself traditional animation. I dropped out of high school in Grade 11, choosing to live on my own and work instead. Although I found odd jobs as a freelance artist, art is a pretty difficult career path and the traditional animation career landscape was moving into computer graphics. At the age of 19, I decided I needed to up my technology skills.

When Red River College in Winnipeg launched their Computer Animation Specialist program, I enrolled using a forged high school diploma (I have always been great at Photoshop). When I graduated, I spent a few years as a computer animator/compositor for a studio in Calgary. After a few years, I decided I wasn’t really that interested in linear storytelling, so I started designing small Flash games, and really enjoyed bringing characters to life through interactive media. This required me to learn to code, something I might not have otherwise learned.

I spent the early part of my career creating freelance digital media projects, VJing for a variety of bands, and working to develop and support a digital media literacy program for the Province of Manitoba. Eventually I wound up at a small interactive design firm and that’s where I met my co-founder Curtis Wachs. In our spare time, Curtis and I started developing what would eventually become, an interactive display software platform designed to help any artist create an interactive display experience using readily available sensors.

Lumo Interactive has made so many engaging and unique displays over the years. If you had to pick a favorite project of yours, which would it be and why?

It’s really hard to pick a single project out of literally thousands. is my baby, though. The custom installations we’ve done for customers like McDonald’s and Google have all been uniquely challenging, and they’ve given everyone in our company a chance to learn how to do things like manage research and development projects, organize vendor relationships, and execute public events. But at the end of the day, the thing I’m most proud of is our platform. Knowing that we created something that thousands of people around the world are using to make interactive environments is deeply satisfying.

Do you have any advice for those Tech Ladies building companies outside of major cities on how they can improve their chances of getting funded?

I’ve approached dozens of investors in Canada, the United States, China, and most recently Russia. Aside from the obvious roadblocks around where the company is based (Winnipeg), we also face the statistical improbability of women-led companies being funded at all, and being greatly underfunded when they are.

My strategy has been to pursue funding that seems likely: I’m always open to conversations with investors, and I have a deck, a business canvas, and diligence materials on hand at all times. However, our first priority is growing organically. We’ve never depended on funding. Our company was launched with a few small business loans and a tiny bit of angel investment, and we worked our butts off to break even as quickly as possible. We’ve also done well with small loans and support from organizations like IRAP, SR&ED, and the Canadian Media Fund.

That said, my advice to any founder regarding funding is to be aware that fundraising is a full time job, and the outcome is very much outside your control (especially if you’re a female founder). While you’re fundraising, you won’t be doing any other job (like business growth or marketing) very well. If you have a team to focus on growth while you focus on fundraising, and you’re confident that your company will grow exponentially with funding, it’s probably worth the risk. If not, you might want to focus on the stuff you can do without funding.

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