Gavan Wilhite has spent his career leveraging video game technology to create a positive impact in other industries. He helped reinvent educational games at Disney, founded AltspaceVR, a social virtual reality company that was acquired by Microsoft, and is a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient. Originally from Honolulu, he now lives in San Francisco where he is building 3D generative modeling tools to accelerate tissue engineering. Gavan will join us as a speaker for the Software & Design for Healthcare 3D Printing in June 2020, during 3DHEALS2020.
Jenny: You had an extensive career in game development, but lately you decided to shift gear a little and ventured into the world of biofabrication. Namely, you worked on the Tissue Workshop project with Prellis Biologic. Can you share that story with us?
Gavan: After studying game development, I realized that I loved the technology and design principles, but was interested in using it in non-entertainment fields. Since then, I’ve used game tech across a number of industries including photogrammetry, communications, and robotics. Melanie (CEO, Prellis Biologics) is a friend of mine, and after talking about the 3D modeling challenges that exist in bioprinting, it seemed like a natural product to help develop.
Jenny: How did you decide on taking up that project and making healthcare a new career focus? (Was this driven by external factors like patients, or was this driven by more internal reasons, such a fascination with life science? )
Gavan: In order to have a larger positive impact on the world, I’ve been looking at places where I can bring my virtual skill sets into the physical world. 3D organ printing specifically has both near-term impact potential (saving those who are ill), and potential long-term impact potential (like improving off-world healthcare interventions). My parents are also both in medicine, so I grew up around healthcare topics and technology.
Jenny: Who or what inspired you the most along this journey in bioprinting so far?
Gavan: To speak of biology in general, it became of hobbyist interest after university, particularly when I started viewing it through an engineering lens. I drove up to Silicon Valley for the first time to participate in a beta test of the Genome Compiler, and Life’s Ratchet by Peter Hoffmann is one of my favorite science books.
Jenny: If you can go back 5 or 10 years, what would you have done differently?
Gavan: I would have done more to actively foster an intellectual community in the places I lived at the time. In San Francisco, it is easy to find, but in other parts of the world it often takes more active effort.
Jenny: What good advice would you give to a smart driven student to succeed the “real world”? What bad advices they should ignore?
Gavan: Find yourself a valuable niche, ideally one that intersects different industries. The more you can ‘not be like everyone else’, I believe the easier it is to find a job you enjoy. Grow and foster your extended networks, as opportunities will often come from the places you least expect. Learn how to notice and own your mistakes without being harsh towards yourself. Actively work on your social skills, read some stoic philosophy, and find an epic quest to pursue in life.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing? Do things you like outside of work relate to things you like at work?
Gavan: OneWheeling, creating 3D art, playing video games, and participating in festivals like Burning Man.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Gavan: We can use 3D technology to improve healthcare outcomes