Mack majored in Mechanical Engineering Technology and Entrepreneurship, and now he owns a startup company that designs ‘smart’ glasses.
By Terry Hart
Corey Mack is the CEO of LAFORGE Optical, a company focused on designing and marketing ‘smart’ eyewear, which are glasses with an embedded heads up display that projects an image directly onto the retina so that it stays in focus no matter where you look.
The difference between LAFORGE Optical eyewear and other ‘smart’ glasses currently on the market like Google Glass, is an industry game changer. Instead of projecting an image onto the lens of the eyewear, they have separated the optics and the electronics, placing the optics inside the lens itself and the electronics inside the frame. The result is eyewear that is thinner and weighs less, can come in more designs and looks normal compared to anything else on the market. It also costs less to build, making it more affordable for consumers.
Mack was born and raised in Greensboro, NC, home to HBCU North Carolina A&T and the “birthplace of the sit-in,” as he likes to remind people. Going to college in Rochester, NY, he found himself in for a culture shock as the school system he came from left him unprepared for the possibilities college opened up.
“The school system (in Greensboro) was great if you wanted to be an employee,” he said. “They were teaching how to become a really good employee. If you wanted to be a nurse, or go to the military, or be a mechanic, they got you. But if you wanted to do something with tech? Tech to them was, ‘Well, you can work for the phone company putting up telephone lines.’ I didn’t even know you could major in something like web design. I had no idea.”
Mack’s fascination with tech enabled him to overcome his initial shock quickly, and he went on to major in Mechanical Engineering, later switching to Mechanical Engineering Technology and Entrepreneurship.
“Mechanical engineering was boring to me,” he said. “It is developing theory and equations to explain something. Engineering technology is enabling the equation. It takes it one step further. Technologists are more about knowing how to make things work. Mechanical engineering is about why things work.”
That desire to understand how to make things work has been central to the success of LAFORGE Optical, but it hasn’t been easy.
LAFORGE Optical was founded in 2013, and had a difficult time getting off the ground with funding. The company started an Indiegogo crowdfunder, which was standard practice then as investors saw it as an important metric indicating future success. Since then, it has been proven otherwise, as “Investors have realized it is easily manipulated and doesn’t guarantee success at all,” Mack explains. He also found it difficult to raise capital, as investors in the Boston area weren’t trying to listen to you if you weren’t from MIT or Harvard. Then there was the little thing of him being young and Black.
“Investors are superstitious,” Mack said. “They want to have things look like they always have, because that’s what they are used to having success with.”
Mack would constantly hear, ‘You need to add a few grey hairs’ in reference to his youth, and felt being Black with dreads put off others as he didn’t look like the fellows they normally put money into.
The fact that Google had a claim in the smart eyewear arena didn’t help either.
“If Google is doing something in your sector, people just automatically think they’re going to win,” Mack said.
Mack also points out plenty of areas that Google has entered and hasn’t dominated. From online sales, to cars, to phones. A Google entry into a space doesn’t automatically mean the demise of its competitors. You just have to stay real to your idea and follow it through.
The struggle with funding led to a move to Los Angeles in 2014, and a new energy as the doors opened up to a different mindset. Los Angeles is good for a company to be in.
“A place where there’s a lot of celebrity, public relations and advertising firms are rampant,” Mack said. “It’s also a place known for having a lot of awesome tech; they make satellites next to the airport; the stealth bomber was made nearby in Palmdale; all this different cutting edge tech going around for special effects in the movies; the video game industry.”
Now on track to release their first production version of LAFORGE eyewear, Mack is looking for the crack of daylight to become a beautiful sunny day.
It has been a journey for Mack from those days being a youngster in Greensboro to the CEO of his own tech startup, and he’s often thought about how that journey could be made easier for others.
“Get comfortable with different types of thinking,” he said. “Be open to what is unknown; be open to technology itself. Figure out what it is you enjoy doing, but most importantly why you enjoy doing it. That will lead to a lot of happiness and fulfillment on the career side.”
If technology is where you’re headed, picking the right field is important. Where a few years ago coding was in high demand, there has been a shift to design thinking and data analysis. While knowing how to code is still important, Mack feels for the near future its secondary. For parents, it’s important to immerse kids at a young age in technology not only by entering them into programs that teach tech, but changing the toys use.
“Get them the smart phone, just not the most expensive one,” Mack said. “Then use the excess to get them a device that links up with it.”
Mack says that parents need to make tech fun and natural for children.
And finally, “Communication, communication, communication,” he said. “focus on learning how to communicate with other people. Immerse yourself and your kids into white business cultures so they can learn how to function there.”
TEC Leimert is a non-profit community organization dedicated to bringing urban professionals, business owners, and students together with entertainment industry experts and technology entrepreneurs to bridge the digital divide, close the wealth gap, and create social capital. Learn more at tecleimert.com