Waveplay Interactive CEO Sharon Yu Ong Named ‘Innovator of the Year’ by Campaign Asia-Pacific

MANILA, Philippines — Think of the wildest tech innovation you’ve witnessed in an event: Remember those moving hologram photos and those cool, 360 video booths with glambot-like outputs you see at galas? What about those events where you can draw sketches that come to life, touch interactive walls, or play a motion game that gets you engaged with augmented reality characters? Yup, those are just a few of the many things all-around girlboss-slash-techpreneur Sharon Yu Ong does.

From creating game-changing technologies to running a household of growing kids, she’s got ‘Amazing’ all in the bag. Her winning strategy? Innovation. 

“It begins with self-innovation. Leaders should be eternal learners, willing to expand their minds to the vast possibilities of their industry. Because really, the more you learn, the more you realize you know less,” she says. 

As the scale of the global pandemic started to become apparent in March 2020, Sharon had to quickly find a way to pivot her Interactive Event Experience Company, Waveplay Interactive, online. “When physical gatherings were halted due to the pandemic, the global event industry was widely affected. Many pivoted their events to webinars and Zoom, but we aspired for ways to continue creating one-of-a-kind interactive events, even in a socially distanced setting,” she shared.

By May 2020, Sharon successfully launched Webplay Virtual Events, the country’s first fully customizable virtual and hybrid events platform, paving the way for the new normal in the event industry.

Powering over 60 virtual venues and 300 event days in just its first 8 months, Webplay gave brands and agencies the power to translate physical event experiences online, and create unique interactive virtual events with limitless possibilities. It not only helped champion the evolution of the Philippine events industry, but it also gained global recognition as the only Filipino company to win in the 11th Global Eventex Awards. This led to Sharon being the sole individual awardee from the Philippines in Campaign Asia-Pacific’s 2021 Women Leading Change Awards (WLCA) with the Innovator of the Year Commendation.

Turning PLAY Into WORK and WORK Into PLAY

Sharon grew up playing games like Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy, and Heroes of Might and Magic. That is why it’s not at all surprising for her college thesis at De La Salle University to be about cinema advertising through gaming, where she turned crowds into human joysticks playing a game by waving their hands left and right. While her group didn’t win Best Thesis, she continued to believe in her idea so much that after graduation, she applied for a cinema company and pitched it to her boss. Good thing, she did! Her boss gave her the go signal to execute her idea for their top 3 cinemas, calling it Winema (inspired by Nintento Wii), the first interactive cinema in Asia.

“During the launch, that magical moment of seeing the excitement of cinemagoers waving their hands and screaming in unison made me pinch myself to see if I was dreaming,” she recalls.

Winema received rave reviews and even got featured on the landing page of Yahoo!, driving Sharon to pursue her passion for technology.

In 2011, Sharon finally launched her own company, Waveplay Interactive. “I was an inexperienced 23-year-old and I barely knew anybody in the industry,” she said. “We would only book one event every several months, and that’s if we’re lucky.” Still, Sharon remained persistent. She kept making calls and reached out to as many people as she could, until they landed a job at the longest-running noontime show in the Philippines, powering the world’s first interactive audience game on TV.

“This was the precedent we were waiting for. At that point, whenever we show the TV project to potential clients, they go, “Oh, that’s you guys!” she said.

Awards followed soon after, including the Experience Innovator Award from GMA Kapuso CoLab and the E! Innovator Award from E! Channel Asia.

“Fortunately, I’ve met kind clients (now our good friends and longtime partners) who never judged based on my inexperience and age. They gave our ideas a chance, provided advice on industry trends, and advised us on opportunities to innovate,” she said. 

Turning Distraction to Inspiration

It’s hard to stay creative in a world where we’re constantly being bombarded with different kinds of news, images, and advertisements. Whether it’s via TV, print, or digital platforms, we have to agree, it’s quite an onslaught. But this is exactly where Sharon draws inspiration from.

“You have to be hungry for any information and consciously be on your toes for idea triggers. Idea triggers can come from anywhere—social media, viral videos, podcasts, conversations, even efforts of other companies, just to cite a few examples,” she shared.

One of their client-favorite concepts, Holo Foto, is actually inspired by a local makeup brand with stylish retro visuals. “Their campaigns are cool, trendy, and it got me thinking, ‘If the brains behind this makeup brand were to create an interactive experience, how would they do it?’ Putting myself in their shoes, Holo Foto was the output of that rumination.”

Finding Work-Life Balance in a Remote World

As a millennial working mom, Sharon sees technology as a gift. “Our team and I have been working from home since the pandemic, and effectively at that. Our virtual venues are supported remotely with no hitches. With my toddlers’ virtual schooling, I like how I can set meetings flexibly so I can join their classes,” she shares.

When she’s not busy developing alternate realities, she loves spending her time playing her kids’ favorite Disney songs on the piano, watching K-drama, riding her Korean-inspired bicycle, and going on joyrides with her husband on his big bike.

The Fantasy Is Far From Final

Asked what’s next for her company, Sharon said the possibilities of hybrid events excite her the most. “Going virtual has proven how live events can become inclusive, scalable, and global. So when physical gatherings come back, virtual will never go away. Hybrid is the next frontier. With our know-how on both physical and virtual experiences, we’re already preparing new executions fusing our on-ground and online technologies,” she said. 

No matter which direction technology will take, Sharon will definitely continue bridging the gap between the virtual and the real world, because a true Queennovator never runs out of ways to innovate.