By Donna Loughlin

Andy Lowery spent years on nuclear submarines. For more than two decades, he served in the U.S. Navy, working in a number of roles, but he ended his military career as a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer.

In the hours upon hours he spent working in the cramped quarters of a submarine, he would sometimes fantasize about how much easier it would be if he could simply free his hands from one job to work on another, or communicate with a colleague above ground while looking at the same set of plans.

Though it didn’t have a name at the time, what he was imagining was wearable technology. And little did he know how important it would become to him—and the world—once he entered the private sector.

Andy is the co-founder of the groundbreaking industrial wearable-technology manufacturer RealWear. He is a pioneer in the growing wearable space. After retiring from active Naval duty, he helped launch a pair of successful startups. But with RealWear, Lowery solved a problem the world hadn’t quite realized it had—and in the process, he changed the game for industrial teams around the world.

The company’s success wasn’t supposed to happen like it did. In the beginning, they were up against a rather formidable competitor called Google, who had already brought their own version of wearable tech to market—remember Google Glass?

“They were already to market, but it wasn’t intended to be an enterprise product—it was supposed to be a consumer product,” Andy told me. “People started using that consumer product to do hands-free work, but people were having problems with it. It was a bit of a light bulb moment for me—what if I just fixed the problems I saw with Google Glass as an enterprise product? I thought I was really on to something.”

Google Glass is now regarded as one of the tech industry’s biggest product-launch flops. But RealWear, even after Lowery’s departure earlier this year, has done nothing but grow—and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that growth even more. Andy’s vision of a head-mounted, voice-activated tablet was a massive success before the pandemic—but COVID pushed it beyond what he ever envisioned as companies were forced to look for ways to keep their teams connected remotely.

The pandemic turned RealWear into a truly essential product. Suddenly, companies that had been on the fence about going all-in on wearable tech were trying to come up with new ways to stay connected.

“COVID changed everything,” Andy said. “Travel went to zero—there was no option of putting someone on a plane so they could go fix something in the field. You needed a computer that you could send to someone in the field so they could transmit it back to someone who knew how to fix it. That became the need.”

These days, Andy is the president of a U.S. subsidiary of Australia’s Harvest Technology Group. His role is to lead the development of an enterprise Internet of Things software product that can be integrated into an industrial platform. And with a handful of successful startups under his belt, he’s also become something of a mentor to young entrepreneurs.

“I’m in a stage of my career where I do more coaching than I do actions,” he said. “I’m looking at entrepreneurs and startups with a mission. When I see an opportunity to help someone do some of the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do, I’m always happy to get involved.”

To listen and subscribe to the Before IT Happened podcast, visit www.beforeithappened.com.