2021 through the eyes of 5 CEE XR start-ups

7 min readDec 18, 2020

The year 2020 is almost over and we wish to end this challenging year with a positive note. With XR4ALL we are always on the lookout for new and exciting start-ups that will advance the XR industry and make these technologies more accessible.

This time, the focus is on Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), a region that is too often overlooked, while indisputably deserving much more attention.

Let’s dive into a brief analysis of how the diversity of the CEE startup ecosystem boosts the XR industry.

The sudden popularity of the CEE region and the reasons for it

Just a few years ago, Central and Eastern Europe seemed less attractive to most tech entrepreneurs. The region suffers from old stereotypes about poor product and service quality dating back to communist times. The key hurdle, though, is the lack of a startup ecosystem. However, in recent years more and more companies and investors have shown interest in the region.

What makes Central and Eastern Europe so attractive for many companies to settle there? Here are six possible reasons that shed light on why these countries are very dynamic markets in terms of digitalisation and are therefore worth keeping an eye on.

  • Dynamic economic growth
  • Impressive digital infrastructure
  • Much lower labour costs of workers in software development and IT skills (compared to countries in Western Europe)
  • Good geographical location
  • Growing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and ICT talent pool: over 230.000 students graduating in these subjects
  • Some of the biggest investor companies are based in CEE

Most of the start-ups target the global market and develop their products in English, and many seek most of their revenues from Western European and US customers. Currently, there are almost 30.000 startups operating in Eastern Europe — and this number will continue to grow.

From the many technically talented start-ups that are based in this geographic area, we have selected 5 where we saw great potential to push the XR industry forward. We asked them what their goals for 2021 are and how they want to achieve them.

SOMNIACS: Forever changing the way people explore and experience the world

A long-awaited dream for each of us: being able to fly like a bird! One start-up that finally fulfills this dream is SOMNIACS, an award-winning, immersive experience company, based in Zurich (Switzerland) that is built on the foundation of unlocking emotions through extended reality experiences.

Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the Zurich University of Arts, their origins are in understanding how technology can transform the way people understand and interact with the world. To do this, SOMNIACS helps people travel with their mind and experience the world, without limitations, as never before. This extended reality ecosystem is initially based on their Birdly simulators.

As the Birdly simulator network grows, SOMNIACS is developing the next generation of live tourist experiences. Launched through the Birdly platform, these experiences accessible either on-site or at home.

In 2021, SOMNIACS is launching the initial phase of this innovative research project that will use the expansion of 5G networks and drone technology to allow users to fly anywhere in the world at any time. The company is involved in the Swisscom 5G Challenge and is one of 10 finalists.

Additionally, for the upcoming year, the team is working on new VR experiences including a Wingsuit flight for Birdly and the addition of a couple more of the world’s iconic cities, such as London or Paris.

ARe: Enjoy the world as it is

When it comes to exploring a city in a creative and modern way, it’s best to use your smartphone these days. One app that is particularly suitable for this is the AReApp, which will bring you closer to the most extraordinary and beautiful sides of Budapest, as a personal tour guide.

The app was programmed by ARe and been made available for Android and iOS. Available in Hungarian and English, the app showcases more than 50 locations in Budapest in a playful and interactive manner via AR. For the upcoming year, the company plans to make additional locations accessible with the app, including Berlin and London.

In November 2020, a new feature was added to the appoffering a new dimension of online shopping to customers. ARe brings to life previously static clothing items, bags, shoes, and other fashion accessories by displaying them in a photorealistic form.

With a single click, you can view the special clothes, accessories and artworks presented in a richly detailed, photo-realistic manner from all sides, and can also purchase them directly via the app. For 2021, ARe plans to continue to focus & promote their capacities on the fashion line

Wolf3D: Virtual humans for virtual worlds

How can you personalise online game avatars and make the virtual world look more real? The founders of the Estonian company Wolf3D, based in Tallinn, asked themselves the same question and found a solution. Since the company was founded in 2014, the team is trying to achieve by bringing more humanity to AR & VR, gamesand other virtual experiences.

To create a personal avatar, the client simply needs to follow three steps: Take a selfie, send it to the cloud andWolf3D creates an avatar that can be used in the virtual world forever. For their personalised 3D avatars they are using the Luna 3D scanner that was launched at the beginning of 2016. Within the last year, almost 10.000 people were scanned and have created a 3D avatar.

Examples of 3D avatars

“Games have become social media platforms — most of what people do in games these days is socializing,” said Timmu Tõke, the startup’s founder and CEO of Wolf3D. Therefore, the company released a new browser-based program called Ready Player Me in September 2020.

The goal of this project is to build a cross-game avatar platform that people can use to have a consistent identity across many virtual experiences. Wolf3D wants to level up virtual experiences with selfie-based avatars that people love and emotionally connect with.

For their virtual identity platform for games and VR, in August 2020 they have raised $1.3 million in seed funding from investors such as Trind Ventures, Presto Ventures, Koha Capital, Spring Capital, and Contriber Ventures. They signed close to 30 partners (such as Vodafone, HTC, MeetinVR etc.) and are further expanding.

Artivive: #BringArtToLife

One of the startups set on revitalizing the art world is Artivive, an Austrian company founded in January 2017 by Sergiu Ardelean and Codin Popescu, in the capital city of Vienna. Artivive is the leading platform for augmented reality art, where artists can create new dimensions of art by enhancing physical artworks with a digital layer.

The company’s vision is to change how art is created and consumed and to provide museums and galleries with the infrastructure to deliver an immersive experience for its visitors.

In order to connect the artworks to the digital content, artists, and museums, clients can use the app that is available for mobile and tablet via Google Play and Itunes. Since the launch of Artivive in 2017, the app is accessible in 92 countries and more than 68.000 users are creating artworks with this tool.

A successful milestone was achieved in March 2020, when two renowned Vienna-based museums have made it possible to enjoy art from home: on the websites of the Vienna Albertina and the Belvedere Vienna, masterpieces can be experienced virtually with the app.

For the coming year 2021, the company plans to further expand their reach on a global scale as well as reach 200k+ artists and creatives using their platform. Another goal for the next year is to strengthen their revenue distribution in the creative value chain through the new marketplace.

Vectary: Built by 3D designers, for 3D designers

The startup was founded in 2014 in Bratislava by Michal Koor and Pavol Sovis and is a cloud-based application for the easy creation and editing of 3D models. Their intention is to make 3D designs accessible for everyone and transform the web into a 3D/AR immersive experience.

Millions of creators are using the browser-based 3D and AR platform since it was launched in 2016. Thanks to a very simple user interface, creating a 3D model has never been easier, because it’s not necessary to learn a highly-technical software language first.

As a result of COVID-19, the company has already seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses started showcasing their products in 3D and Augmented Reality. In October 2020, the company proudly announced a $7.3 million investment round led by the EQT Ventures fund (“EQT Ventures”).

For 2021, the startup wants to get involved in even more areas and pursue its goal: make XR technologies accessible to everyone.

XR4ALL and our goals for 2021:

Our Top 5 selected XR start-ups showed us what their plans are for the coming year and what they want to achieve. For 2021, XR4ALL plans to continue, focussing on improving and promoting XR technologies within the EU. The overall goal is to forge a competitive, sustainable XR-tech ecosystem in Europe and to strengthen the European XR industry.

In August 2021, the XR4ALL project supported by the European Commission will be ended, but it will continue under the brand XR4EUROPE, an International Association.

We wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a successful start of the new year 2021! And yes, …stay healthy!

Credits go to Charlotte Pfeifer for the research and editorial work, Emilie Moreau created the visuals.




XR4Europe is a pan-European association created by members of the XR4ALL consortium in order to continue and amplify the actions of XR4ALL.