Innovation rhymes with Budapest. In search of the 2.0 Rubik Cube

By Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt is an IT security professional currently based in London, UK. He has worked in over a dozen countries during his career, including long stints in Taiwan and Germany.
June 10, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

This year’s edition of the Liberty Science Gala marked the 40th anniversary of the Rubik cube, the game changing Hungarian invention that has excited the minds of generations with its simple 4X4 pattern and its gazillion possible twists. On May 8th, even the Empire State Building took part in the celebration, by being lit up like the famous cube. The Gala also premiered a $5 million interactive exhibition, showcasing the profound influence of the 1970s gadget on art, architecture, film and society as a whole.

At the time of its creation, Erno Rubik was a lowly professor of architecture in Budapest, struggling to find structural solutions for keeping mechanisms with many moving parts from tumbling to the floor. The colorful cube provided the answer and sparked a worldwide mania in its wake.

For many, this represents Hungary’s greatest achievement in terms of innovation, unknowing that at their fingertips lie many creations made possible by other great Hungarian minds: from the automatic gearbox, to the refrigerator, all the way to the development of Excel and Word. Further down the line, applications like Prezi, LogMeIn, Yahoo Analytics and UStream placed at the cutting edge of technology, continued that tradition. Not a bad track record for a country of a measly 9 million.

But that’s not all. Hiding in the works lure nine promising startups that could be The Next Big Thing in the fast-moving world of technology. Who knows where the future Rubik’s cube hides?

Tresorit is probably the most promising app of the New Wave of IT companies coming straight out of Budapest. This Dropbox-inspired safe cloud service boasts the best encryption on the market, raising hopes that data security can still be achieved in the post-Snowden era. Tresorit relies on end-to-end encryption and a bunch of other fancy terms that make sure the user is the only one that has access to the decryption key of his data. The founders are so sure of their product’s aegis that they even launched a challenge, adorned with a $50,000 prize awardable to whoever manages to crack their cloud. So far, some 900 hackers from 45 countries, including challengers from Harvard, MIT and Caltech techies, have tried to no avail to prove them wrong.

Karma Platform promises a spreadsheet revolution by taking on Google Docs. True, it may not sound like the most exciting thing out there, but the app has spectacular potential in helping small business to coordinate between their different offices. In essence, Karma almost instantly transforms any Excel document into a secure, scalable and multi-platform web application. The startup was selected into the semi-finals of the Innotribe 2014 Startup challenge competition, competing for the title of the world’s most innovative company. The final will take place in October.

Cellum is one of the leading developers of mobile payment applications in Europe. Founded in 2000, it boasts a 0% fraud rate, securing 2,000,000 transactions every month. As Central Europe increasingly uses the smartphone as a virtual payment device, this company might just be to m-commerce what Shuttleworth’s Thawte (later bought up by VeriSign) was to Internet transactions.

Many promising startups have plunged into the growing field of market research, some with impressive results.

Distinction is a promising mobile app design company that drew attention after Amazon unveiled its new Fire TV device. It featured the Red Bull TV app, a sleek software developed by the young Budapest-company. But that’s not all. GNEO, their flagship app, was featured in late 2013 on iTunes as “Editor’s choice”, garnering praise for the innovative way in which it allows users to manage and prioritize their to-dos and organize their schedule.

Realeyes is at the forefront of new marketing technologies, relying on emotion analysis to increase the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. Its face-mapping algorithm proved so successful that it became the market leader in webcam face analysis and has recently clinched a partnership with Ipsos, the world’s third largest market research company, to develop a new line of products.

In a similar vein, Synetiq has introduced Mindr, the world’s first crowd sourced neuromarketing platform that allows advertisers to assess people’s responses to ads by measuring brain waves. The company integrates traditional EEG software alongside eye tracking and facial recognition software to map out a comprehensive image of what happens in the brain of the person exposed to advertising, exposing what brain areas light up and helping marketers to identify points of improvement in their products or services.

Gravity takes a simpler approach to boosting sales. A self-described ‘rock solid recommendations’ app, it employs its IMPRESS engine to capture viewer behavior in real-time and uses complex algorithms to map out patterns of individual behavior. After collecting the metadata, the software then adapts online ads and content to achieve maximum efficiency. Started in Budapest by a team of wunderkinds from the Budapest University, it went on to capture the 2009 Netflix prize and attract the attention of several major companies.

Shifting away from the glitzy world of advertising, some startups have focused on the perennial goal of ‘making the world a better place’.

WebCam Laboratory is one of them. It turns the common webcam of laptops into a mobile scientific laboratory, using its lens to generate graphs based on movement or interpret the results of measurement devices such as thermometers.

Gyroset (of Now Technologies) is a social-driven answer to the Google Glass revolution of wearable devices. It comes to the help of tetraplegics everywhere, relying on a specialized headset that allows the wearer to control their wheelchair with head movements.

These nine promising startups have all started out in Budapest, proving that to be globally competitive you simply have to think creatively. Hungary has been a land of innovations for a long time and now it is seizing the tech revolution to take its place among the world’s heavyweights.


Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt is an IT security professional currently based in London, UK. He has worked in over a dozen countries during his career, including long stints in Taiwan and Germany.