Made in emerging Europe: Riga's Metaverse ambitions – Emerging Europe

Emerging Europe’s start-up scene is thriving: new money and new ideas are coming onto the market all the time. To keep you up to date with the latest investments, innovations, events and accelerators, every week Emerging Europe brings you a round-up of the region’s start-up and tech news.
Ukrainian entrepreneurs continue to show great motivation and dedication, even in the most difficult of circumstances. According to a recent report, Ukrainian start-ups tripled in combined enterprise value in 2022, growing from three billion to 23.3 billion US dollars in just three years.
Despite the ongoing war, these founders have proven their resilience by continuing to operate, support their clients, and deliver value to their users.
In March, Google announced a five million US dollars Google for Start-ups Ukraine Support Fund to allocate equity-free cash awards to back Ukrainian-founded tech companies so they can continue to strengthen their community and build a foundation for post-war economic recovery. Additionally, it provided Ukrainian start-ups with mentoring, networking and technical support, and a workspace within the Google for Start-ups Campus in Warsaw.
This week, Google announced 25 new start-up recipients of the Ukraine Support Fund:
These 25 start-ups join the 33 recipients from the first and second cohorts of the Google for Start-ups Ukraine Support Fund who have used the funding and support to expand their businesses and make a tangible impact.
Start-ups like Releaf Paper and VanOnGo expanded to new countries; mental health app Mindly grew its monthly revenue by over 300 per cent; and Esper Bionics was selected as one of the top 200 inventions of 2022 by Time. 
While this will be the final batch of recipients for non-dilutive funding through the Ukraine Support Fund, Google for Start-ups will continue to provide all 58 start-ups with mentoring sessions, product support, and bring them together next spring to present their achievements in front of international investors, partners and the local startup community.
Additionally, programmes such as Growth Academy: Cybersecurity and Founders Academy are available to applicants from Ukraine to help them overcome their challenges and grow their start-ups. 
Riga, the capital of Latvia, has launched a state-supported initiative to develop its own Metaverse – becoming one of Europe’s first and largest Metaverse projects, driving forward extended reality (XR) research, technology, and applications.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was last week signed at Riga’s 5G Techritory Forum among 22 industry partners committing to the initiative.
This comes after a study conducted by Cambridge Executive MBA students that found that Riga has the potential to become Europe’s next successful Metacity. This is due to the existing connectivity infrastructure, innovators, partners, and political will identified throughout the study.
The memorandum’s key aim is to develop a central authority on extended reality to coordinate the development of the virtual space. From this, all subsequent action will be derived – developing regulation for the platform, attracting funding, coordinating the development of the space itself, and more.
Latvia’s key differentiating components in the EU’s AR/VR ecosystem are heavily based on already available infrastructure: for example, a strong cellular network and infrastructure, one of the fastest internet speeds in the EU (fifth), well-connected within the Baltics (airport, trains, cross-border 5G corridor). Then there is the ecosystem – a strong technical university with a vibrant student base, local technology companies that are geared towards wireless and AR/VR innovations, and a relatively small yet well-connected population to drive deployment and adoption.
“We have now expressed our willingness and readiness to be not just talkers, but also doers,” says Neils Kalniņš, 5G Techritory programme director. “In January, we will come together to discuss how we can create practical applications for the Metaverse. A safe and green future of the Metaverse will be Latvia’s contribution to the world, and I look forward to it.”
Development of the Riga Metacity is expected not only to benefit the local community and government by attracting a share of the Metaverse market, but this regional initiative and development is also expected to guide and accelerate the EU’s overall competitiveness.
The world is seeing the rise of various Metacity concepts, with Singapore being one of the most advanced. Currently, Europe’s only other Metacity underway is CatVerse, the Catalonian Metaverse in Barcelona.
However, it is only available to companies or organisations that share Catalonian interests or values. Most other developed Metacity concepts are outside of Europe, notably in Asia and the US. As Europe struggles to establish itself as a leader in emerging tech, developing a MetaCity concept and the technologies surrounding it, it would be an opportunity to develop capabilities in Europe needed to maintain relevance and maintain high economic growth.
More than one hundred innovators traveled to Krakow, Poland, last week to join the EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final, with the most promising early-stage start-ups from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe coming away with 200,000 euros.
“For the last couple of years we have noted an increasing interest from teams from the Western Balkans, but this year was exceptional in terms of innovators coming from this part of Europe,” says Dóra Marosvölgyi, director of the EIT Community’s Regional Strategic Innovation Projects.
FCL from Serbia was awarded the best business idea from Western Balkans, and Bulgarian start-up Green Kilometres won the Best Cross-Thematic Business Idea prize, a special award for impactful innovators. The company, in cooperation with local municipalities, has created a social-benefit system that rewards inhabitants for non-motorised, “green” travel. The New European Bauhaus prize meanwhile went to Spektral Seismic Solutions from Slovenia.
The full list of the EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final 2022 winners:
EIT Health
EIT Food
EIT Raw Materials
EIT InnoEnergy
EIT Manufacturing
EIT Urban Mobility
New European Bauhaus
Special Prizes
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