A guide to the New East

Digital innovators

These 6 Siberian start-ups are on the cusp of big things

A scientific and educational infrastructure was already in place in Siberia during the Soviet Union. At its heart was Akademgorodok, a district of Novosibirsk and a hub for the best Soviet minds. Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk and Tyumen also had high levels of research and scientific activity. Today, funding problems mean that most inventions by Siberian scientists are linked to state enterprises, and in some cases never leave the laboratory. However, a system of grants and business incubators, albeit modest, means part of the region’s innovation potential is again being realised, and some projects are making it to the market.

2GIS, Novosibirsk

This geolocation service, one of the ten largest companies in Russia’s online sector, was born when founder Aleksandr Sysoev was asked to produce an electronic map of Novosibirsk’s telephone network. As a result, the city got its first full digital map, which became the starting point for 2GIS. Today, the service has about 30 million monthly users in nine countries, and there are over 320 cities in its database.

Unigine, Tomsk

Virtual reality system Unigine was created in 2005 by radio-physicists Denis Shergin and Alexander Zapryagavev. Its first customers were small-scale video game developers, but now their 3D visualisation system is used by more than 160 civilian and defense companies around the world. Unigine is used in the training of pilots, drivers, emergency service workers and astronauts, and to visualise architectural changes — from home decoration to urban planning. What sets the company apart is the incredible picture quality it offers. Unigine can show you the length of the Trans-Siberian railway or a single tree, swaying in the wind. It can even render the entire Solar System.

Alawar, Novosibirsk

This is the company that developed the Farm Frenzy video games, which are now played in 33 countries around the world. Based in two Siberian cities, Novosibirsk and Barnaul, Alawar originally became popular through casual gaming, but branched out over time, adding complex quests, mobile game applications and console games to its portfolio. The company now owns more than 300 gaming brands. According to its own figures, Alawar games are downloaded 1.5 million times every day.

Sarafan

These Krasnoyarsk-based programmers behind Sarafan have brought together fashion, e-commerce and neural networks in a resource for those who find themselves lusting after clothes they have seen in photographs. Using visual recognition algorithms, the app can identify clothes from photographs and cross-reference them against items for sale online. The user receives a selection of items based on what they liked in the pictures. Sarafan is collaborating with 360 Instagram bloggers and over 50 brands, and the founders are readying the project for a presentation in New York next year.

TimeFlip

This little gadget is perfect for those obsessive about time management. Thought up by a group of Tomsk developers, the gadget comes in the shape of a polyhedron. Each face is programmed for a certain type of activit, from writing emails to meetings, scrolling feeds on social networks, or taking coffee breaks. With each rotation of TimeFlip, the app automatically starts the clock for a given activity. All statistics are stored, allowing users to evaluate their efficiency by day, week or month.

UJET

Smartjet is a completely new form of transport created by entrepreneurs from Novosibirsk, Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk. It’s an aesthetically pleasing cross between an electric scooter, a bicycle and a smartphone. Designed for people who want to get to work quickly without changing out of their suits, the vehicle can be folded up like a suitcase and carried in a lift. The first smartjets were dispatched to customers in Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Germany this year.

Text: Alena Agafonova
Illustrations: Sasha Baranovskaya

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