Are you sure?

Debrecen dreams of an innovative future

Singularity University recently opened a local branch of its international incubator in Hungary’s second city, and organizers have hopes of promoting growth in the blossoming startup culture there.

A presentation taking place at Singularity University in Debrecen.

It is wonderful to dream, but what if you could make sure you only have good dreams? A Polish inventor has developed an app that can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) avoid nightmares, so that they can sleep better.

The inventor, Lukasz Mlodyszewski, was rewarded for his invention with support from another group of dreamers, the people behind Singularity University (SU), an organization named after the dream that someday robots will help us live forever.

SU is a startup incubator that is helping creative people turn their ideas into reality. Based in California, in the Moffet Federal Airfield owned by the NASA Ames Research Center, it has been holding competition finals in Budapest since 2012. As of April 29 of this year, SU has a chapter in Hungary’s second largest city, Debrecen, where it plans to rebroadcast conferences held elsewhere around the world and to hold its own conferences for startups. Future plans include the kind of contests that earned Mlodyszewski support, and of course, matchmaking between investors and startups – especially those in eastern Hungary.

“Two years ago, if someone asked what is a startup?, no one knew. But now things are different, things are changing,” says Nándor Nagy, a 25-year-old startup entrepreneur and co-creator of SU Debrecen.

In the last few years, Nagy noted proudly, Debrecen has developed a young innovative community with a startup campus, TedX conferences and co-working offices. Debrecen’s young mayor, László Papp, took part in the inauguration of the SU office, calling it a great opportunity for the city to increase its business and economic growth.

We could live forever

Since Americans Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil founded it in 2008, Singularity University’s main goal has been to persuade people to be more original and more dynamic – and thus more impactful – in the use of exponential developments in technology and science. According to its website, it is a “startup accelerator to help individuals, businesses, institutions, investors, NGOs and governments understand cutting-edge technologies, and how to utilize these technologies to positively impact billions of people”.

The name “singularity” describes the concept that some day humanity will figure out how to put our consciousness inside machinery, so that we can essentially live forever.

“Maybe in the future we will be able to find out why God created humankind,” says István Herdon, a co-creator of the SU Debrecen Chapter. “Thanks to exponential technology, robotic, artificial intelligence and informatics that exceed the limits of our imagination, it is possible to prolong life, to heal different diseases, to erase hunger and poverty. Thanks to democratization and the use of new technologies, quality of life will change deeply. We are living in an exponential technology revolution.”

While it may seem odd that that the SU did not open up in the capital of Budapest, Nagy explained that Debrecen was simply the place where there was the right energy and the right collection of people.

Thanks to SU, the youngsters of Debrecen have the chance to improve themselves, to take part in networking and to enjoy interactive presentations. For example, a conference on exponential manufacturing held in Boston in May was recorded and will be presented in the Debrecen chapter, which will also offer the opportunity to discuss the topic with experts.

“This is a chance for us to join the globalized world, to become a regional long-term growth center,” says Herdon.

In the future, Debrecen hopes to hold competitions, like the Global Impact Challenge backed by SU and described by its website as “annual competitions held in partnership with sponsor organizations worldwide and organized by geography and theme”. The main goal of these competitions is to find ideas that can impact the lives of at least one million people. The winner is invited to attend SUʼs Global Solutions Program in California free of charge, and is also provided with a team and potential investors to make their idea come true. The finals of the CEE version of the GIC have been held in Budapest since their launch in 2012. The 2016 event, the fifth such, took place on April 14.

Last year’s winner was Mlodyszewski, who worked with doctors to invent DreamJay, the dream app for PTSD patients. DreamJay users pick a theme and watch a two-to-three minute video, and then fall asleep to music. While a person sleeps, the app plays very short specific sounds at various moments during the sleep cycle. The sounds are designed to improve the user’s sleep and prevent him or her from having nightmares.

“I had the pleasure to take part in a competition like that,” said Herdon, “and we are looking to organize one in Debrecen.”

Big hopes for Debrecen

Hedron said he sees efforts like this as the best way to help develop his city. “The most important possibility, and maybe the only one, for economic development is that international innovative enterprises open branches in Debrecen,” he said, adding that this can be encouraged “Through infrastructure development, new human resources, new logistics equipment, a good international airport and a high level of university education.”

A reputation for innovation can help connect Debrecen to the world, expanding possibilities, Hedron said. “Cities where innovative companies are established are able to be part of a global market, to increase their economy, to ensure more jobs and international knowledge of their products,” he said, adding that these are the goals of SU Debrecen. More young people will have the chance to test themselves and their limits.

Nagyʼs example is quite interesting. He was born in eastern Hungary, studied at the university of Debrecen and after that at an economics school. Now he is a co-creator of the SU Debrecen Chapter, he has a marketing enterprise and a newborn startup called OneMinOrder, focused on web development and marketing for restaurants.

Created by just three people (one web programmer, one designer and one marketing expert), OneMinOrder makes it possible to order food online in various restaurants for free. The idea is to provide restaurants with a website, an application, communication staff, and social network profiles. According to their website, they “offer a solution for restaurants, saving people work and getting professional online surfaces without prior investment”. The app is free but OneMinOrder receives a commission for every order on the app. As of early summer there were five partners, with more expected to join.

Nagy maintains that it is simple idea, but one with a lot of potential to grow, just like SU itself. Organizers say that SU should have a big impact on Debrecen, and probably the rest of Hungary, and there is a chance that the next chapter opens in Budapest.