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Romanian .lumen receives €9M from the European Innovation Council to develop assistive technology for the blind

.lumen Cornel Amariei
Image credit: Cornel Amariei, CEO of .lumen
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.lumen, the Cluj-based AI research startup developing high-tech glasses that can assist blind people on the go, has received €9M from the European Innovation Council Accelerator. This news comes after the Romanian startup won the Red Dot Design Award Luminary, the equivalent of the Nobel prize for Industrial Design, at the end of October.

“We hope this is yet another beacon of hope for the Romanian and Eastern European startup and innovation ecosystem. The region is still so young. However, we just proved again that we, normal people, in the right context, can achieve extraordinary deeds,” Cornel Amariei, .lumen CEO & Co-Founder, shared with The Recursive. 

The Romanian startup received blended finance support, which means a smaller grant for the development and later on bigger equity investment to be able to scale the product and reach mass-market. The team plans to keep researching the use of the headset they are building in complex environments.

The headset contains sensory and feedback systems to map out the environment and communicate instructions to its user. The sensory system is a set of five cameras that detect the user’s position, the environment, and contextual information; while the feedback system uses audio and haptic feedback to communicate the moves to people, just like a guide dog would pull their hand.

.lumen was founded in 2020 by Cornel Amariei, Dr. Gabriel Chindris, and Mihai Ivascu. It has a team of over 30 engineers, professors, disability experts, designers, and scientists using AI to develop the device which will soon reach pre-production as Amariei shared with us in a previous interview

Cornel Amariei has a background in electrical engineering and computer science, while Mihai Ivascu has experience in business administration, entrepreneurship, and innovation management. Ivascu is also the co-founder and CEO of Modex

“I founded this company to help people, and now thanks to EIC, we are accelerating towards that,” Cornel Amariei shared on LinkedIn.

€627M in the largest ever funding round from EIC

The European Commission’s Accelerator selected 99 companies out of over 1000, from 21 countries, that will receive €627M. This is the largest funding round for the EIC so far. The maximum a company can receive as a grant or equity investment is €17.5M, depending on its needs. Along with the investment, projects will have access to a wide variety of Business Acceleration Services.

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The EIC Accelerator supports SMEs to develop and scale up their innovations. The financial support they offer is either as a €2.5M grant for innovation development costs or as investments of up to €15M to scale. 

Companies will receive the grant financing in the coming months, while the equity investment is most likely to take longer as the EIC equity arrangements need to be re-established under Horizon Europe. Horizon Europe’s goal is to support projects which might be too risky for investors. The main five missions are related to climate change, cancer, ocean restoration, smart cities, and soil deal. 

Other tech companies from SEE which received grants from the EIC are LAM’ON from Bulgaria, developing sustainable packaging solutions; and AGRIVI from Croatia, developing an AI adviser for Agronomy and Food Safety.

Amongst the EIC jury members responsible for choosing the startups we found familiar names from Romania, like Matei Dumitrescu, Partner at Roca X, and Cosmin Ochisor, Partner at Gapminder Ventures; from Bulgaria, Milen Ivanov, Founder and CEO of CEO Angels Club, and Zlatolina Mukova, Managing Partner at New Vision 3 Fund; and from Greece Thaleia Misailidou, Principal at Marathon VC.

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive with 10+ years of experience as a freelance writer based in Bucharest, Romania. Her mission is to report internationally on the amazing progress of the local startup ecosystems while bringing into focus exponential projects developed in niches like health and education or by female entrepreneurs.