Young Cultural Innovators Win Major International Award

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Oct 23, 2020
by Josh Wilde
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Young Cultural Innovators Win Major International Award

Salzburg Global Fellows Robert Praxmarer and Thomas Layer-Wagner recognized with inaugural Olympics of Innovation Challenge Award Photo courtesy of Polycular.

Robert Praxmarer and Thomas Layer-Wagner met while working at university where they turned dream into reality, co-founding the interactive design and technology studio Polycular.

They are now in dreamland once again after their company won an international Olympics of Innovation Challenge Award for Artistic Vision at the inaugural World in 2050 Awards.

Described as “a forum for our future,” Diplomatic Courier’s World in 2050 think tank recognizes outstanding organizations tackling significant challenges across seven classifications: Society, Humanity, Energy, Health, Travel, Off-World, and Artistic Visions.

Solutions from each category will be championed at major global forums including the Innovation Olympics Festival, the United Nations General Assembly and the G20 Summit.

“I couldn’t actually believe it,” Praxmarer told Salzburg Global. “If you read through the other winners – SpaceX by Elon Musk, Johns Hopkins University, Bird – the names couldn’t be any bigger. They are the world leaders in their field. Then it says Polycular which really feels uncanny. A small Austrian company with 12 people being given this prestigious award. It’s more than a surprise.”

The judges praised Polycular’s variety and quality of work. From sustainable, environmentally-focused projects such as EgoGotchi where they reinvented the popular 1990s’ Tamagotchi toy craze to encourage greener lifestyle choices, to visionary ventures such as Morbus Genesis which uses computer algorithms to show everyday inanimate objects degrading, in turn encouraging audiences to rethink their own mortality, grief and loss.

“The great thing about working with digital technologies is that to some degree you have a lot of power in shaping virtual reality,” Praxmarer described. “That can be thought-provoking and offer new perspectives to an audience. If you can establish this magic moment, they are interested and you can get them talking.”

This accolade is just the latest for Polycular with other honors including the 2018 Umdasch Research Award for Learning and Education, the World Summit Award Austria for Education in 2019, and the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award.

“We made our mark in the local creativity and innovation scene,” Praxmarer added. “We haven’t won too many international awards so this is one that stands out and we are very proud.

“We were university professors in the field of game development, interactive art and augmented reality. We set out to start a company to use creative processes combined with art, technology and innovation to make interesting projects, ideally with an impact to society. They often revolve around sustainability and awareness building. We think education is foremost to train a younger generation with digital means and games to give them a new perspective on important topics.”

Both Praxmarer and Layer-Wagner are Salzburg Global Fellows after attending the annual programs of the Young Cultural Innovators Forum (YCI Forum) in 2014 and 2015 respectively. The YCI Forum is currently taking place virtually with this year’s program considering, A Global Platform for Creative, Just and Sustainable Futures.

“I had the chance to be part of it at the very beginning of our company,” Praxmarer explained. “It was one of the best mentoring programs I’ve ever attended. I’ve attended a lot of mentorship programs from accelerators all over the Silicon Valley and other places. Salzburg Global still stands out in terms of quality, mentors, location, the people and the caring. This special vibe you can’t really describe; you really have to be there.

“This network of young people aren’t just talking pipe dreams, they actually are smart and resilient enough to pull things off. You can learn so much in one week. It’s one of the greatest places and I told my co-founder [Layer-Wagner] he had to go there. It brings you forward in your own thinking. It’s well-spent time to step back and really reflect on topics of leadership, innovation and creativity.”

Salzburg Global is a partner of the World in 2050 Awards and Praxmarer thanked Faye Hobson, YCI Forum Lead and Salzburg Global Program Manager, who first nominated Polycular.

“Without her and Salzburg Global, we wouldn’t even have entered this kind of award,” Praxmarer acknowledged. “Coming from Hallein in Salzburg, this is something really special, which we had to work very hard for. Some organizations believed in us like Salzburg Global and we hope to pay back the people that helped us. We are super proud to put Austria, Salzburg Global and Polycular on the map.”

Hobson also wished to send her congratulations on behalf of Salzburg Global.

“The YCI Forum strives to empower the next generation of changemakers. Robert, Thomas and the whole Polycular team are great examples of what can be achieved when you work hard and dream big,” Hobson said.

“I was only too pleased to nominate them for this prestigious award and even more delighted to hear they had won. It is fantastic to see our Fellows named amongst the biggest and best in global innovation.”

Looking ahead, Praxmarer says Polycular’s future is bright as they strive to shape the future of learning.

“I hope we realize our dream to redefine education through digital means,” Praxmarer added. “Using playful discovery where it’s about challenging the learner. How kids learn when they explore a room or play hide and seek. We want to find new storytelling solutions for experiential and transformative learning.”