Learning from the Best – Start-ups Ecosystem in Switzerland

Some time ago I had the great privilege to attend a seminar in Warsaw, Poland, on Swiss start-ups support ecosystem led by Jacques Hefti – Head of Start-up Campus at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAw). Support for start-ups in Switzerland is quite remarkable. Reports of Innovation Union Scoreboard confirm its overall leading innovation performance in  European Union. Therefore I’d like to like to share with you with the following, useful observations:

The key principles in support for start-ups in Switzerland is its global value proposal, scalability potential, and relatively fast expansion plans. As internal market of Switzerland is relatively small, one of key steps of growth is to go global once internal opportunities are exploited. Therefore Swissnex focuses on enabling new market entrances for Swiss start-ups by activities not only inside Switzerland, but also in US, Brazil, China, or India. Start-ups in Switzerland are additionally supported by Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE), which launched, together with Google Export Digital, an online platform with approx. 100 educational videos supporting development of export strategy.

Basic R&D&I infrastructure for technology-oriented start-ups is available in over 40 technology parks in Switzerland organized in form of national association called SwissParks.ch hosting over 1000 companies. What distinguishes SwissParks.ch parks from other technology parks scattered in various locations in countries worldwide is their strong cooperation. SwissParks.ch acts not only acts as space provider for start-ups, but also as reputable thought leader and think tank supporting policy making., It is also national manager of know-how related to start-ups, an organ  responsible for its diffusion, key animator of networking activities, and organizer of national initiative called Global Entrepreneurship Week. Information on basic R&D&I infrastructure in Switzerland and start-ups in particular sectors, which can be matched with data of spaces offered by SwissParks.ch is available here.

Technology parks infrastructure is complemented by R&D&I co-financing opportunities enabled by Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), which is a part of Swiss Parliament. CTI directly co-finances R&D&I projects , but also sponsors globally emerging start-ups pre-acceleration and regular acceleration programmes. Intense mentoring received by the start-ups within such programmes is delivered by publicly funded network of qualified trainers, and is free of charge for their receivers.

Key technology-oriented start-ups clusters in Switzerland are Zurich and Lausanne as leading research and education institutions are there, including Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). The former delivers mentoring, research infrastructure, network, and demonstrates an impressive track record of supported spin-offs. The latter also developed a complex and financing instruments backed-up  ecosystem of support of start-ups affiliated with EPFL. Approach of EPFL can be compared to leading approach of University of Stanford, US, which also offers complex support for its affiliates, including university start-up accelerator and university based venture capital firm I wrote about earlier. Commercialization of all new technologies created by Swiss research institutions including universities, or university hospitals is boosted by umbrella organization called Swiss Technology Transfer Association (SWITT).  To this day SWITT already offered over a hundred,  Swiss technologies ready to be commercialized or licensed out. I value the approach of SWITT, which does in Switzerland exactly what MIT Technology Licensing Office does. Such organizations make inventions visible and commercialization-ready to the world.

Newly created start-ups are monitored and classified by Swiss Start-Up Monitor, which lowers the distance between them and parties interested in cooperation. Buzz and spin around start-ups is fostered by events such as Swiss Innovation Forum, which in this year will take place on 24th of November 2016. During the forum Swiss start-ups are rewarded with reputable Swiss Technology Award. So far hundreds of companies were recognized within the award, which builds credibility and leverages potential for further expansion.

What is the best practice in start-ups support you could recommend?