By Hana Skreta, Principal, Zurich
For a start-up, Switzerland has a lot going for it. The culture of innovation, growth and success seems to permeate through the population in some areas, particularly around the cities of Zurich, Zug and Lausanne . Impact hubs have been created in recent years where early start ups can meet, support each other, share ideas and create some investor noise. This approach to the strengthening ecosystem is fostered by close cooperation between research institutes and the private sector alike, nurturing the success of the sector from both sides.
The Swiss education system, particularly at university level, is delivering high quality candidates to the labour market. Many students having been involved in entrepreneurial projects during their time in education. Fabrice d’Erm, a supporter of start-ups particularly focussed in the sustainability sector, comments: “I would like to highlight, among other things, the quality of labour force available and the eco system around Swiss universities where students are encouraged to engage in entrepreneurial projects. As a result, the number of spin-offs from universities constantly increases which is a great driver for the start up ecosystem”. Startupmetrics estimated in July 2021 that there had been a total of 176 spin off projects from universities in Switzerland between 2017 and 2020 alone. This is such an encouraging figure in terms of measuring both the innovation and leadership that is coming into the Swiss labour market. Fabrice d’Erm also points out “We must also note Switzerland’s role as a financial centre, with access to capital from asset owners and institutional investors as well as incubators and accelerators like the Swiss Startup Factory and MassChallenge for example.” Financially and educationally Switzerland is in a prime position to continue to develop its start-up culture and ecosystem.
The Federal Council has recently commissioned one department to examine the start-up ecosystem with the findings due to be reported in June 2022. There are suggestions that Switzerland may create an innovation fund to help facilitate start-ups even more says Fabrice d’Erm “When we created the Rocket Foundation in 2019, we identified a gap in the funding cycle of start-ups after the 1st round or seed funding had been secured. We look to support social enterprise start-ups who are facing that funding gap.”
For the 11th year in a row, the World Intellectual Property Organisation has ranked Switzerland as the most innovative country. One of the reasons behind the ranking, they write in their Global Innovation Index Report, is that “Switzerland is a regional leader in innovation outputs: it ranks 1st worldwide in Knowledge and Technology outputs and 2nd in creative outputs” But Fabrice d’Erm counters this “I have seen amazing ideas which have been poorly formulated and presented to potential investors. The understanding of the investors’ mind and language is key to be able to fundraise successfully. Presentations are often too complex or don’t provide a clear ongoing picture for the investor.” The solution to this could be mentoring. We need serial entrepreneurs and successful founders to coach, mentor and invest in early-stage founders. Representation and role models matter, and Switzerland has a little way to catch up on this to match the might of Silicon Valley. The Swiss start-up system can and is addressing these challenges. Cultural challenges are more talked about now than ever before and open dialogue will help present solutions.