Panorama of Lugano in Greater Zurich at sunset

Given its market maturity and large consumer market, Europe is often a natural first choice for U.S. startups with global ambitions. Accounts of founders that have successfully managed their international expansion confirm that the move is not straightforward. For a company coming from a unified, monolingual market such as the U.S., the linguistic, cultural and regulatory diversity across European countries can be challenging.  That is why it is essential to start from the right base.

Ticino, Greater Zurich's geographic extension to the south, is a hidden gem for startups at the heart of Europe. Over the last few years, it has nurtured a growing ecosystem where startups, big tech, international corporations and universities are working hand-in-hand. There is a mix of unique factors that makes Ticino particularly attractive for startups working in fashion, food, travel, design and other lifestyle-related industries. Here is why.

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1. Based at the heart of Europe, without European bureaucracy 

What American founders first notice when they arrive in Europe is that things do not move as quickly as back home. While some European countries are more notorious than others for the speed of their bureaucracy, it is safe to say that Switzerland is a shiny exception in Europe. Indeed, if you decide to incorporate in Switzerland, the process is lean, quick, and uncomplicated.

Besides enjoying the renowned Swiss market stability and favourable tax conditions, Ticino is also exceptionally well-connected with the major European hubs: Milan is just one hour’s drive away, it takes about three hours by train to get to Zurich Airport, where you can hop on a plane and be in London, Berlin, Paris or Amsterdam in roughly two hours.

Startups incorporated in Ticino get all the benefits of working in a fast, solid and independent Swiss economy, with easy access to the rest of the continent.

2. Access to supreme European tech talent and research facilities

As elsewhere, when entering a new market, the biggest challenge is building a great team.

Switzerland has a lot to offer in that respect: It is booming with internationally experienced, well-educated professionals that speak multiple languages. Two high-quality local Universities, USI and SUPSI, both work closely with corporations to understand their talent needs and subsequently tailor relevant curricula. Besides, its location makes Ticino also a perfect place for poaching talent from both Zurich and Milan.

Zurich is home to the international headquarters of Google, Disney, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, to name a few. It is also a centre of academic excellence, with ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, being ranked among top universities of the world.

Milan, on the other hand, next to being the global leader in the fashion and design business, is the biggest Italian startup hub, with a flourishing FahsionTech scene Interestingly, Ticino itself is also a center of academic and research excellence that startups can access. It is proud to host two exceptional research institutes: The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre and the Swiss Artificial Intelligence Lab IDSIA. Both work with academia and the private sector and are global leaders in machine learning, data mining, and robotics.

3. Easy access to decision-makers and innovation network

Historically, Ticino has managed to attract numerous fashion brands to incorporate in this area. Today, there are around 80 fashion brands operating out of Southern Switzerland.

Those include the EMEA headquarters of different American fashion giants such as the VF Corporation, Guess and Michael Kors, as well as the offices of major fashion brands, e.g. Ermenegildo Zegna Group, Hugo Boss and Philipp Plein, to name a few. 

In addition, Ticino-based B2B startups are in a position to access numerous global food and travel players based both in Switzerland and in Italy. 

Acting as one of the drivers and facilitators of innovation in Ticino, LifestyleTech Competence Centre, a part of Switzerland Innovation Park – Ticino, has created a dynamic ecosystem where brands, innovators, universities and big tech companies work together on research and innovation projects. Startups are often involved through tailored open innovation projects or can contact the association directly to learn how they can get involved.

4. Active business networking and relationship-building

There are numerous networking events and meet-ups organized around the year in Ticino, both physically and digitally, to promote cooperation and knowledge sharing revolving around technology and innovation in the fashion and lifestyle sectors.

One such example is the vibrant community that has developed at Dagora, a coworking space and an innovation hub. They organize numerous events – ranging from more intimate meet-ups all the way to large summits - involving brands, service providers and innovators. For anyone that is new to the area, this is a great starting point to tap into the local business network.

5. Where safety, sustainability and work-life balance meet

The Swiss have successfully maintained a position at the forefront of international business and affairs. Their reputation is built on their innate attention to detail and organizational skills, the security and neutrality of their country, and the closeness to nature of the people.

In recent decades, Switzerland has also strengthened its position as a global leader in sustainability, policies, technologies and impact investing.

With numerous Zurich-based funds working in the arena, Geneva-based UN headquarters where the Sustainable Development Goals were created, and Ticino’s wealth of food and fashion brands striving for more sustainable practices, this could be an ideal launchpad for a start-up working in the sustainability arena.

As a place to live and work, Ticino offers security, good organization, nature and sustainability.

On top, it is the only Swiss canton with a Mediterranean climate in the Swiss Alpine region. Founders coming from abroad often appreciate the fact that they have palm trees in their backyard while being only an hour’s drive to the slopes of the Swiss Alps.

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Hear from Jelena Tasic Pizzolato, Managing Director of The Lifestyle-Tech Competence Center how LTCC is creating a great ecosystem driven by international players in their two key main pillars: Lifestyle and Tech.

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Can we put you in touch with a peer company or research institute? Do you need any information regarding your strategic expansion to Switzerland's technology and business center? Give us a call or drop us a line. 

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