HeiQ has a strong presence internationally. How important is it that your headquarters are in Schlieren, just outside of Zurich?
Carlos Centonze: It is very important for us that our headquarters are in the Greater Zurich Area. From a logistics perspective, it is perfect for bringing our international clientele to us and for working globally. What’s more, we have all the resources here that we need for development.
Do you reach out to research institutes? HeiQ is a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, after all.
Of course. Our main focus is research in textile-chemical technology, and our proximity to academic institutes is crucial to this. We collaborate internationally with 14 universities, and Switzerland is our most important location for collaboration. By this I mean ETH Zurich and other universities, as well as universities of applied sciences like the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). The region offers an outstanding mix of basic research and application-oriented approaches.
And what about your own need for skilled labor?
Here, too, the situation is ideal. While the research done for our innovations often occurs outside the company, which we coordinate, we often develop the results in-house for our customers until they are ready to be turned into products. This is how our HeiQ Fabric Lab functions as a competence center for yarn, textile fibers and fabric solutions. Customers can come to us with their questions, and we find the best solution together with our partners.
What is especially exciting for us with respect to the availability of skilled labor in the Greater Zurich Area is that we can also find top-notch experts in finance and marketing – this combination is rare elsewhere in the world. Marketing is an important part of our business, because we conduct what is known as ingredient branding: companies use the name of our innovation as part of the product, similar to the Intel inside label.
Do you benefit from the Greater Zurich Area’s long-standing textile tradition?
After we were founded in 2005, we were able to recruit experts with valuable background knowledge of the industry. Even today, we still have customers from the region who are steeped in tradition. For example, Schellenberg Textildruck from the canton of Zurich comes to us for innovations. We also collaborate with the outdoor brands Odlo and Kjus from the canton of Zug.
At the same time, we are broadly positioned and very much oriented internationally. One third of our sales go toward the development and production of carpets, clothing and technical textiles. Our customers include IKEA and the clothing groups Uniqlo from Japan and Patagonia and North Face from the US.
What innovations are HeiQ currently involved in?
IKEA will launch its first air purifying curtains in spring 2020 thanks to our help. Gunrid, as the product is called, is activated by light and can reduce common indoor pollutants by up to 80%. We are currently working on a project with ETH Zurich that involves porous graphene membranes, the results of which are potentially groundbreaking for waterproofing materials, water-repellant outdoor clothing or the desalination of drinking water.
What is the situation like today regarding investors in the Greater Zurich Area?
HeiQ has 105 investors, half of which come from Switzerland and the other half from abroad. For me it is clear that the scene for financing high-tech companies has become excellent over the past ten years, especially around Zurich. There are enough resources to help candidates with considerable potential make the big leap.
Interview: Yvonne von Hunnius
Carlo Centonze is CEO of HeiQ Materials. He founded the company with Murray Height in 2005 as a spin-off of ETH Zurich. HeiQ develops and produces innovative technologies that are especially high performance and durable, such as the temperature-regulating HeiQ Smart Temp technology. The company employs 87 people in 11 countries on 5 continents. Its headquarters are located in the IJZ center for innovation and start-ups in Schlieren near Zurich.