Stefan, we are reaching you in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. What does this mean for a start-up company?
It is indeed a crisis for the founders of start-ups, because they are fighting on several fronts at once. Corporations currently have little time for pilot projects or interest in working together with start-ups, and at the same time it will be difficult to attract investors in the crisis because they are very reluctant to invest.
What support can start-ups in Switzerland currently benefit from?
Thanks to a survey among 660 start-ups and the support of the entire ecosystem, we were able to convince the Swiss government to also include start-ups in the loans to bridge liquidity shortages during the coronavirus crisis. Some cantons have granted additional and sometimes considerable funds to support start-ups. We are of course pleased when investors invest in Swiss start-ups even in these difficult times. A good and current example is the 80 million financing round of the Zurich start-up Scandit with leading Silicon Valley and European investors.
What's exactly is a start-up?
A start-up is a technology company that is usually not older than five years. It must have an innovative, globally scalable business idea.
Venturelab has been supporting start-ups for over 15 years. How has the ecosystem changed during this time?
The scene was much smaller then. University graduates wanted a job in consulting or at a bank, and I was the only one in my graduating class who was interested in start-ups. Today, graduates are motivated by successful founders and therefore much more interested in starting their own business. In addition, risk capital, and especially venture capital, can be found easily in Switzerland today. Almost on a weekly basis, one reads about larger financing rounds of CHF 10-20 million. Finally, a network of founders has emerged: Entrepreneurs who sold their company invest their knowledge, their network and their capital in the next generation of startups.
Why is Greater Zurich attractive for young tech companies?
Start-ups are looking for three key assets: capital, customers and talent. Zurich is very attractive in all three. In addition to attractive financing opportunities, there are also many interesting customers from various industries for start-ups. Those who can win a customer with a high reputation will find it easier to convince other customers and investors. The main pillars not only of the startup, but of the entire innovation ecosystem are the world-class universities ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, but also universities of applied sciences such as the University of Applied Sciences Winterthur, the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil or the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.
In which fields of technology are we global leaders?
In general, wherever real technology competence is required. In much-hyped Berlin, you'll find more low-tech areas such as e-commerce or social media, while in Zurich you'll find specialized high-tech areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision or drones. Universities, talents, large tech groups and startups join forces to create world-leading ecosystems. Biotech, medical technology, fintech and, increasingly, cleantech are also strongly represented among the leading Swiss start-ups.
What other factors are needed for a thriving start-up ecosystem?
In addition to the talents, capital and customers already mentioned, it takes leading universities, renowned companies, mentors, incubators and accelerators, innovation support programs, associations and targeted events for start-ups. An innovation- and business-friendly environment and a portion of entrepreneurial spirit round off the offer. The Greater Zurich Area has developed into a very attractive location for successful start-ups.
What kind of programs and events are you referring to that can help start-ups move forward?
For example, the Venture Kick initiative. It was launched in 2007 to increase the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities. To date, over 650 projects have been supported with around CHF 30 million, which has created 7000 new jobs. The TOP 100 Swiss Startup Award has also helped to make the Swiss start-up ecosystem better known worldwide. These initiatives show that Swiss quality can also be successful in the innovation environment.
Since 2004, Venturelab designs and operates flagship startup programs such as Venture Kick, Venture Leaders, TOP 100 Swiss Startup Award, Innosuisse Start-up Trainings to support the best entrepreneurial talents. Together with successful founders, leading academic and industry partners, Venturelab brings the best start-ups to success.