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Tel Aviv, Berlin, London – and soon Zurich? Compared with the really big start-up hubs, Zurich’s mark on the start-up map is still modest. But it is growing – not least thanks to initiatives such as the Impact Hub Zurich or the newly-opened Kraftwerk.

The Swiss start-up scene is on the rise. Switzerland has been at the forefront of innovation for a few years now and the number of companies founded here is steadily increasing. No wonder – Switzerland is one of the countries with the best conditions for entrepreneurship: the economic environment is stable, the education and training sector is strong, and the infrastructure excellent. Leading technical universities such as the ETH and EPFL are located in Switzerland; not to mention the many banks, financial institutions and commercial enterprises. There is also a very high quality of life. All factors which inspire innovation and entrepreneurship. At the forefront and in the running – Zurich.

Zurich is globally connected

The innovation and start-up ecosystem in and around the Limmat city is thriving. In addition to first-rate infrastructural conditions, there are also numerous initiatives in Zurich that actively promote this ecosystem: Impact Hub Zürich is one of them. In 2010, this globally networked community came to Zurich with the goal of building a powerful network of innovators, entrepreneurs, creatives and techies around the globe. Oriented towards the objectives of the UN Sustainability Goals, Impact Hub is firmly convinced that real solutions to the challenges of our time cannot be found in isolation, but only in radical collaboration.

Within a very short period of time, Impact Hub Zurich – originally consisting of four founders and a handful of members – has developed into a community of over 850 members and more than 50 employees. At the same time, Impact Hub Zurich has launched a number of large-scale projects to further support the start-up ecosystem in Zurich. In autumn 2016, for example, Kickstart Accelerator was initiated in cooperation with the digitalswitzerland association: a start-up support programme for start-ups worldwide that want to promote their companies and establish vital connections in Switzerland. The programme promotes young entrepreneurs in areas that are equally relevant and pioneering for Switzerland, such as FinTech, Smart Cities, and Robotics.

A start-up support programme with outstanding success factors

During eleven intense weeks, the start-ups receive scholarships, workspace, mentoring, and seed funding. One of the most important success factors of the programme, however, is access to key players in the ecosystem and leading Swiss companies. “Kickstart Accelerator can count on a huge network of partner companies – among them the major banks UBS, Credit Suisse and Raiffeisen, the largest Swiss ICT provider Swisscom, the retailers Migros and Coop, the insurance company AXA Winterthur as well as the consulting firms PwC and EY,” says programme manager Patricia Schlenter. “We are experiencing a growing interest in accelerator programmes such as the Kickstart Accelerator. The large corporations have realized that they need to keep pace with digital change to secure their futures, and they are therefore willing to work with start-ups and competitors on relevant issues.”

This broad support is one of the reasons why Kickstart Accelerator has become one of the largest startup programmes in Switzerland already in its second year. The important thing is that the partner companies are not pure investors. They are important components of the programme, they are involved and in close contact with the start-ups. In workshops and meetings, interests, opportunities and risks are weighed up and opportunities for cooperation are being explored. The aim is to bring start-ups and large companies together, to break down supposed boundaries and to set up concrete projects. The concept has been successful: numerous start-ups have been able to establish important partnerships with large Swiss corporates through Kickstart Accelerator. The first programme resulted in a partnership between Latvian start-up Notakey and Credit Suisse, Swisscom as well as UBS. And Zurich-based IT start-up Veezoo secured a PoC with AXA Winterthur. These are just two examples; and numerous collaborations have already been established in the second run of the programme as well.

Creating space for innovation and collaboration

Kickstart Accelerator has found its home in Kraftwerk in the heart of Zurich. It is a place created specifically for such cross-industry and cross-sectoral collaborations. In summer 2017, the former ewz power plant became a ‘collaboration space’ with meeting, workshop and sprint rooms in disused containers, an extraordinary event hall and a public café. The idea: large corporations, start-ups, SMEs, self-employed and creatives should work together on joint projects. To make this possible, users not only have access to the spaces geared to innovative collaboration, but also to experts who can help with methods and know-how in project work.

The aim is to establish fruitful cooperation between possibly unequal partners and implement successful projects. Answers to today’s big questions can only be found together – that’s also the motto of Kraftwerk. And that’s why Kraftwerk itself is a partnership project: it is a joint initiative of Impact Hub Zürich, ewz, digitalswitzerland, and Engagement Migros. The four partners share the view that cooperation can become a decisive competitive advantage for the Swiss economy. “Especially in view of the digital transformation, collaborative and creative platforms where innovative solutions can grow, are in demand,” says Christoph Birkholz, co-founder of Impact Hub Zurich. Kraftwerk now offers this platform.

For details about the rooms and booking conditions at Kraftwerk in the former ewz-Unterwerk Selnau please check out

About the author

Simone Bächler manages communication and media enquiries at Impact Hub Zürich, Kraftwerk, and Kickstart Accelerator. Prior to her position as PR and Communication Lead in the startup and innovation environment, she worked as a journalist and news anchor at several radio stations in Zurich, Fribourg, and Rotkreuz. She holds a degree from the University of Fribourg in Media and Communication as well as postgraduate diplomas in Communication Management and Event Management.

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