George Themelis is confident of a great future for his start-up, Photognosis, which he launched in the Greater Zurich Area in 2019. His choice of Schaffhausen in Greater Zurich as the base for his business was no accident – the entrepreneur knew about the ease of access to key decision-makers in Greater Zurich resulting in a speedy resolution of issues as well as the fantastic environment offered by the Swiss Transit Lab. The Lab gives Themelis the opportunity to refine and develop his technology in a real-life setting.
George Themelis set up Photognosis as a start-up business in Greater Zurich in spring 2019. Born in Greece and a physicist by training, he specialises in technological solutions which enable better use of visual information. His product is already deployed in medicine, where spectral cameras assist with diagnosis and support doctors performing operations. «After 20 years as an academic, I wanted to see what new applications this technology can be used for», Themelis explains. And that led him to set up Photognosis.
The reason he’s chosen to base his business in the Greater Zurich Area is in part due to his business partner who has supported him from the outset and who also comes from Greater Zurich. «He told me how lovely the canton and the city of Schaffhausen were, so I came and had a look », he adds with a smile. He quickly came across the Economic Promotion Team. «From then on, I started to look at the area in more detail». At the time he was assessing other regions but he quickly established «Schaffhausen in Greater Zurich is a great place to build my business», he is keen to point out. He believes he was always well looked after by the Economic Promotion Team, and in the end that led to his decision to set up in the Greater Zurich Area. «I’m such a fan of Schaffhausen, in fact I’m now an ambassador for the area», he laughs. He has already highlighted the attractions of Schaffhausen to a number of people in his network. One of the benefits he particularly values is how easy it is to get things done. «Here I am George and not just a number», he says, adding that it is easy to meet decision-makers and get help quickly and easily, when unexpected issues arise. He also acknowledges Switzerland is associated with top quality and that helps when promoting his business.
He and his company form part of the Swiss Transit Lab. «A fantastic concept», he proclaims. The Swiss Transit Lab gives him the opportunity to test his product in a real-life environment. The product in question is a camera which analyses whether a passenger has fallen and needs medical attention. «At present, there’s always a bus driver in the vehicle who can help in such a case. In future, there will be driverless vehicles – and that’s where our technology helps out», he explains. A live stream is evaluated via a secure link using Artificial Intelligence, with the image anonymised and not stored. If a passenger collapses, the computer recognises the need for help and immediately calls for help for example by alerting the ambulance service. However, the computer doesn’t «see» the original image. It «sees» the persons anonymised as matchstick figures. «We are not tracking individuals, we are providing technology which can protect individuals when they need assistance», Themelis underlines.
Being part of the Swiss Transit Lab has enabled him to meet the right people, to network and to test how his technology performs in everyday use.
The product should be ready to take to market by the end of the year – and then the process of developing further applications will begin. For that to happen, the company will have to grow. «Currently we are a team of four, two of whom are developers», Themelis explains. The aim is to grow to 15-20 staff in two years. Core activities such as management, marketing and business development will be based in the Greater Zurich Area, whilst the developers, with a highly-specialised skills set, can in theory be based anywhere in the world. However, Themelis emphasises he is a great fan of face-to-face discussions, whether that’s in the day-to-day running of his business or in conversations about his business with representatives of the Canton of Schaffhausen.