Interview with Cornelia Gut-Villa

CEO foundation Startfeld

Innovationen in Start-ups und KMUs

swissVR Monitor: How does the innovation process in start-ups and SMEs differ from that in larger companies?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: Their size makes start-ups much more agile and able to respond more rapidly to changing conditions. They lack the rigid structures and approval processes that can hamper discussion of new ideas. And start-up founders and employees often have a different mindset: they want to bring about change and solve existing problems as efficiently as possible.

swissVR Monitor: What forms of innovation activity – such as innovation labs – offer the best prospects of success in start-ups and SMEs?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: Innovation requires a culture that enables all employees to put forward ideas for existing or new products or services as part of their day-to-day work. All employees should feel they are part of the company and have the courage to challenge existing processes, products and services. If they do not, then the challenge will be confined to new suppliers. Management should have sufficient trust in employees to encourage them to pursue ideas even where these initially appear absurd. SMEs can create an appropriate environment for doing this, for example by organising internal pitch events and giving staff coming up with particularly promising ideas the time and/or financing to pursue those ideas. Such an environment enables employees of SMEs to make use of in-house or external innovation labs to develop their ideas and to be released from their normal role for a specific period to do so. Companies need to ensure that they create an environment that promotes creativity and facilitates exchange with potential customers.

swissVR Monitor: What are the crucial factors underpinning innovation within start-ups and SMEs?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: An innovation needs to be valued by the market and by customers and to bring benefit. The product and its market fit must be repeatedly analysed from the outset, with potential customers involved from an early stage. And there needs to be an awareness that some existing goods and services will not be in demand in the future. At the same time, though, it is important that SMEs don’t create a two-tier workforce of ‘innovative’ employees, who work for the company’s future, and the rest, who work with raditional and conventional products. A company is a learning organisation and needs to adapt continuously to new conditions, even if that involves only very minor process changes. That is the only way a company can remain fit for the future and resist disruption’.

swissVR Monitor: What can large companies learn from smaller businesses and start-ups in terms of innovation?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: They can learn from the enthusiasm of start-up founders and the gleam in their eyes when they discuss their product ideas. Founders are intellectually curious and are ‘doers’, spotting opportunities and attaching less importance to risk. They may make mistakes as a result, but they then learn very quickly from those mistakes.

swissVR Monitor: What part does the Board of Directors play in innovation activities?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: The Board shapes the company’s culture, so it needs to create conditions in which employees understand what the company stands for. All employees should feel appreciated, so there needs to be scope for ideas to be fed in from the bottom up and to be heard.

swissVR Monitor: What boundaries and limitations do Boards face in terms of innovation within the company?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: The company has only limited financial resources at its disposal and cannot follow through on every idea. The strategic thrust must come from the Board of Directors, and ongoing innovation is needed in these strategic areas. Companies have the option of creating a unit within the business that intensively monitors market innovation and reports regularly to the Board. Playing an active part in start-up networks such as SICTIC ( will also help ensure they do not miss innovations.

swissVR Monitor: Where can companies that want to be more innovative go for help and support? And could you say more about the general concept of an innovation park and about Startfeld as a specific example?

Cornelia Gut-Villa: Established companies can also learn from start-ups. Exchange within an innovation network, such as Startfeld ( – in German only), may be helpful. SMEs can use Startfeld to seek momentum for new business models, products and services in an inspiring environment that encourages members to be creative and to ‘think outside the box’.

Dr. Cornelia Gut-Villa

CEO foundation Startfeld

Dr. Cornelia Gut-Villa studied at the University of Zurich and has more than 20 years’ experience in banking, strategy consultancy and start-up coaching. She is CEO of Startfeld, an innovation and start-up network that provides seed funding for young entrepreneurs. She also serves on the Board of the Swiss ICT Investor Club (SICTIC), Switzerland’s largest and most active investor club with more than 300 investors. SICTIC is the first point of contact for early-stage technology start-ups domiciled in Switzerland and seeking start-up funding through ‘smart money’. Dr. Gut-Villa is also a member of a number of other Boards, including SIHAG Swiss Industrial Holding AG and MyDent AG, and of the Executive Board of swissVR ( – in German/French only).