Power Up Swiss Start-ups

How can Switzerland promote a globally competitive start-up scene?

Even though establishing business is in Swiss DNA, there is still work to be done around fostering entrepreneurship and having an attractive start-up culture. In this mini podcast series, we introduce you to selected start-up companies that power up Switzerland with their ideas and innovations. Your host, Daniel Laude, talks to founders and experts about their entrepreneurial story, the Swiss start-up scene, and Switzerland as a location for start-ups. What advice do they have for setting up businesses and what are their suggestions on improving the conditions and environment of start-ups?

Episode 10: Venture capital – an insight into the funding of start-ups

How do venture capital funds select the start-ups in which they invest? And what is the state of the venture capital market in Switzerland?

An expert to answer these questions is Michael Sidler, who is a co-founder and partner at the seed and early-stage investment fund Redalpine. The fund focuses on highly scalable business models, screens more than 3’000 business plans per year, and has invested in more than seventy companies so far.

In this episode, Michael talks about his journey into the world of venture capital, his perspective on the business conditions in Switzerland and what the parallels are between building companies and working in his garden.

It is the holy duty of every entrepreneur to find the conditions and the location which are best for his or her start-up idea.

Episode 9: The three-point plan – what Karim Maizar suggests to improve the business environment for start-ups

Karim Maizar’s journey into the start-up world is quite unconventional. After studying law at the University of Zurich, he became a lawyer who is specialised in young companies and venture capital. His career path was certainly unusual when he started roughly ten years ago, he says.

Today, Karim is not only a lawyer for founders and venture capitalists at Kellerhals Carrard but also a Board member of SWESA, the Swiss Entrepreneur and Start-up Association. In this capacity, he works with members of parliament to achieve better framework conditions for start-ups in Switzerland.

Daniel asks Karim why he chose to enter the start-up world and what he suggests to improve access to venture capital, availability of talent and start-up culture.

R&D spending of established companies is going down. Therefore, the question is: where else will innovation come from in the future? Here we see the big and ever-growing relevance of the start-up ecosystem.

Episode 8: The perspective of a serial entrepreneur – how Boris Manhart has co-founded five companies including a unicorn

Many of us know somebody who has started a business. But founders of more than one or two start-ups are rare. The same goes for entrepreneurs who have built a unicorn.

Boris Manhart is such a person: he co-founded five companies in the last 25 years including Numbrs, a personal finance app that has become a unicorn. This year, Boris has switched sides and now advises start-ups on how to scale successfully.

In this episode, Boris explains where his start-up journey began, the common challenges he faced when founding his companies, and what Switzerland needs to improve to produce more unicorns.

Honestly, I do not think that you always need to think big. You can build the next local bike store if this is your passion. Then you create value, probably even jobs – and you are happy.

Episode 7: Circularity and responsible sourcing in watchmaking – how ID Watch wants to change one of the most traditional industries in Switzerland

Many companies try to make their existing product offerings more sustainable and ecologically compatible. But only a few firms subject their product development fully and from the very beginning to the principles of complete circularity and responsible sourcing.

An example for such an approach in the watchmaking industry is ID Watch. The co-founders Nicolas Freudiger and Cédric Mulhauser have developed luxury watches that are made of recycled high-quality stainless steel, reused existing movements, and straps based on vegetal compost.

Listen to Nicolas and Cédric tell their founding story and explain how they want to change one of the most traditional industries in Switzerland.

I would like to see more start-up competitions open to watch companies and watch concepts. This needs to be fostered by the large luxury groups [associations] as well.

Episode 6: Crossing the pond – what the Swiss start-up scene can learn from Silicon Valley

Taking a start-up abroad, especially to a place like Silicon Valley, can be one of the ultimate objectives for founders. However, crossing the pond is a big step that needs solid preparation and comes with many challenges.

To support founders with this endeavour, Arijana Walcott has started DART Labs, an accelerator that connects Switzerland and the USA. Arijana helps Swiss start-ups with technologies that benefit humans to test their ideas and business models in Silicon Valley.

Daniel talks to Arijana about her journey into the start-up world, her perspective on the business conditions in Switzerland and what it means to take a start-up across the pond to test the waters in Silicon Valley.

Swiss start-ups often end up as features instead of companies. That is why we ask ourselves after hearing a pitch: will this become a feature for somebody else or does it have the potential to grow into a company?

Episode 5: A new approach to beating cancer – TOLREMO aims at solving the problem of drug resistance in cancer therapy

Resistance against cancer drugs is a major factor keeping patients from surviving the disease: after shrinking in the beginning of therapy, some tumours do not respond to the medication anymore and start growing again over time. Then patients are administered a second cancer drug so the process starts again, and they might end up being resistant once more.

TOLREMO tries to break this cycle and has developed a new approach to solve the problem of drug resistance in cancer therapy. Stefanie Flückiger discovered the scientific mechanisms of this approach in her Ph.D. and founded TOLREMO as a spin-off of ETH Zurich in 2017.

In this episode, Stefanie explains how she came up with the idea behind TOLREMO, the role of drug resistance in cancer therapy, and how she went about building one of the leading biotech start-ups in Switzerland.

Switzerland is a perfect place to found a company, but when you grow and start raising larger [funding] rounds there is a lack of very strong, deep-pocketed Swiss VC funds.

Episode 4: Impact with fresh taste – how Koa innovates the cocoa fruit business (in German)

Cocoa is not only an ingredient for (hot) chocolate, it can also be used in many other ways in gastronomy and industry. The method of growing and processing the cocoa fruit in countries such as Ghana did not change much over the last 300 years.

Koa has innovated this production process by applying the experience and knowledge around solar energy from the co-founders Anian Schreiber and Benjamin Kuschnik. Their approach reduces food waste by 40 per cent, creates new jobs in rural Ghana and increases farmers’ income.

Daniel asks Anian and Benjamin what it means to found a purpose-driven business like Koa, what makes their way of processing the cocoa fruit innovative and what their view on Switzerland is as a location for start-ups.

What we were already pushing very strongly four or five years ago […] and what investors also understand now is that CSR or sustainability is not just a ‘nice to have’ but should be at the core of a business model.

Episode 3: Switzerland versus Israel – what are the differences between both countries when it comes to starting a business?

The Swiss start-up scene is in its infancy compared to the Israeli ecosystem – especially regarding start-up financing, says Cédric Bollag. He knows founders and venture capitalists in both countries very well and has showcased over 300 entrepreneurs and investors on his start-up show on YouTube.

Cédric has also founded his own business called Curated, an online video channel on which he publishes his interviews. Daniel asks Cédric how he found his way into the start-up world, his thoughts on starting a business in Switzerland and what the Swiss start-up scene can learn from the one in Israel.

In the U.S. and in Israel it is all or nothing. Many VCs [venture capitalists] rather write a check for a million and know after six months that it will not work out, instead of funding something long-term which might or might not be a success.

Episode 2: Vertical farming – is the future of agriculture in the city? (in German)

Vertical farming is about growing agricultural fresh produce in vertically stacked layers. This happens in large structures such as refurbished industrial buildings – usually in or within proximity to cities. Vertical farming strives for a more sustainable, efficient, and healthier food production.

YASAI is one of the first and leading Swiss start-ups in this field. Deloitte’s Head of Research, Michael Grampp, interviewed YASAI’s founder and CEO, Mark Zahran, in the beginning of 2021. They talked about the founding story of YASAI, their business model, and the connection between vertical farming and architecture.

Vertical farming will revolutionise the way we produce food in the 21st century. 

Episode 1: Electrifying utility vehicles – how 4QT wants to revolutionise commercial vehicles (in German)

Mobility is among the main drivers of CO2 emissions overall. While public debate usually seems to focus on passenger transport, commercial vehicles play an important role in this context as well.

To lower emissions in the commercial sector, the start-up 4QT combines the advantages of electric motors and traditional combustion engines by integrating both in the same vehicle. Their four-quadrant transmission (4QT) technology is supposed to guarantee the optimal gear ratio for maximum efficiency and minimal emissions.

Daniel talked to Marc Vetter, founder and CEO of 4QT, how he came up with the idea for his company, how he sees the start-up scene in Switzerland, and which tips he gives to new founders.

What would you do if you had a technology that could reduce emissions by 30 percent – either by retrofit or directly from the factory?

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