Start-ups in Sustainability

Meet the start-ups and scale-ups aiming to make business more sustainable

Who are the pioneering start-ups and scale-ups in the sustainability space? In this podcast series, we will introduce you to the founders and companies who are working to create a more sustainable world. Find out about these start-ups and scale-ups, discover their vision, and learn more about how they are aiming to shape the future of our economy, society and planet.

Episode 6 (rerun): Circularity and responsible sourcing in watchmaking

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 IDWatch . 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.

In this rerun episode from April 2022, Nicolas and Cédric tell their founding story and explain how they want to change one of the most traditional industries in Switzerland.

We should go from linear to circular economy. This needs a complete change of business models: we need to go beyond the product itself.

Episode 5: Travelling as a mindful optimist

Today many travellers ask themselves which mode of transport they should use for their next trip. Airplanes are fast but have a large carbon footprint. Trains are more sustainable but feature only few overnight connections with which people can bridge the longer travel time by sleeping. And buses also do well in eco-friendliness but are less comfortable for overnight travel because passengers cannot lie down.

A start-up that aims at changing this and offering a new solution for overnight buses is Twiliner. They are developing a bus with comfortable, reclining seats that are safe in lying position. Twiliner’s target group are so-called mindful optimists – people who want to travel with respect to the environment and who believe that their choices have an impact on the world.

In this episode, Luca Bortolani, co-founder and CEO at Twiliner, explains what his motivation to start the company was, how he and his co-founders managed to partner with two well-known institutions early on, and what their buses will look like.

We know that people want to travel more sustainably and many are willing to travel slower in order to avoid the airplane.

Episode 4: The scent of sustainability

How can scents enhance our well-being and mental health in the workplace? And what role does 'ma' – the Japanese concept of negative space – play in this context?

These two questions are at the core of MĀ Moments, a start-up that offers curated essential oil blends for consumers, customised scents for companies as well as well-being retreats and corporate gifts for employees. The philosophy of MĀ Moments emphasises connecting with nature, the healing power of art and beauty in simplicity.

Co-founder Esther Payerols talks about the inspiration behind MĀ Moments, their deliberate focus on well-being and how sustainability is incorporated into their products.

The power of scents is the strongest we have. We remember things that we smell one hundred times more than things that we see, hear, or touch.

Episode 3: The trade-off between sustainable fashion and affordability

What happens when two former scouts and childhood friends from Lenzburg meet for a beer and get the idea to start a business? They build one of the trendiest and well-known sustainable fashion labels in Switzerland.

This is the story of NIKIN and its co-founders, Nicholas Hänny and Robin Gnehm. Their ambition is to make sustainable fashion (more) affordable and plant a tree for each product sold. In six years, they have sold enough products to plant over two million trees.

In this episode, Nicholas talks how NIKIN was founded, the reason for planting trees, and the trade-off between the costs of sustainable fashion and affordability.

The ultimate goal of sustainable fashion is to get into a circular economy where you only produce clothes that go back into the cycle.

Episode 2: Improving impact measurement with collective intelligence

Sustainability performance and a company’s impact are often measured using ESG standards (environmental, social, governance). However, some experts criticise ESG frameworks for their focus on financial measures, risk assessment and the impact of ESG on a company rather than a company’s impact on the environment and society.

Impaakt is a start-up that aims to broaden the lens of ESG assessment. To do so, Impaakt applies collective intelligence and lets thousands of people rate how companies impact society and the planet.

Bertrand Gacon, co-founder and CEO at Impaakt, talks about what inspired him to create his start-up, what criteria companies should be assessed by and how collective intelligence works in the context of impact measurement.

We need to bring enough people to the table so that, at the end of the day, we have a score of a company that is the real reflection of what global society thinks about the impact.

Episode 1: Impact investing – balancing sustainability and financial return

Can you build wealth with a clear conscience? Are healthy financial returns compatible with a positive social and environmental impact?

Yes, says Tillmann Lang , co-founder and CEO at Inyova Impact Investing. Inyova is an impact investing platform that allows users to select their focus areas, for example renewable energy or circular economy, and to personalise their investment strategy. Inyova’s aim is to make responsible and sustainable investment possible for everyone.

In this episode, Tillmann talks about how Inyova was founded and why we should all become impact investors.

Finance is fascinating. In 2017 my co-founders and me felt that traditional providers were not taking consumers seriously. So we started to look for a way to make finance part of the answer to the climate crisis, rather than part of the problem.

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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