Small companies and big innovations: Swiss startups

A new type of thorium nuclear reactor, a machine capable of generating skin for grafting, a less energy-intensive PET recycling technique: the creativity of Swiss start-ups knows no bounds and their innovations have been hugely successful around the world.

This content was posted on Feb 04, 2022 – 11:20 am

Skizzo rug (illustration)

Switzerland ranks first in the Global Innovation Index for over ten yearsexternal linkthe world index of the most innovative countries published by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Until now, resources for research and development of cutting-edge products were concentrated in large transnational companies – such as Nestlé, Novartis, Roche, ABB, Givaudan or Swatch – and medium-sized companies that managed to occupy important market niches on a global scale. .

In recent years, however, innovation has also started to flourish in the start-up sector, those small businesses that are characterized by a strong spirit of innovation and great growth potential. More and more young people are following this path to develop and commercialize the fruit of their scientific research and technological ingenuity.

Today, around 300 startups are created each year, while there were still just a few dozen during the first decade of this millennium. Capital invested in start-ups has almost multiplied tenfold in the space of ten years; they crossed the 3 billion franc mark for the first time in 2021.

Despite their success, Swiss startups still receive little support from the political world. One reason can be found in the risk aversion that is still very strong in Switzerland, according to Gina Domanig, who has run Emerald Technology Venture for more than twenty years.

Furthermore, launching a start-up is still largely a male affair. Stereotypes remain tenacious and women have a harder time earning the trust of investors.

Grandes Ecoles as poles of attraction

More than half of these innovative companies were born in the Zurich and Lake Geneva region, where the presence of the two Federal Institutes of Technology plays a key role in the research and development of futuristic scientific and technological applications.

Many startups benefit from cutting-edge knowledge acquired in large Swiss innovation clusters, such as the pharmaceutical industry, microtechnology or financial services. At the same time, start-ups contribute to the regeneration of these traditional sectors, offering them outlets in new markets, for example in biotechnology, medical technology or clean technology.

It is therefore not surprising that many young fintech companies have emerged alongside banks with the benefit of a centuries-old history and that new microtechnology solutions are emerging close to the traditional watch industry.

But what is the world of Swiss start-ups like? We profiled some young companies that have established themselves in recent years with promising products.

Clean energy and technologies: In Geneva, Transmutex is developing a new type of thorium nuclear reactor. This metal is not only much less radioactive than uranium, but is also abundantly present in rocks throughout most of the Earth’s crust. An innovation that can facilitate the energy transition to a CO2-free society.

Entrepreneur Laurent Jospin plans to install 47,000 solar panels on a 1.6 km long metal structure on the A9 motorway in Valais. The goal is to produce electricity for 12,000 homes each year. His company Energypier is planning a similar pilot project on 2.5 kilometers of highway near Zurich to supply 20,000 homes.

In Sion, in the canton of Valais, Canadian researcher and entrepreneur Samantha Anderson has developed a new technique for recycling PET that consumes much less energy than the methods currently used. An innovation that she intends to commercialize and extend to other types of plastics in the coming years.

Medical technologies: Zurich start-up Cutiss has developed the first machine capable of generating large amounts of skin from a sample taken from the patient. A real hope for the more than 11 million people in the world who suffer severe burns each year.

Neuchâtel company Aktiia has developed the first smart bracelet capable of measuring blood pressure continuously. An innovation that puts Switzerland at the forefront of a market highly coveted by American and Asian technology giants.

Drones: The company Hydromea created the first underwater wifi connection network. The modem uses beams of light to transmit data and guide robots remotely without cables.

Food: Ticino-based start-up TicInsect uses soldier fly larvae to eliminate organic waste and, at the same time, produce animal feed, biofuels and fertilizers without wasting raw materials.

Information Technology: ID Quantique has created the world’s most secure mobile phone using the principles of quantum mechanics. A foolproof encryption system adopted by Samsung.

Finance: Thanks to their reduced fees and innovative solutions, digital banks are on the rise. The Zurich start-up Neon thus gained a foothold in the Swiss banking market without opening subsidiaries or branches.

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According to JTI standards

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