Innovation – Made in Switzerland
An interview with Annalise Eggimann, CEO of Innosuisse, on Innovation Made in Switzerland
From basic research to applications for everyday life. Innosuisse promotes and supports research institutes, mature enterprises and start-ups and plays a key role in driving innovation in Switzerland. In an interview with Annalise Eggimann, CEO of Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, we find out what underlying conditions are required.
Ms Eggimann, last week we had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Angelika Kalt from the SNSF. You both work very closely together. Ms Kalt works in the promotion and support of basic research, laying down the foundation so to speak, for application oriented research leading to science-based innovations which Innosuisse is dedicated to - A successful collaboration?
Absolutely, our cooperation is extremely successful and above all very crucial. In basic research, researchers are not focused on ensuring that their findings eventually lead to a practicable solution for the economy or society. They tend to research new basic principles, on which of course application oriented research and developments can take place. And in those cases, in which results of basic research show application potential, research is further developed, specified and eventually introduced on the market in the form of new products and services. Then, Innosuisse, as an agency promoting innovation, comes into play at this important junction between research and the implementation of its results.
The cooperation between the SNSF and Innosuisse is very constructive and efficient here. Our joint programme, called "Bridge", allows researchers to develop their research results that are often reached due to the prior support from the SNSF, towards market implementation. We started this programme in 2017. Two types of funding are applied - the first one is called "Proof of Concept PoC", where young researchers are supported to further advance their findings. Out of the 114 PoC-projects, a total of 60 have already led to the foundation of a start-up company. The second type is called “Discovery” projects. It offers funding to experienced researchers to help them realise the innovation potential of their research findings.
Is this great collaboration between research and innovation particular to Switzerland or are there comparable systems in other countries?
Of course each country has its own different promotional system. The idea of implementing interesting research results into practical applications is the goal everywhere though. There are also some international promotion agencies, offering both functions in one. In Switzerland, one can say that the exchange and transfer of knowledge and technology between the academic and entrepreneurial world works particularly well. But it can, of course, still be improved.
Switzerland is considered a pioneer in terms of innovation. Why is that?
We certainly owe our strength in innovation to an excellent education system as well as outstanding universities and research centres. We have a high density of such institutions resulting in a high number of skilled workers required in the country. This in turn of course, is attractive to industry and commerce. The pharmaceutical industry is certainly another decisive factor. This industry is particularly innovative and source for high R&D investments. They create as well a good environment for other innovative ventures. Furthermore, we have many "hidden champions" in Switzerland: often small or medium sized companies specialised in one specific field, but absolute leaders in this field. These companies are rarely known to the public, hence their name. One example I can give you is Coat-X SA from La Chaux-de-Fonds, specialising in the protection of electronic sensors, microchips or implants with the help of coating. A small enterprise, but very important for many industries.
Switzerland had repeatedly attracted attention with innovations, even dating back to the last century - in the field of typography, household appliances or textiles. Do you detect a different tendency today, that innovations come from other sectors for example?
In the past, most innovations reached the consumer directly. Today, this happens more often on a B2B level, as one part of the supply chain. The economy as we know it today, is much more interconnected than in the past and therefore more complex. Innovations come from different industries, such as the medtech sector or robotics, for instance.
And from which industries can we expect innovations in say 20 years?
It would be great to be able to make such a forecast. But in the end, we can only make assumptions. In the future, research must probably be even more focused on sustainable lifestyle, so that today's livelihoods can be maintained. CO2 reduction, mobility and of course today's issues will certainly become even more important. An example therefore is Climeworks, an ETH Zurich spin-off, which developed a technology to capture carbon dioxide in the air and is now successfully gaining foothold on the international market with its innovative solution.
If you visit the Innosuisse website, we can see a combination of mentoring as well as financial support for innovation projects and coaching for start-ups. If we come to you with a project - what opportunities does Innosuisse offer?
Like the SNSF, Innosuisse is a funding agency. Our main funding instrument are innovation projects. These projects are jointly conducted by an implementation partner and a research partner. The implementation partner is for example an SME or a private or public institution that needs to cooperate with a research partner to realise its innovation. It therefore teams up with a research partner, for example a research group from a university of applied sciences. Together, they will then submit an application which we will examine and decide on. It is important to mention that the implementation partner has to finance its own contribution to the project. This contribution must in general be equal to the financial support provided by Innosuisse to cover the cost of the research partner.
We also offer coaching support to start-ups and promote their entrepreneurial and soft skills at the same time. The coaches can build on their own start-up experience, often come from the business world and are very familiar with the important basic conditions and challenges in an industry. This coaching is important for start-up entrepreneurs, often young researchers without experience in the business world. They can benefit greatly from it. Because in addition to research or development of a product or service, the people behind a start-up also need to be trained and prepared for the new tasks that lie ahead. In fact, Innosuisse is coaching teams of more than 500 start-ups every year.
Let's talk about one exciting project that Innosuisse is currently promoting.
Of course it is difficult to pick out one specific project here. We are privileged to accompany and support so many exciting projects and especially during Corona, innovation is a valuable asset, which ultimately benefits society in the form of new drugs, for instance. Personally, I find the project and of the company «Cutiss», a start-up which has specialised in personalised skin tissue therapies, very impressive. Even with a small number of healthy cells, the company is able to grow whole skin transplants and is capable of offering an intelligent and well tolerated solution for burn victims and other patients with skin problems. Of course, you will find many more exciting projects on our website.
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