Switzerland is best known for its breathtaking mountains, its luxurious tourist destinations, and brands like watchmaker Rolex, food company Nestle, or pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Roche.
Less known, however, is the fact that Switzerland is ranked as one of the most innovative countries in the world. The Alpine country scored first place in the Global Innovation Index 2014, an annual ranking by Cornell University, INSEAD Business School, and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization).
The Swiss have been innovating for generations. Anyone who uses Velcro (invented by George De Mestral, an engineer from Lausanne in 1941) or aluminum foil (first produced by Dr. Lauber, Neher & Cie in Emmishofen in 1910) can be thankful for that. Swiss inventions are all around NYC too. If you take the New York subway, chances are that the signs you read are Helvetica—a Swiss invention and MTA’s official typeface.
Since Switzerland is a tiny country of about eight million people and is located in the middle of Europe, with no natural resources, its only asset has been the human brain. The country has cultivated entrepreneurship out of necessity and has so created a breeding ground for innovation in tech industries such as precision technology, medtech, material sciences, life sciences, and ICT.
Switzerland’s latest government initiative is the Swiss Innovation Park (SIP). The idea behind the SIP is to create a nationwide network to boost research and development, in collaboration with industry leaders, academia and emerging companies. The two main campuses will be located in Zurich and Lausanne. A natural fit, since these cities are also home of ETHZ and EPFL—the two worldwide leading Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology. A third campus is being created in the city of Basel, the life sciences hub of Switzerland.
In order to grow and scale up a business, a startup in Switzerland must look across the border at a very early stage as the limits of the Swiss home market are reached quickly. After expanding to neighboring countries, the United States becomes an attractive place for Swiss startups and growing businesses to expand and gain market traction. In recent years Swiss startups have been flocking to New York City, looking to take a bite out of the Big Apple.
There are numerous reasons why the Big Apple is attracting not only Swiss but other international startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. The city is a strategic location to enter the US market. Being located next door to many multinational corporations and media companies, startups find access to potential partners, customers, and the media. In addition, to stay in touch with the Swiss home base, the six-hour time difference between NYC and Europe, compared to the nine-hour difference with Silicon Valley, allows for more efficient communication between offices.
Though many innovative and disruptive Swiss startups now have a New York City hub, a few stand out particularly.
|Zkipster is a successful guest list app for event planners. After initially coming up with the idea in Zurich while organizing their own parties, the two Swiss founders David Becker and Daniel Dessauges, came to the media and event epicenter of New York City to scale their business. Zkipster is now the check-in app of choice at major top events from fashion shows to finance.|
|Audicus is the Swiss answer to Warby Parker for hearing aids. The founder, Patrick Freuler, is a Swiss MIT graduate who started out of his NYC apartment with the idea of revolutionizing the hearing aid market with his e-commerce business and making hearing aids more affordable.|
|coresystems has grown so rapidly that it is no longer considered a startup, but a global company with over 100 employees in the mobility and cloud space. Arti Sahgal, co-founder and chief revenue officer of coresystems made the move to NYC a few years ago in order to be in close proximity to large companies—and her potential new customers.|
WHO TO KNOW: HELPING SWISS STARTUPS IN NYC
The Young Professional Committee of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce (YPC-SACC) seeks to foster the next generation of Swiss-American business relations by organizing networking events for and with Swiss startups. Zkipster, Audicus, and coresystems (mentioned above) were featured speakers in the past. Those interested in connecting with the Swiss startup community can check out the events on the YPC’s Facebook or LinkedIn page.
Another large organization in the city which focuses on Swiss startups is swissnex, a federal program connecting Swiss science, education, and innovation. Swissnex hosts early-stage Swiss startups and assists them in validating their ideas and getting off the ground in New York by connecting the entrepreneurs to local potential clients, partners, and investors. They also host workshops and webinars and offer mentoring.
Swissnex’s US Market Entry Camp offers startups that are enrolled in their official CTI start-up coaching program a desk for up to three months at their offices in Manhattan. Flatev, a food technology startup which makes fresh tortillas with the press of a button, was one of the program’s first graduates and has just announced the establishment of their very own NYC office.
To connect and network in a more social manner with the Swiss in NYC, Swiss Drinks is a fun monthly get-together for Swiss and friends to discover new places in NYC—one bar at a time. A great way to grow your network to include more Swiss founders and entrepreneurs.