"The world is more complex than it was in Alfred Escher's day."
More than 43,000 companies were registered in Switzerland in 2018, a figure that would surely make Alfred Escher proud. Of course, the playing field for start-ups has changed since his day. For more, read the expert interview and first-hand tips for success from the 2019 Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Conference.
Alfred Escher: A trailblazer for successful company start-ups
Mid-19th century Switzerland was considered a developing country. Then came Alfred Escher. He was everything: a visionary, a politician, and an entrepreneur. He set up businesses, forged innovations, and ultimately laid the foundation for Switzerland's development as an economic region. There is no other story like Alfred Escher's in Switzerland. Now, 200 years later, we wonder: How much has Alfred Escher left behind for Switzerland and its start-up culture?
This year's Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Conference set out to answer exactly that question. Dr. Marjan Kraak, head of the spin-off group for ETH transfer, discussed the most important aspects for start-ups with Dr. Sandra Neumann, founder and CEO of Peripal AG, and Maximilian Boosfeld, founder and CEO of wingtra at the conference. Another expert on today's start-up environment is Andreas Roth, head of the partnership with Venturelab AG for Credit Suisse AG. In his interview with Marjan Kraak, he spoke about the changing conditions and challenges for fledgling companies.
What are the challenges that start-ups face today?
*Andreas Roth: The number one challenge for successful start-ups is the ability to engineer true innovation. The perfect company would also have a team with complementary skills in such areas as technology, finance, and sales. As soon as possible, the team should create a well-thought-out business plan. This will help it to secure financing at an early stage.
*Marjan Kraak: One challenge we see a lot at ETHZ is that the "ETH spin-offs" are so focused on the further development of their technologies or own products that they lose sight of networking. However, building their own network is crucial for finding customers, investors, and partners for their projects.
Entrepreneurs need creativity, energy, and enthusiasm for new ideas. They must be passionate about forging new innovations and making them reality.
A successful start-up tip from Dr. Sandra Neumann, Peripal AG
How can start-ups boost their product marketing?
Marjan Kraak: It's important for entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zone. In the very early stages, well before the launch, they should conduct market research on their product or service. This is the only way to find out whether the market needs their product and if they stand a good chance of succeeding as a company.
Have the framework conditions for start-ups changed since Alfred Escher's day?
Marjan Kraak: The world is much more complex than it was in Alfred Escher's day. Politics has become more multi-dimensional and democratic, in other words slower when it comes to making decisions. It was different back then, which is probably why Escher was able to launch a number of very diverse and successful projects. These days, globalization, digitalization, and regulations play a big part in product development. Still, we have seen a lot of good progress since his time. This progress should continue to flourish, thanks to all the new ideas and companies.
Andreas Roth: Creating your own innovation is very popular today. People admire an innovator. We also have access to much more venture capital, thanks in no small part to the large number of grant programs and the assistance of professional institutions and investors. All in all, it provides fertile ground for start-ups.
Then as now, new inventions and achievements are often associated with one individual. But then as now, an entire team is needed for success. An individual can play a part, but the big whole depends on teamwork.
A successful start-up tip from Maximilian Boosfeld, wingtra
Ms. Kraak, you mentioned digitalization. What has been its effect on the market for start-ups?
Marjan Kraak: For one thing, it has resulted in new segments for innovation. In robotics, for example, software is used to control robots and drones. Switzerland is a global leader in this area of research today. So digitalization allows start-ups to conquer new markets.
Andreas Roth: Digitalization is also essential for marketing. Companies can use it to scout the needs of market stakeholders, advertise their products around the world with streamlined resources, and build their networks.
Marjan Kraak: But that's not all. Digitalization is important even in the development stage. More and more companies in various industries, such as biotechnology or chemicals, use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create new products or offer new services in a faster, more efficient manner, with a great deal more data.
Digitalization did not exist when Alfred Escher founded his projects. He was successful nonetheless. What can start-ups learn from Alfred Escher?
Marjan Kraak: Even today, successful start-ups should follow Alfred Escher's lead in terms of creativity, leadership, and persistence. Teamwork and good networking in an international environment are also very important nowadays.
Mr. Roth, moving from past to future: What's on the horizon for start-ups?
Andreas Roth: Innovation will keep gaining momentum around the globe. Available venture capital is also likely to increase in Switzerland, thanks not only to initiatives such as the Swiss Entrepreneurs Foundation. Switzerland's excellent universities are very effective when it comes to fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and starting companies. I think that today we don't have just one, but thousands of young "Alfred Eschers." These young entrepreneurs will help Switzerland stay ahead of the international competition.