Entrepreneurs Beyond Borders: How Swiss SMEs Can Go Global
Latest Articles

Entrepreneurs Beyond Borders: How Swiss SMEs Can Go Global

Switzerland has always had a lot of entrepreneurs. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Switzerland are globally active and look beyond their borders to find customers, inspiration and growth. We asked some entrepreneurs for the secret to leading a Swiss SME to success on the world stage and their thoughts on what Swiss quality means to them.

From the start, Gery Colombo, CEO and co-founder of robotic rehabilitation specialists Hocoma, had a clear view of what he wanted to achieve. "Our vision was to develop a robot that can perform difficult manual work, improving the quality of the therapy."

Based in Volketswil in the canton of Zurich, the company develops, produces and distributes robotic and sensor-based devices for functional movement therapy. These can help neurological patients learn how to walk again, for example.  

In the next five years, the company is working on networking its devices and developing comprehensive services in order to be able to provide a holistic solution. Expanding globally is firmly on the agenda. "We are pressing ahead with sales in China. And we plan to go public in the next few years," says the 52 year old entrepreneur.

Is there a secret to growing a Swiss SME into a global market leader? He thinks that it's "the same as everywhere: with new, unique and revolutionary ideas. But we Swiss also benefit from Switzerland's network of skilled partners with a high level of education." A Swiss mindset may offer other advantages, too. "Swiss quality has an impact on the entire value chain. Swiss entrepreneurs understand that the overall product can only be as good as its weakest part; having a few nice features is not a sign that the overall quality is high."

Implementation is Everything

The importance of knowing your products inside out is something very familiar to Nathan Anderson, CEO of Lausanne-based ScanTrust. He started the company after discovering that there were no tools available to learn more about a product: "As consumers.. [you want to know] – Where does it come from? How and where was it produced? Is it authentic, and, above all, is it safe to consume?"

Swiss quality has an impact on the entire value chain. Swiss entrepreneurs understand that the overall product can only be as good as its weakest part; having a few nice features is not a sign that the overall quality is high.

Gery Colombo, CEO and co-founder of robotic rehabilitation specialists Hocoma

His company offers protection against counterfeiting and supply chain visibility to combat fake merchandise and illegal trade, and in four years has grown to have 30 employees. How can a small Swiss company become a global market leader? "For us, it all starts with challenging accepted standards. We provide trademark owners and consumers with an unprecedented level of transparency with respect to supply chains and distribution. And no special hardware is required," says Anderson.

Swiss quality in terms of the high standard of education and resources available in Switzerland have played an important role in helping him grow his business. "Our headquarters in Lausanne serves as our global R&D center. Access to modern testing and research facilities with experts in anti-counterfeiting and printing technology is essential to our growth," the 35 year old entrepreneur points out.

For him, turning an idea into action beyond its home turf is a crucial part of making a difference. "In the world of safety and supply chains, implementation is everything. A great idea that is not cost-efficient to implement and easy to use will have little global impact," he explains.

New Ideas Come from Global Communication

What happens when you didn't realize your ideas would go global? Boschung, a Vaud-based company, develops, produces and distributes products worldwide for collecting and removing black ice and snow as well as for clearing roads and airports. While their business seems tailor-made for Switzerland's alpine environment, it has also found a recipe for success further afield. "We did not set out to play a leading role on the global market. As a result of our innovations and the successes they enjoyed around the world, we automatically became a sort of global market leader in various niche markets," say co-owners Marcel Boschung and Gabriel Boschung.

Boschung's leaders remark that "New and alternative ideas will come from global communication with our users – and it will be up to us to implement these ideas. The question is always: What is feasible on the market?"

Nevertheless, they recognize that being Swiss has played an important role as the company has grown to its present size of around 550 employees. "Swiss quality is what sets us apart. It means that we bring together all of our components in Switzerland in order to be able to develop technologically high-quality products for the future," they say.

So does being Swiss matter to small businesses? Successful entrepreneurs know that growing a business demands bold ideas, perseverance and an open attitude towards customers. A reputation for Swiss quality is certainly the icing on the cake if all the other ingredients are already there.