Switzerland needs to do a better job of exploiting its innovation potential

February 19, 2024

I believe that skilled, well-trained, and talented individuals are key enablers of future innovation. As the world continues to change and issues such as climate change become more pressing, we need innovation more than ever, whether in construction, transport or agriculture. For universities, public authorities and companies, growth inevitably risks spawning an unwieldy bureaucracy and diminishing the excellence and impact of their work. For example, key Google technologies, in daily use today, were originally developed in Switzerland, but were sold off at an early stage. There are some fantastic sponsors and supporters of entrepreneurship in Switzerland who have tremendous experience in founding and growing businesses.

I believe that skilled, well-trained, and talented individuals are key enablers of future innovation. As the world continues to change and issues such as climate change become more pressing, we need innovation more than ever, whether in construction, transport or agriculture. True innovators understand that change always presents opportunities.

My first few months back in Switzerland have reaffirmed to me that this country has large innovation potential that is so crucial in many areas of industry – from space tech, deep tech, and green tech to robotics and intelligent systems.

Three priorities

To exploit this potential, especially at a time when financial belts are being tightened, we need to focus on three priorities that are of major long-term significance.

First, we should not accept any erosion of the institutions that produce the innovative individuals we want to encourage – even if budget constraints make this challenging. At the same time, it is reasonable for the government to expect universities, educational institutions, and research institutes to tailor their research and educational programmes in ways that benefit Switzerland and to put a clear emphasis on broad impact. For universities, public authorities and companies, growth inevitably risks spawning an unwieldy bureaucracy and diminishing the excellence and impact of their work.

Government-funded knowledge organisations, such as universities, should be constantly asking themselves whether they are still acting in the best interests of society; they need to be taking active, efficient, and effective measures to help Switzerland and the world overcome major challenges. Depriving them of the funding they need to fulfil these tasks will ultimately weaken Switzerland over the long term in the precise area that currently represents one of its biggest strengths on the international stage.

Second, government bodies should be joining forces with the private sector to promote the effective transfer of research ideas into marketable products and to foster the growth of fledgling Swiss companies. A famous innovator once told me that our country would be a leading light if we were either smarter, more agile or both.

At the same time, we should be continuously reviewing and optimising our processes and procedures in companies and in public administration – any unnecessary delays due to in-house inefficiencies or government bureaucracy are highly detrimental to entrepreneurial success both now and in the future.

We also need to prevent the loss of talent. Currently, we invest huge amounts of time and effort in training young entrepreneurs and talented individuals, only for them to migrate abroad in search of better opportunities. Instead of creating value for Switzerland, other countries reap the benefit. For example, key Google technologies, in daily use today, were originally developed in Switzerland, but were sold off at an early stage. The main reason was that the companies couldn’t grow their business in the ways that they wanted. Now, we see that same risk hanging over some of the world’s most exciting robotics and drone companies, which are just now starting to establish themselves and on a growth path in our country.

There are some fantastic sponsors and supporters of entrepreneurship in Switzerland who have tremendous experience in founding and growing businesses. The question is, “How we can work together as a team to create the kind of momentum that will enable us to outperform international competitors – not only in setting up companies, but also in giving them the space to grow?”

The source of this news is from ETH Zurich

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