Anne Nijs, Rare Conditions Transformation Leader at Roche, talks about her motivation to bring the best minds together to transform the future of healthcare by relentlessly focusing on patient outcomes.

How can leaders show up to drive innovation in healthcare?

Being part of the pharmaceutical industry, we are all experiencing some fundamental changes. Changes where systemic dynamics are shifting and the value we bring to patient communities, healthcare professionals and systems is what matters most. This value goes beyond the discovery and development of medicines to a more holistic idea of care. Increasingly, stakeholders are asking for broader support that could help them along different parts of their journey.

To innovate in this current climate not only requires significant shifts in mindsets and ways of working but also relies on openness and collaboration with talent both inside and outside our industry.

As a forward-looking organisation, we need to think out of the box to allow for the creation of novel ideas and solutions that can positively impact people living with various diseases across the world. No single organisation can evolve healthcare on its own, and partnerships and co-creation sit at the core.

I believe that for innovation to thrive, embracing the right mindsets and behaviors is key. As leaders, we must encourage our teams to unleash their full potential by tapping into the wealth of their experiences, challenging them and letting them challenge us, and thereby creating a safe space for experimentation.

How do you inspire a culture of purpose and patient-centricity within Roche?

Sadly, people with rare conditions can spend the majority of their lives being seen as a patient, rather than a human being. As a team, we are incredibly passionate about what we do. Many of us have seen first-hand what the devastating impact of such diseases can bring. We all have a common desire to help those affected, be it through our delivery of medicines or solutions that could help them manage their lives a little easier.

Every day, I encourage my team to lean in, and really listen to the experiences of our patients and their surrounding communities and ecosystems. By truly honing on to the insights shared by them, we can design and build novel solutions for the challenges that they face every day.

We continue to push ourselves to think bigger and be better. We approach situations with curiosity and the intent to learn and evolve. By embracing experimentation, failures and sharing our experiences broadly within Roche, we have been able to kick-start incredible momentum to support this transformation and truly focus on patient-centricity and the needs of broader stakeholders in the rare conditions ecosystem. I’m incredibly proud to be part of this journey and look forward to seeing what the future will hold as we continue to bring more value to people living with rare conditions, faster.

How do partnerships help to support patients?

Being in this industry brings about opportunities for change that we would have never imagined. The ripple effect of one meeting or one phone call, can result in life-changing outcomes for patients. And not just in one place, but around the world. To meet the magnitude of these chain reactions, we focus on ideas that leverage networked ways of working, and can easily be scaled up to reach the maximum number of people who need them. This is supported by our organizational setup built around empowered and diverse teams around the world working towards a unified goal.

By working with our talented partners across specialisms and geographies, we can create opportunities to listen, explore and find new ways to support our patients. It’s critical to bring the best minds together to co-create sustainable ways in which we can support people living with difficult-to-treat diseases with their physical and mental wellbeing. External Partnerships with open innovation platforms such as Kickstart innovation as well as Growpal who brings Pharma expertise, helps us accelerate this journey, allowing us to tap into different knowledge bases, mindsets and skill sets.

Through partnering, we can look beyond the development of medicines and evolve our approach to truly cater the provision of care to the patient and their individual needs. With this initiative, we are looking to form pioneering partnerships with innovators that are built on trust, flexibility, shared values and a passion to make a lasting contribution for people’s health.

What are some ways in which Roche is helping to transform the lives of people living with rare conditions?

People living with rare conditions and their families form tight-knit communities, who often have deep-knowledge about their disease, so we understood very early on that in order to help them at any stage of their life, we needed to integrate ourselves within their community.

Through our integration efforts, we’ve been working hard to ensure we’re breaking boundaries and collaborating across borders to experiment, take risks and embrace out of the box thinking. We have strong customer-facing teams working across the globe, all connecting and partnering with both internal and external stakeholders to problem-solve, whilst making sure that we as a team are in the position to constantly learn, self-assess and evolve together.

Through this modernised way of thinking and learning, we have already achieved great things for our patients; for example, collaborations have meant that countries such as Trinidad, a country that historically had no clinics or physicians to treat Huntington’s patients, now have access to resources that no only enables them to manage patients in their own country but have access to training and materials beyond country borders helping them better understand the disease and its impact on their community.

And through partnership between France and Canada, we were able to support the experimentation of repurposing existing equipment for scoliosis used in the 60s and tailor it to help children living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a physically debilitating disease).

Another example is that through our efforts, we have demonstrated that sometimes it’s the small gestures that can have a tidal wave of impact. By connecting previously isolated caregivers and families in the Middle East, we were able to spur a grass-roots SMA community, all connecting together and finding ways to help make a difference for their loved one or patients.

This partnership with Kickstart and Growpal is our latest way in which we’ve been collaborating with startups and entrepreneurs to find solutions that help to transform the lives of people living with rare conditions. It helps us work to ensure that we’re able to support them every step of the way — throughout their entire journey — and I am very excited about what’s to come.

What do you hope to gain from this collaboration with Kickstart and Growpal?

Our collaboration with Kickstart is a perfect example of the ways in which we can bring the outside in. The partnership will enable us to open the door to newfound networks that could generate potentially life-changing collaborations that will deliver better health outcomes for patients. We can’t wait to learn from innovators and join forces to scale-up ideas so that we can transform lives.

By guest author Ingeborg Gasser-Kriss, advisor at KICKSTART, owner and founder of Agent21.

I have often argued over the last few years that there is no better time than now for breakthrough innovation in FoodTech and AgriTech, due to the crisis of our food system, and the urgency attached to improving the negative impact of our diet on human and planetary health.

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the meaning of “crisis” and “urgency” to a whole new level.

On the one hand, the simple fact that food is on top of the list of critical goods has been highlighted dramatically. Citizens and consumers around the world — many of them for the first time in their lives! — have been inspired or forced to reflect what purchases they really need to make, and what goods or services they can do without if they have to, at least for a while. Food will never feature in the latter category. We need it for our survival, every day.

On the other hand, while our food system has not always been at the centre of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is irrefutable evidence that it is part of the problem — and certainly part of the solution. FoodNavigator on 22nd April 2020 informed that a poor diet and “ultra-processed foods” are a root cause behind increased mortality from COVID-19; that obesity was the biggest risk factor for death from COVID-19 in under 50 year old people who had contracted the virus, according to a new study from the US Centre for Disease Control based on 99 countries and 14 states from March. Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, was quoted as saying: “Obesity and poor diet is emerging as one of the biggest risk factors for a severe response to Covid-19 infection that can no longer be ignored.”

At the same time, factory farming and the way we raise, kill and eat animals are under increased scrutiny for providing the conditions under which a pandemic such as COVID-19 can come into being. The connection between animal welfare and food safety has been brought to the forefront of the discussion.

Novel threats to food security have also made headlines when social distancing measures and border lockdowns made it impossible for a human workforce to perform the harvest in the traditional way.

With long, complex global supply chains proving vulnerable, solutions that connect consumers directly with local food makers have become an even more attractive alternative.

Traditional retail has come to its limits too, with restrictions placed on the number of people in a supermarket at the same time, and the weakness of our last mile delivery systems exposed. What good is it having our warehouses full of (partly perishable) food when we cannot get it to the people?

The closure of restaurants has forced the acceleration of behaviors and business models that have long been growing: takeaway, delivery, meal kits and ready-to-cook solutions have seen an upsurge. New, better models will be needed to serve increased demand.

The list goes on. The need for reinvention — and the opportunity for reinvention — is bigger than ever as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. Entrepreneurs in FoodTech, AgriTech and RetailTech will play a critical role in shaping the “new normal” to be a healthier, safer, more resilient food system — and possibly a more humane one? And while we cannot yet anticipate the full extent of changes brought on by the COVID-19 disruption, several topics are emerging that will require bold new ideas and business models.

The photograph by Jessica Keller, Ringier

Entrepreneurs whose proven ideas address these innovation challenges could scale up quickly. KICKSTART Innovation in Zurich, with its specific Food & Retail Tech vertical, is now taking applications for its 2020 program.

KICKSTART has made it their mission to bridge the gap between startups, corporates, cities, foundations and universities to accelerate deep tech innovation. The model is to leverage a broad network of partners from the unique Swiss ecosystem: leading academia, governments and institutions, investors and foundations, and large corporates. The program centers on creating PoC partnerships and facilitate scaleup — and with partners like Migros and Coop on board, it has been a springboard to scale for many FoodTech startups in the past years.

A crisis, and the aftermath of a crisis, is a time for entrepreneurial courage and action. The elements of the gameboard are shifting, and those who sit back and wait for the pieces to fall into their new places will have to adapt to the outcome rather than be able to shape it.

It is also the time for entrepreneurial responsibility and commitment. Our food system is not going to rearrange itself into the future-proof, resilient, healthier and more humane “new normal” that we have been demanding so passionately. What is necessary and what is possible now converge in a unique moment in history, when brave startups and their future-savvy scaling partners can forge new alliances to make a difference.

By guest blogger Nico Bacharidis. Before founding, Nico has worked for Pfizer for over 13 years in various local, regional and global positions. He is an angel investor and board member of several start-ups. Nico is currently working with Roche and KICKSTART on a global project to find startups and partners that can help patients with SMA, Huntington’s disease and Neuromyelitis Optica.

Have you ever asked yourself how you can win a Nobel prize? You should invent something that is of great benefit to humanity and changes the current paradigm. Eating heaps of Swiss chocolate will help you achieve this. At least according to this very convincing and highly scientific table below.


Joking aside. We can probably all agree that in order to win a Nobel prize many factors must come into play. Starting with a strong know-how and innovation capacity, an environment that encourages the effort and the investment, as well as a strong support system that enables and facilitates it. All the above help to create something that is new, innovative and of value.

Creating something new, innovative and valuable is the holy grail for almost every big healthcare company. I am focusing on healthcare here as this is my area of expertise, but it also seems that big pharma is one of the industries that is struggling the most with the topics of digitalization and innovation. In BCG’s innovation report, there is only one pharma-company to be found in the Top 20 in 2019, despite the second highest spend in R&D per industry coming from the healthcare/pharma sector. There are many hints pointing into the direction that it is not R&D investment that primarily drives innovation, but culture and organization. In the current corporate environment, it has become more and more difficult to experiment, fail & learn, and innovate due to corporate policies, rules, and regulations as well as internal politics. In addition, the hierarchical organizational structures of big corporations prevent them from moving fast and flexibly. Plus, there can be a trade-off between what is right for the customer or the patient and what is right for the corporate P&L and the shareholders.

Many corporates are therefore looking into creating innovation hubs, autonomous satellite organizations with less restrictions, and a stronger focus to work on customer and patient needs as well as more freedom to collaborate and co-create with the ecosystem.

If you are thinking about your ideal spot for building your regional or global innovation hub — look no further. Switzerland might just be the right place for you!

I know. It is easy to claim that. So, let’s go through some of the key criteria for such an important corporate decision:


The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report from 2019/2020 validates my above assumption that Switzerland is a favorable environment for entrepreneurship. In fact, it ranks Switzerland as number one world-wide in their NECI-score. NECI stands for National Entrepreneurship Context Index and measures the ease of starting and developing a business in a country. To do so, it weighs and averages a range of critical factors such as commercial and professional infrastructure, research and development transfers, physical infrastructure, access to finances, taxes and bureaucracy (or the lack thereof).


As you can see in the Switzerland country profile from the GEM report, Switzerland significantly outperforms the GEM average in all areas, except the one of internal market dynamics.


According to the renowned IMD (Institute for Management Development) in their World Talent Ranking Report 2019, Switzerland ranks first place out of 63 countries. Amongst other things it measures the extent to which a country attracts local and foreign talent, as well as the quality of the skills and competencies that are already available in a country. There is reason to believe that Switzerland will continue to occupy some of the top spots also in the future as it ranks second in total public expenditure in education (per student) and first in effectiveness of its education systems, universities and management education. An important note to international companies is that it also had the highest score regarding ‘foreign highly skilled personnel are attracted to your countries business environment’. This is certainly due to the high quality of life as well as the high-income level.


In addition, and compared to many other countries, the labor market in Switzerland is quite flexible for example, in regard to hiring or dismissal processes or setting of salaries. This enables a more direct discussion between employees and employer and a much higher flexibility and adaptability to changes in the environment or organizational changes. Peter Kuhn, Partner with MME Legal | Tax | Compliance, explains that the Swiss labor market is characterized by liberal legislation and light-touch regulation. As a general rule, either party to the employment contract is free to give notice — with or without reason and irrespective of the employee’s age, subject to applicable contractual or statutory notice periods and subject to certain restrictions imposed on the employer (no termination during certain time periods, e.g. during employee’s pregnancy and 16 weeks following the birth or during employee’s performance of compulsory military or civil defense service). Furthermore, Swiss law provides that employees may elect works councils in enterprises with at least 50 employees. However, employee representation committees under Swiss law have far less powers than works councils in the EU. The main difference is that Swiss employee representative committees are not able to decide, force or prevent a decision and are limited to being informed, having their arguments heard and providing input.

In terms of legal frameworks Switzerland consistently ranks in the top positions, according to the Global Competitiveness Report from the WEF, including in the areas of property rights (2) and intellectual property protection (3) which is critical for an innovation organization.


Diversity within the workforce has become a priority for almost every global organization and a part of the global strategy as companies have realized that a diverse workforce can lead to a better understanding of customer needs, spark innovation and lead to new business opportunities. A critical observation and the insights made by a diverse workforce can become a competitive advantage and help develop more customer-centric solutions. As the search for talent has become more and more global as well, having a diverse talent pool and a culture that supports diversity is highly valued. Oxford Economics has compiled a Global Diversity Report in order to benchmark countries and industries including multiple factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, skills and education, disability, language etc. The report shows Switzerland overall ranking at number 6 globally and healthcare as one of the top sectors.

As the chart below shows, Switzerland as well as Norway, New Zealand and Iceland rank amongst the highest in competitiveness as well as in diversity. The graph also seems to underline that there is a strong correlation between diversity and competitiveness.


Talents need an environment where they can live up to the full extent of their potential, work efficiently and it is easy to get things done. That type of environment starts with the ‘basics’, which in fact very often are not that basic at all. I am referring to a good infrastructure, a stable political and economic environment as well as efficient bureaucracy. According to the Global Competitiveness Report from the WEF, Switzerland ranks at a very good fifth place in the global competition. The report takes into considerations factors such as infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, financial system, skills, health, and business dynamism. The report also ranks Switzerland in the top 3 in terms of innovation capability. The output or productivity for innovation, specifically for the pharmaceutical sector, can be measured in the numbers of pharmaceutical patents at the European Patent Office. As you can see in the table below from the European Patent office, Switzerland had almost twice as many patent applications per million inhabitants over the last year than Denmark, which comes in second on that list.

Information and Communications Technology

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure is critical for a fast and efficient way of doing business as the backbone for many new technologies or innovations such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, digital currencies or robotics just to name a few. According to the global connectivity Index Switzerland ranks 2nd worldwide behind the US and before Sweden. The GCI was created to analyze a broad spectrum of indicators for ICT Infrastructure and digital transformation to provide a comprehensive map of the global digital economy. It looks at 40 indicators such as ICT investment, legislations and patents as well as software developers or AI investment or data creation.

Culture & Support

Besides the very tangible criteria such as physical infrastructure, legal framework or education, there are also the more intangible but at least equally important factors such as attitude and culture of entrepreneurship.

According to the GEM report, Switzerland is amongst the highest countries of informal investments into startups and entrepreneurship and the 2nd highest in median amount invested. The most common relationships are either to invest in a close relative, or a friend or neighbor. This can be interpreted as having a high trust and appreciation for entrepreneurship and startups and a willingness to support them. Looking at the below graph from the Swiss Venture Capital Report 2020 the investments in Swiss startups have almost doubled from 2018 to 2019, especially in the areas of ICT and Biotech, which again shows the trust into entrepreneurship.


According to Stefan Widmer, CEO of PrimeTax: In a pan-European comparison, Switzerland still has very attractive tax rates. They generally range between 12% and 20% with some locations being even below that. In addition, special tax rates for patent-related income as well as super-deductions for R&D spending can drive down the corporate tax rates below 5% for certain types of income. But it is not only the tax rates but also the general tax climate which is very favorable in Switzerland. In most cantons, companies will find an open door at the local tax authorities to discuss their particular tax issues. Private letter rulings that are usually obtained from the tax authorities in a matter of a few weeks, can give companies certainty about their tax treatment and avoid lengthy discussions at the time of a tax audit or even costly tax litigation.

To sum it up: There are a lot of positive factors and aspects that support collaboration, innovation, productivity, and co-creation in Switzerland and to set up tent for an innovation hot spot. In all important areas such as entrepreneurship, talent, legislation, diversity, infrastructure, ICT, culture & support as well as taxes it ranks among the top spots in the global benchmark. Plus, you will benefit from the best chocolate in the world.By guest blogger Nico Bacharidis. Before founding, Nico has worked for Pfizer for over 13 years in various local, regional and global positions. He is an angel investor and board member of several start-ups. Nico is currently working with Roche and KICKSTART on a global project to find startups and partners that can help patients with SMA, Huntington’s disease and Neuromyelitis Optica.

In 2020 KICKSTART is stepping into its fifth year, when bringing a new batch of entrepreneurs to Switzerland and fostering ecosystem innovation. 

In the last four years, it has initiated more than 120 pilots and commercial projects between startups and established organizations from various industries. Through a collaboration with our research partner, ETH Zurich, we learned how collaboration between such different parties works. The research continued in 2019, and Dr. Jennifer SparrNora Varesco Kager and Prof. Dr. Gudela Grote brought us new insights regarding important success-factors for startup performance.

The photograph by Yusef Evans

The research group identified three key elements that have relevant influence on a startup’s achievements:

1 Psychological Ownership

The strong feeling of the team that the startup belongs to them (“this is OUR startup”) is a motivational force related to persistence in challenging times. The research shows that it is positively related to the startups’ performance indications with respect to overall performance compared to their competitors.

2 Team Learning

Startups shouldn’t underestimate the role of feedback seeking, since those early-stage startups who seek feedback more frequently on how to improve capabilities indicated a higher overall startup performance than did startups who seek it less frequently. Another important team learning resource is reflection.Specifically, joint reflection with collaboration partners can help to align expectations, contributing to successful collaborations.

3 Trust

Trust is considered as the foundation for customer satisfaction and we learned it is positively related to a higher frequency of feedback seeking from collaboration partners as well as to a higher rated customer satisfaction.

Based on the surveys conducted with our alumni startups and advisors, the research showed that according to their ratings, startups performed slightly better than their competitors did.

For more detailed research insights and learnings, please read the research report document. The research team of ETH Zurich will continue their work with the 2020 batch.

In this article, Dr. Angela Beckenbauer and Dr. Matthias Filser from the ZHAW School of Management and Law, together with Kathrin Hoesli, Head of Exploration at Swisscom, introduce some essentials of ecosystem innovation: trust, goal alignment (or at least goal transparency) and success measures.

This article by Angela Beckenbauer, Matthias Filser, and Kathrin Hoesli can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

What is Ecosystem Innovation?

Ecosystem innovation describes the collaboration of partners within a network with a common goal. This form of innovation differs from other types as the different value propositions of the partners (e.g. startups, companies, technology providers, etc.) have to be harmonized or a common goal has to be the focus of the collaboration.

An essential distinction between classical competitive strategy and ecosystem innovation strategy is the complexity of the value propositions. In the classical competitive innovation strategy, the differentiation is based on the value proposition from the supplier to the customer (e.g. a differentiating offer of a service provider for its end customers). In an ecosystem innovation strategy, the complexity is much higher: differentiation is achieved through a portfolio of value promises among each other and towards the customer. This means that actors must define common goals and benefits among themselves (such as synergy effects, reach, etc.) and for the end customer. In the ecosystem innovation strategy, the differentiation thus consists of the value propositions from actors to end customers and between ecosystem operator and actors.

Dimensions of Ecosystem Innovation Collaborations

The complexity of ecosystem innovation is not only intricate in regards to the value proposition, but also in many other aspects. It is therefore important to define and challenge the actors involved, their motive and motivation as well as the form and conditions of the collaboration from the very start. The actors should also define the level of participation and commitment, i.e. who contributes what until when? Likewise, it is advisable to discuss the duration of the collaboration in order to ensure that the actors’ expectations are met and resources are allocated and ensured. The common objectives should be defined and agreed with all actors as early as possible, a common platform for collaboration should be established and a steering committee should be formed.

In summary, it is advisable to specify an ecosystem innovation collaboration based on the following aspects and questions as discussed in Frow et al. (2015), Managing Cocreation Design: A Strategic Approach to Innovation:

Essentials for Ecosystem Innovation Collaborations

The most important prerequisite is trust. The basis for trust is an understanding of the involved parties, their collaboration conditions, their objectives as well as awareness and transparent communication of the individual agendas. If every partner agrees on the bigger picture and the directly relevant goals, the first step towards a solid foundation for the collaboration has been made. A clear process how to make decisions; the definition of goals, deliverables and deadlines: and pre-determined physical appointments with the team and the steering committee (to make key decisions when complications occur) are key to success. It is crucial that an established trust is cultivated by all actors and that open and trustful communication amongst the team members is nourished. If trust amongst the actors is broken, the collaboration is at risk.

Measuring Ecosystem Innovation Collaborations

Measuring the overall success of ecosystem innovation collaboration is always relative to individual perspectives and rather complicated. In general, measures need to be derived from the goals of the collaboration. Often these goals focus on market, business, product/process potentials which in consequence ensures that new opportunities can be evaluated according to their feasibility, impact and potential. When defining KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for ecosystem innovation collaborations, the key building blocks are summarized in the following paragraph.

The measurement of successful ecosystem innovation collaborations highly depends on the common goals and framework. However, if the definition of measures at an early stage can be realized, the common goals become crisper. For example, the financial aspects can be measured by defining planned revenues, margins and costs which are measured at a defined point in time and compared to the plan. For technology, the realized vs. the planned features or the quality of these features can be an indicator of technological maturity. Market figures can provide insights for the success in the market in terms of own acquisition power and success. The number of existing and new customers, as well as the long-term (revenue) potentials coming with the number of customers, can be used as an indicator to measure long-term success. Furthermore, the effects of the ecosystem collaboration shall lead to a knowledge expansion or knowledge build-up and may increase the relevant number of partners in the ecosystem. These are “soft indicators” which are usually difficult to measure but can be judged in a qualitative way. All in all, decisive for the measurement of successful ecosystem innovations is the early definition and measurement of projected figures for a defined point in time and eventually their achievement or deviation.

About the authors

Kathrin Hoesli is Head of Exploration at Swisscom. Before this, she was Head of Growth Areas and Experience Marketing Manager ICT. Kathrin has a master’s degree from Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi and from University of St. Gallen.

Angela Beckenbauer is Head of the Center for Business Innovation at the Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
at the ZHAW School of Management and Law. She researches and teaches in the areas of business model innovation, innovation strategy and corporate innovation management as well as strategic and technology foresight. Before her role at the ZHAW, she has been Head of Innovation at Hilti.

Dr. Matthias Filser is Head of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the ZHAW School of Management and Law. He researches and teaches in the areas of strategic entrepreneurship, family business, and innovation. His work has been published widely in leading academic and professional journals such as the British Journal of Management, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Product Innovation Management and Journal of Small Business Management. Matthias Filser is an entrepreneur, startup investor and expert in business model development and business acceleration.

What is ecosystem innovation? And what’s the difference between “open innovation” and “ecosystem innovation”? In this interview, Prof. Oliver Gassmann from University of St. Gallen, answers questions by Christoph Birkholz, Co-Founder Impact Hub Zurich and Kickstart Co-Lead, in order to illustrate the concept of ecosystem innovation, that lies at the heart of Kickstart.

This interview can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

Christoph Birkholz: Prof. Gassmann, what is ecosystem innovation?

Prof. Oliver Gassmann: An ecosystem consists of a configuration of partners which formed alliances along a customer journey in order to deliver superior or radically new value propositions. Typically the partners bring modular products or services with complementary assets and competencies into the game. Ecosystems bridge today’s industry borders. Ecosystem innovations are new configurations of these multi-lateral alliances.

Why is ecosystem innovation important today and in the future?

Let me answer by two perspectives: first, from a technology standpoint, then from a market view.

(1) Due to the technological trends in digitalization, we can observe four effects: dramatically reduced transaction costs, ubiquitous computing and connected products, immense increase of data, and immense improved algorithms. Lower costs, connectivity and intelligence made it possible that superior value propositions have been created by alliances. Now, this is only technology which enables ecosystems.

(2) The real pull for ecosystems comes from customer behaviour: customers are no longer willing to accept fragmented deliveries and high personal transaction costs. The point of sales has been shifted, customer journeys such as home, mobility, travelling, finance embrace more and more value chain activities.

How has ecosystem innovation developed in the past 10-15 years?

Ecosystems have been always around. But due to digitalization, they became more efficient and effective. Data and connectivity are huge drivers for many ecosystems. Most successful ecosystems develop sooner or later towards clear platforms where a dominant player sets the rules of the game. Amazon, which has already between 42 and 49 % of the whole eCommerce business in Europe, is a typical example. The complementary players have been marginalized, while the platform becomes more and more dominant.

Which trends or key topics do you see emerging with regards to ecosystem innovation?

It becomes more important to build emotional ties to the customer and to become more relevant for the customer journey. The set up in ecosystems offers great opportunities for partners to specialize. At the same time, specialization in most industries drives the need towards partnerships with complementary companies.

Which players or concrete cases have you seen with regards to successful ecosystem innovation?

One of the best players is Amazon, but Google is also building up ecosystems. All automotive players want to build up ecosystems in order to stay competitive when more and more value is created with connectivity and data-based services

What are the do’s and don’ts for an organization that wants to successfully activate ecosystem innovation

Companies will need strong capabilities in partnering, not just in production and marketing but also in the core of differentiation: innovation will be done more collaboratively. We observed the trend towards open innovation now for nearly 20 years, there is progress there, but most companies still have huge potential to open their innovation up to the outside world.
In future, it will be more difficult to distinguish between competitors and opportunities. Without partnering it will become more difficult to survive. It makes also sense to build up more technological capabilities on all levels in companies, up to the management board. It is all about the business model around the data, how to translate relevant data into a valuable business model. That stays important in ecosystems. On a metalevel, companies need to learn how to balance their interests and relationships. Stakeholder management, which is known for many years, becomes a new and more important role.

Which role, if any, do startups play?

Startups are underestimated in complementing ecosystems. Often startups are built around a knot of the ecosystem in order to be a neutral place for
mature companies to cooperate.

About Prof. Oliver Gassmann
Oliver Gassmann is Professor of Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen and Director of the Institute of Technology Management. After completing his PhD in 1996, he was leading research and advanced development at Schindler Corporation. Gassmann published in leading journals such as Research Policy, R&D Management, International Journal of Technology Management, Journal of World Business, European Management Journal and more. At the core of his research is the pervading question of how companies innovate and profit from innovation. Thus, he is dedicated to discovering new approaches to the management of technology and innovation that contribute to firms’ competitive advantage.

To survive in the digital, fast-changing and often disruptive environment, companies need to acquire new skills and new working practices. They need to innovate constantly, and it is vital that they understand the new driving parameters of innovation and how to achieve them effectively. CEOs will play a leading role in this process: they have to define their company’s strategic positioning, and it is up to them to own the innovation process and to decide what cooperation and partnerships to forge.

This article by Holger Greif, Peter Kasahara and Christoph Birkholz can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

There is no doubt about it: innovation is both an external and an internal process. New business ecosystems are evolving rapidly, around the globe and across industries, thereby pushing the boundaries of traditional sectors and value chains. Amazon, Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Ping An, Rakuten Ichiba and Tencent are well-known ecosystems, some of these companies being the biggest animal in their respective habitat. digitalswitzerland, with its network of incumbents and startups driving Switzerland’s digitalisation, is an ecosystem on its own and blurs the traditional borders of an association and an ecosystem. Ecosystems involve multiple stakeholders such as incumbents, startups, infrastructure providers, collaboration platforms and communities, incubators and accelerators, but also capital providers and regulators – and ultimately customers. The boundaries of an ecosystem are fluid and new participants are replacing old ones on a regular basis.

Ecosystems are defined by the interplay of their members, the dynamics of their infrastructure and how they embrace new technologies – with a special focus on insights, trust and resilience as well as providing access to value for the customer. These goals are only feasible by combining various value chains and/or online and offline experiences. Ecosystems inherently cannot be controlled. However, CEOs can have a driving force and generate structures and processes that enable ecosystem innovation.

Ecosystems drive ever shorter innovation cycles, based on the interaction with competitors, partners and customers. In many situations, the ecosystem itself is the only opportunity to customise products, based on data from various providers. What would an entertainment streaming platform be without insights into preferences and personalised content? A company that wants to thrive in the future will undoubtedly have to implant ecosystem innovation in its DNA. We understand ecosystem innovation as a process that takes place within a network of related stakeholders. What are the key requirements for ecosystem innovation, what skills are needed, what organisational processes and structures have to be set up? How can CEOs lead their organisation and their teams to actually live ecosystem innovation?

Over 50 CEOs and executives met the startups at the Kickstart CEO Dinner 2019.
(Photo: Andrea Brunner, Ringier)

1 Why you should focus on ecosystem innovation

Innovation is driven by two main factors: changing customer needs and demands and the availability of talent. In the future, these two drivers can only be captured by ecosystem innovation.

1.1 Your customers are in the driving seat

Previously, markets and market conditions were determined and dominated by large players, the market leaders. Market-access costs were high, in some industries extortionate. New participants were struggling to enter the market place, and if they managed to do so, it took them years to gain the smallest of market shares. Today’s exponential development of disruptive technologies changed customer expectations, and new platforms are turning market dynamics upside down. In some industries, new players may enter the market in no time and rapidly leave often inflexible incumbents behind. Technologies and platforms drive competition and lend new impulses to innovation, accelerated by new market players. If large players with often rigid organisational structures want to react to changing customers’ requirements in a timely manner, they need to set up fast and agile structures and processes as well as interact with startups, intra-teams and tech companies. In other words, they need to nurse an effective ecosystem.

Digital transformation is all about customers; however, their needs and requirements are changing fast. Their interactions with other customers and suppliers on a broad array of communication media and the emergence of new trends and beliefs in communities inevitably lead to a perpetual transformation of these requirements. Customers demand seamless services and experiences from whoever can provide them. They have countless touchpoints with many players, the times of bi-directional relationships between a company and its customers are gone. Customers move in an ecosystem with various interlinked actors – if they buy a
product online, not only the supplier but also the payment
service provider and the customer’s bank are involved.

Customers demand tailored offerings and services:

Their benchmark is not your company’s service. They expect from your company the same or better performance than the most satisfying performance they have experienced from any other company. Such companies must not necessarily be competitors or even be in your line of work or products. It is their performance to meet the customers’ needs that counts and the satisfaction your customers got out of it.

Customers are well connected, their networks are extensive, there are no boundaries, they are always one step ahead and represent an ecosystem of its own. To keep up with their requirements – or ideally be able to anticipate them – a company should adopt a broader perspective and venture into the ecosystem.

1.2 The battle for talent

Talent is key for innovation. However, talents are becoming less loyal to one single company. In the rat race for the workforce of the future, new skillsets apply and the requirements are changing in the blink of an eye. Skilled talents are strongly sought after by competitors and startups. A company has to be able to pinpoint the talents that are available in-house and identify those employees that will have to be recruited externally. It has to closely watch demographic change and the permanent need for upscaling. It has to enable lifelong learning and upskilling. To attract and retain the necessary talents, new life and work plans, as well as an innovation-friendly work environment, must be on offer; monetary compensation is only one of many incentives. The employees of the future are not looking for a job for life, they want flexible work models and are seeking freelance opportunities.

However, even the largest innovation leaders such as Google or Amazon might not be able to attract and have all the talents and resources they need to maintain their edge in-house. To gain access to new systems and technologies, they enter partnerships or – more often than not – simply acquire promising competitors and startups.

CEOs have to lead ecosystem innovation by inspiring their teams to look beyond the internal organisation. They have to push and incentivize the active curating of the relevant innovation ecosystems so that their teams become experienced ecosystem innovators and are able to decide which steps need to be taken in-house, what should be addressed in the ecosystem – and what strategic partnerships on all levels of the value chain should perhaps be considered. To enable ecosystem innovation, it is crucial to think in terms of the ecosystem.

From (technical) platform to marketplace to ecosystem. This is what an ecosystem looks and feels like – and yes, it is difficult to navigate safely.

2 How to foster ecosystem innovation

To foster and practice ecosystem innovation, CEOsfirst and foremost have to reach a deep understanding of their future ecosystem and the role they want to play in it. They also have to choose the intensity of their engagement in the respective role. With regards to leadership, new approaches are needed. As you cannot control the ecosystem, a controlling style of leadership is most likely not the right one. Agile work models and trust in the teams are both a challenge and an opportunity for your organisation.

2.1 Define the way you act in the ecosystem

The three fundamental roles of companies in any ecosystem are:

  1. participator
  2. orchestrator
  3. supplier

Participators join an ecosystem by contributing and offering their own products and services to the end customer.

Orchestrators take an active role in influencing the ecosystem. They build platforms and marketplaces that are open to third-party product and service providers, they integrate third party offerings and manage the interactions between the ecosystem participants. Orchestrators are often the owners of the platform technology, and they fuel the ecosystem in parallel. However, an ecosystem is much more than a technology platform. It is not only the marketplace where customers purchase services such as Uber rides, but it is also a system of many different organisations and individuals interacting with each other in co-opetition – sometimes competing, sometimes supporting each other, sometimes both
at the same time.

Suppliers take a prominent role and offer their services to parties engaged within the ecosystem, thereby enabling new, innovative business models (B2B, B2B2C). With respect to the definition of the role of an orchestrator, however, it is pivotal to understand that an ecosystem does not have a central actor that orchestrates and controls the system. The ecosystem itself is “centric” in the sense that different actors co-exist and nurture each other within the system. Yet, a company can engage in influencing the ecosystem and take a leading role in it. Keep in mind that to describe a complex, multi-faceted, interactive and dynamic business environment, the term ecosystem was borrowed from nature – where there are no central or core orchestrators but actors that both compete and depend on each other.

2.2 Innovating equals co-operating

In other words, what role does a CEO want to play? In order to determine the company’s strategic alignment, CEOs take stock of their in-house resources, analyse key partnerships, the community, competitors, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders; they identify the key players of the ecosystem and the companies capable of disruption, and understand the specific sources that drive innovation in the ecosystem. CEOs must consider whether the big incumbents – competitors, tech players and other third parties – have an interest to fill gaps in the ecosystem or not. If they do so, the company must evaluate if it might not make more sense to be a participator at a big platform or an orchestrator or supplier in a niche market. As companies can no longer offer everything end-to-end, they have to gradually find and establish their new role in the ecosystem. This gives rise to strategic questions with respect to how CEOs can open up their company and allow third-party innovation.

Ecosystems by definition build on partnerships. No partnerships, no ecosystem. The strategic goal a company wants to achieve by means of a partnership – such as an improved product offering or gaining access to partner technologies or networks – defines its structure. The structures may range from referrals and white-label usage to process outsourcing and product development to collaboration and integration.

2.3 Mindset and structures are key

Ecosystem innovation is a mindset and breaks the boundaries of closed innovation. To unleash ecosystem innovation, which happens bottom-up, it must be supported from the top. A specific mindset and innovation fostering structures have to be installed. From silo-thinking to cross-divisional teams. From in-house to the ecosystem. From external partnerships to outsourcing and M&As. Questions such as “How much freedom in decision-making is granted to any team member?” and “How do we pull idea generation, experimenting, piloting and execution of new projects inside our company?” all have to be answered. At the same time, revenue expectations and a corresponding time frame will have to be discussed. To introduce the mindset and culture that enable true innovation, CEOs should make sure that the people involved in the process of ecosystem innovation are granted autonomy.

The respective teams must be encouraged to reach out and take an outsider’s perspective – even if this collides with traditional company views and values. Offering new working models will attract and retain the best talents. In hiring and developing talent, diverse backgrounds and perspectives should be taken into account. CEOs and their innovation workforce can seek external input through learning journeys, cross-sectoral dialogues, customer quests and the participation in ecosystem innovation programmes. Structured programmes and processes as well as venturing programmes, help to implement the culture of ecosystem innovation in your company.

Andreas Staubli, CEO PwC Switzerland, at the Kickstart Closing Ceremony 2019
(Photo: Thomas Meier, Ringier)

Last but not least, all decisions should be taken from a long-term perspective – but with a clear short-term action and outcome orientation. Innovation in general and ecosystem innovation in particular, should not be subject to short-term pressures and hasty bottom-line considerations. Rather think of intermediate goals and KPIs with regard to the ecosystem innovation process.

As your company’s CEO, you are the person who drives an innovative environment by enabling and participating in your ecosystem’s innovation activities. Learn from those who understand new technologies. Reverse coaching is the name of the game. Get all the resources and technologies you can. Make sure that your company runs smoothly today. But you also have to set the course that will bring success tomorrow, be aware of that. Ecosystem innovation will help you achieve these goals.

About the authors

Dr. Holger Greif is the responsible Partner for PwC’s commitment in digitalswitzerland and Kickstart. He is also a board member of the Zurich-based F10 FinTech Incubator and Accelerator for startups. Besides his PhD in physics, Holger has more than twenty years of consulting experience. In his current role, he launched PwC’s Experience Center in Zurich, where he co-creates and implements new approaches with clients to seize the opportunities of digitalisation. Holger’s philosophy is based on trust, honesty and authenticity, helping the clients to think in new dimensions and focusing on their customers and staff. The objective is an impactful, value-adding transformation based on an understanding of what digitalisation really is all about – which is more than just applying new technologies, but building trust in unfamiliar approaches, structures and ecosystems.

Peter Kasahara is the Managing Partner of PwC Digital and Customer Transformation and a digital “Jedi” from tip to toe. Peter and his team are supporting clients across all industries in their digital transformation and re-imagination having a strong focus on creating trust in a digitised world. Peter became a trusted advisor and challenger for many large national and multi-national companies and organisations from strategy and innovation to transformation and execution. Peter holds an MBA from St. Gallen University in Switzerland, is a proud graduate from Yale School of Management and alumnus of IMD Business School in Lausanne.

Global markets and technological developments lead to the loss of monopolies and fiercer competition; radically new products, services and business models threaten the established ones – clearly, these are tough times for many organizations, not only in Switzerland. However, tough times also come with new opportunities. Organizations have begun to realize that to keep up with these developments and to strengthen the Swiss marketplace, they need to work together.

This article by Jennifer L. Sparr, Nora Varesco Kager and Gudela Grote can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

By collaborating with external partners, they can create value that no single organization could create alone. Therefore, many of the larger organizations in Switzerland have started to open up to external collaborations and to engage in ecosystems for innovation. Today, these organizations are somewhere on their way from traditional, closed innovation settings (innovating within the company with limited exchange with the external world, “not invented here” syndrome) and open innovation (working together in defined projects with customers, suppliers, and universities to innovate within the core technology domains), towards ecosystem innovation (innovating together in multiple forms with multiple externals in both core and new technology domains and new business models). This transition requires profound changes in the way organizations work within and beyond their boundaries. An organization’s preferred and enacted styles of collaboration are deeply rooted in the values and assumptions of its identity and culture. Culture change is key to the success of engaging in ecosystem innovation.

The nature of collaboration in the transition from closed to open and ecosystem innovation

In the transition from closed to open and ecosystem innovation, the nature of collaboration for innovation within and across organizations changes tremendously. In closed innovation, the collaboration mainly relies on single formal units within the company that collect outside information to explore and exploit within their given domain. The predominant mindset in this type of innovation is “we can do it all alone” and the famously coined “not invented here syndrome”, which prevents collaborations with external parties since usually, companies in that stage are very protective of their own knowledge.

Going beyond that, in open innovation, the formal innovation units open up to exchange with external parties, including competitors, suppliers, universities and startups. They recognize the necessity to both share their knowledge as well as to receive outside knowledge, and to combine their efforts to both innovate within their given domain and to explore new options in new domains. At this stage, the exchange is still mostly restricted to designated innovation units within the organization. There are the “innovation people” who handle the exchange with the outside world, while others continue to focus on the core business. Ecosystem innovation goes beyond open innovation.

An ecosystem allows companies to create value in ways that no single firm could manage on their own; the ecosystem includes the consideration of challenges that different actors need to overcome to make sure that value is created in the first place. This value is created through interactions, cooperatively and competitively, across industries and countries. To do so, the organizations start to organize and allow for both formalized exchange with externals through the designated innovation units, as well as more informal activities by multiple units and individuals, which enable a more dynamic approach to innovation, thus moving beyond traditional areas and technologies. Innovation becomes a constant buzz in the organization rather than a shielded activity in a separate part of the organization.

The organizational culture challenge

With these changes, it is more important than ever for companies to build an organizational culture that not only values and supports innovation and change, but that is open to collaboration and being part of an ecosystem that expands well beyond the company’s boundaries. Organizational culture is about “the way we do things around here”, which is an expression of the shared values and assumptions of the people in an organization. It is based on the organization members’ collective identity, that is the understanding of “who we are” and “what we do”. To support ecosystem innovation, assumptions and mindsets of employees need to open up from “not invented here” to “creating value as part of an ecosystem”.

Kickstart Closing Ceremony 2019 (by Thomas Meier)

Successful ecosystems rely on a common vision, strategy and identity that allows them to pull together. To engage in ecosystem innovation, organizations and their members are required to identify with the ecosystem. However, at the same time, organizations need to maintain their distinctive identity. Therefore, in the transition to ecosystem innovation, organizations need to learn how to keep the balance between keeping their distinctiveness as an organization while identifying as part of the innovation ecosystem. In the following, we elaborate on how developing a culture that allows for both will help organizations deal with the uncertainties involved in the collaborations within the ecosystem.

Changing the organizational culture is not an easy or quick endeavour, as the following quotes from our 2018 interviews with Kickstart partner-organizations illustrate. One of the gatekeepers explained:

“… this is a question of culture, organizational culture, which we need to address now. This means that our departments need to learn how to deal with such outside innovations, how to cooperate with a startup; this includes totally different time horizons, planning processes and communication needs compared to now where everything is much more complicated and fixed. This means culture change…”

How to develop a culture that supports ecosystem innovation (while remaining distinctive)? How can organizations develop their culture to be part of and support ecosystem innovation while keeping their distinctiveness? To answer this question, we need to have a closer look at the main influencing factors for organizational culture. These are the company’s strategy, structures and interactions, including leadership and collaboration within the organization. Within those factors, we can find answers to the question of how to build a culture for ecosystem innovation.

Vision, Mission, and Strategy

The company’s strategy is built on the company’s mission, which formally defines the organization’s reason for being. The vision, which defines the overall aspirations of a company in the mid- to long term. Companies can use their mission and vision as a powerful tool of both define their purpose large enough and relevant enough to fuel the need for the joint effort of ecosystem innovation, but specific enough to keep their distinctiveness amongst their competitors.

Consider, for example, a Swiss pharma company. An inspiring mission that clearly can benefit from ecosystem innovation (and therefore is not very distinctive) would be “to continuously improve the health and life of people in Switzerland and the world”. Combined with the vision for the company, for example, “taking the lead in developing new pharmaceuticals to cure the top three widespread diseases” (which is distinctive since it claims the lead but remains inviting for ecosystem innovation), they can both open up to the ecosystem while staying distinctive at the same time. The means to achieve the vision while serving the company’s mission, of course, need to carefully be specified in the strategy, which defines the company’s goals and metrics and identifies the ecosystem that can help to realize these goals while also defining measures on how to ensure the position of the organization. Organizations are well-advised to ask themselves the following questions:

Structures and processes

In the past decades, the strategic focus of many organizations has been strongly on quality and efficiency. They have built their structures and processes based on lean principles, which over time have shaped their collective mindset and actions. Ecosystem innovation requires organizations to open up their neat structures and processes, allowing for more flexibility and spontaneity. Therefore, many organizations currently try to reorganize themselves to become more agile and dynamic. However, to be both innovative and profitable, organizations need to develop structures that help them to be both – efficient and agile at the same time. This has been called a shift from static to dynamic efficiency. For example, cross-functional teams have helped organizations to become more flexible while keeping the given structures for the core business. Other, more radical structural changes, for example as in holacracy, promise more agility while often relying on quite rigid rules.

Structures and processes affect the organization’s culture because they shape the individuals’ identity within the organization (e.g., being part of a specific division, team or process) and, importantly, they provide the vessel for collaboration within the organization and across the organization’s borders. For ecosystem innovation, structures and processes need to allow for and facilitate the collaborations with the ecosystem while at the same time provide the boundaries that protect the organization’s distinctiveness. In the delicate task of adapting their structures and processes to facilitate ecosystem innovation, organizations can use this as the guiding question, together with refining questions such as:

The third factor that significantly influences the organizational culture is the interactions within the organization. Two aspects are especially relevant, namely leadership and networks. As in every major change in organizations, the support from the (top) management is crucial.

Only if an organization’s management believes in and supports ecosystem innovation, and as a consequence, is a role model for engaging in ecosystem innovation and showing how to integrate the cooperation with external parties with the organizations’ distinct interests, will employees adopt this mindset and behaviour, too. Further, management support makes it safe to engage in innovation activities. Our Kickstart interview partners from 2018 support this insight. For example, one of them remarked on partnerships with startups: “We really need that push from the top.” Clearly, top managers have an important role in communicating the importance of joint value creation and making courageous decisions that allow for synergies while preserving the organization’s interests. They need to role model how to reach out to others and become part of the ecosystem that drives change while staying true to the values of the company. They are required to lead and support innovation while allowing others the space and discretion to innovate within and across the organization’s border.

Opening up for ecosystem innovation means for organizations both formal and more informal connections and exchange with external parties. To orchestrate these efforts, informal networks within the organization become more important. For example, one of our interview partners explained why he was chosen as a gatekeeper for the Kickstart program:

“…because I have been with [the company] for a long time now and know many processes, many internal stakeholders so that I probably can quickly get an overview and open doors.”

Another one highlighted the importance of networks within the company:

“… it is a challenge to know the right people, it is also important to meet quickly with people who have a big network themselves, so that you can say – hey, I need something for this or that topic, do you know where this has been worked on, did you ever do anything related.”

There are many ways in which network building can be facilitated in organizations. Within the organization, for example, interdisciplinary teams, co-working spaces and mentoring programs (including reverse mentoring) help to create and sustain networks. To connect with the ecosystem and to facilitate network building within the ecosystem, programs like Kickstart, multi-stakeholder groups like digitalswitzerland and platforms like One Young World – and these are only a few examples – offer great opportunities.

Organizations that prepare to engage in ecosystem innovation while keeping their distinctiveness will need to answer the following questions:


To build an organizational culture that supports ecosystem innovation means to develop a complex organizational identity that values being part of the ecosystem while being distinctive from other organizations. Organization members need to learn how to live in both worlds, how to contribute to the success of their company while joining forces within the ecosystem to allow for purpose-driven innovation. They will need to learn how to find comfort in being curious while relying on the certain, being willing to experiment while keeping the order, and being ready to share while protecting their assets.

About the authors

Jennifer L. Sparr is a senior researcher at the Work and
Organizational Psychology Chair in the Department of
Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC) at ETH
Zürich, Switzerland. She received her PhD in Work and
Organizational Psychology from the University of Konstanz, Germany. She combines her experience in management consulting with her passion for research on leadership, team collaboration and organizational culture in complex, dynamic and innovative work environments. In collaboration with
Kickstart, she investigates success factors in the collaboration between startups and large organizations with regard to turning tensions and uncertainty into positive outcomes.

Gudela Grote is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at the Department of Management, Technology,
and Economics (D-MTEC) at ETH Zürich, Switzerland. She received her PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA. A special interest in her research is the increased flexibility and virtuality of work and the consequences for the individual and organizational management of uncertainty. Prof. Grote has been president of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology and Head of D-MTEC.

Nora Varesco Kager is a PhD student at the Work and Organizational Psychology Chair in the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC) at ETH Zürich, Switzerland. After completing her MSc in psychology, she gained work experience in the private sector in Switzerland. In particular, she helped to develop an application to sensitize leaders and employees on the negative consequences of presenteeism in organizations. With her research interests in psychological ownership, learning and uncertainty in innovative, entrepreneurial work environments, she investigates how individuals and teams engage
in and affect their entrepreneurial venture.

In a world where more and more businesses are committing to building a more sustainable future, the next crucial step is going from talk to action. That’s why Kickstart has entered into a collaboration with South Pole, a leading provider of global sustainability financing solutions and services, aiming to make our events climate neutral.

South Pole is working with businesses and governments across the globe in order to help them realise deep decarbonisation pathways. Also Kickstart has chosen this path in order to take meaningful climate action.

What is climate neutrality?

Climate neutrality has been an established concept since the beginning of this century, and the phrase “carbon neutral” was word of the year in 2006. It combines an organisation’s need to account for their carbon footprint and establish a clear reduction strategy, before offsetting unavoidable emissions. The purpose is to reduce net climate impact to zero – which is why recently the term “net zero” is becoming increasingly popular.

How does it work for the Kickstart?

By working together with South Pole, we firstly quantify all data that relates to the carbon footprint of the event, from planning and marketing to its execution. This includes emissions from transport and accommodation for both organisers and attendees but also energy and food consumption. We then realise a reduction strategy by powering the event with 100% renewable energy. By compensating the unavoidable emissions with high quality emission reduction projects under internationally recognised standards, we not only ensure that the emissions created by our event are compensated, but that positive impacts contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals are continually supported in developing countries: By investing in projects like the Kariba forest protection project in Zimbabwe, for example, Kickstart is saving forests, protecting wildlife and helping to create skilled job opportunities within the local community. Kickstart is also supporting the Yangcun, Run-of-River Hydropower project, which generates affordable clean energy in rural China and creates permanent job opportunities that advance the local economy.

The Kariba project in Zimbabwe aims at saving forests, protecting wildlife and helping to create skilled job opportunities within the local community. (Photo by South Pole)

The South Pole climate neutrality labels are closely aligned with international standards such as PAS 2060 – the leading international standard for demonstrating carbon neutrality, developed in 2014 by the British Standards Institution (BSi). The underlying greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting must follow recognised international standards such as the GHG Protocol or ISO 14064-1.

In summer 2018, the Danish startup WriteReader joined Kickstart as one of the selected EdTech companies. WriteReader’s learning solution supports children in reading and writing by making kids authors of their own digital books. One year later, WriteReader has established three successful partnerships in Switzerland with the education ministry, a premier football club, and a software education company. Here is Babar Baig, CEO and Co-Founder of WriteReader, sharing his Kickstart story: 

This article can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

Having been part of several startup accelerator programs previously, we at WriteReader weren’t sure if joining another program would be the right priority for us. We already had a globally working proof-of-concept. Yet, we were convinced by the fact that the Kickstart program is truly partnership-based – the partners, comprising universities, foundations, corporations and other leading Swiss institutions, had a big say when it came to the selection of startups for the program. As a startup, it is a dream scenario to come to a place where several potential partners are present and have already shown interest in your company.

365 days, 3 Partnerships closed across three sectors

It’s been a year since we joined Kickstart. Today, we have three running partnerships in Switzerland. We kept our pipeline broad, yet initially focused on getting a pilot running to validate our learning solution in the Swiss school system.

During the Kickstart program, we were able to launch a pilot project with Swiss primary schools, greatly supported by two leading Swiss foundations, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and Jacobs Foundation, as well as Dybuster, a Swiss EdTech Company. As a foreign company, for WriteReader it would have been impossible to bring such diverse local partners together.  

Our initial pilot partner, Dybuster was key to understanding the school landscape in Switzerland. Eventually, WriteReader became a good fit to expand Dybuster’s product portfolio from helping children with dyslexia to general and creative literacy support for children. We are very happy to see that Swiss schools are now able to use our German version “Schreiblabor”

Through the “Kickstart Partner Safari” which was part of the Kickstart selection process, we met with the Canton of Zurich, that showed interest in exploring how our learning tool built for children would be applicable for basic competency education for adults. Through multiple interactions, we succeeded in agreeing on a 3-year digital flagship agreement for the Government’s e-Lounge, a new basic competency initiative “Lernstuben”

Our Kickstart advisor, a seasoned Swiss entrepreneur, was a crucial part as well. He introduced WriteReader to the Swiss football club Young Boys Bern. We saw an opportunity emerging to enable sports clubs to use WriteReader as a “Fan Engagement” solution. Today, WriteReader is thrilled to see Young Boys fans create and share their own digital fan books while learning to read and write at the same time!

A Danish success story in Switzerland: Babar Baig with Daniel Marti, Head of Marketing at Young Boys Bern.

Useful tips for future Kickstart startups

Tip No. 1:

Keep your focus throughout the program. We had a razor-sharp focus ion the initial pilot. We realized that the basis of potential future partnerships would be dependent on a successful pilot with Swiss schools. Even though we had plenty of proof before, the pilot played out to be an important local signal of the quality of our solution. Time is limited and there is so much to do. So prioritization is key. 

Tip No. 2:

Don’t expect things will happen in a few months (it might happen and that would be great) but keep in mind that it’s the long-term commitment of your time that eventually pays off. I have come back to Switzerland 4-6 times after the program and steadily followed up with the contacts initiated through the program. We had a broad pipeline and received several refusals, but the key was to keep pushing gently and to leverage the great network provided by the Kickstart program over time.

About the author:

Babar has over 10 years of experience in operational and strategic marketing. He has previously worked with Danish telecom, TDC and The Society of Danish Engineers. In 2012, Babar co-founded WriteReader enabling children to learn through creation. WriteReader is a scientifically based learning platform that accelerates children’s learning through their own interests. 

Only a few years ago, there wasn’t much of a FoodTech and AgriTech ecosystem to be found in Switzerland. This is changing now – and at an impressive pace, as this article by Ingeborg Gasser-Kriss and Christina Senn-Jakobsen shows.

This article can be found in our book “Ecosystem Innovation”. Free download here.

Until recently, efforts to create a thriving startup culture and a supporting network were focused on HealthTech, FinTech and EdTech, as well as foundational DeepTech like Blockchain, Sensors, Robotics and AI. On the one hand, this seems natural: Switzerland is known as a world leader in banking, pharma, science and engineering – but despite its well-deserved reputation for cheese and chocolate, it does not rank quite as high on the list of culinary innovation nations as, for example, France, Spain or Belgium. So it may not be surprising that France, with its proud culinary tradition, already had a flourishing Food Vertical in Station F in Paris; and that Israel, with its startup nation spirit and dependence on agriculture, had a thriving FoodTech hub in The Kitchen; while Switzerland seemed to focus elsewhere.

On the other hand, when we investigate the success factors required for a country to be an innovation leader in FoodTech, we find that Switzerland ticks all the boxes except one:

  1. A strong agricultural foundation
  2. World-leading research, science and technology in FoodTech
  3. Support from the government and institutions for the sector
  4. Investors, family offices and foundations willing to venture
  5. Food entrepreneurialism imprinted in its cultural DNA
  6. A population hungry to improve their living circumstances

Few will argue with Switzerland’s high scores on success factors 1-4. When it comes to factor 5, food entrepreneurialism may not be the first thing to meet the eye of the observer, but a quick look back in time reveals an impressive history of Swiss food system founders. Gottlieb Duttweiler, Ueli Prager, Theodor Tobler, Else Züblin-Spiller, as well as immigrants like Henri Nestlé, Philippe Suchard and Julius Maggi – and many more – were driven by the desire to solve a problem of society, which would benefit everyone – including themselves. New, better food and new business models emerged and had a lasting impact.

Success factor 6 – also known as “the fire in the belly” – has often been quoted as the critical lacking ingredient in the Swiss innovation ecosystem. But more recently, especially when it comes to Food and AgriTech, the place of that fire has been filled by an even greater urgency: the global crisis of human health and the health of our planet.

Food and Agriculture Innovation will play an immense role in averting both crises.

In the biggest-ever food production analysis, led by Oxford University researcher Joseph Poore, published 2018, Poore states that: “…diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification [and] eutrophication [of the oceans], land use, and water use [….]. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car. Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems.” Needless to state that the single biggest and fastest impact to be made on human health is also through food.

“Diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth”

Joseph Poore

When it comes to food and agriculture, then, the “innovate or die” paradigm loses its twinkle in the eye.

In the face of such a challenge, it is uplifting to see a FoodTech ecosystem in Switzerland emerge at an impressive pace. The Founder Institute has set up a Chapter in Zurich focused on Food, and seen passionate people joining the program to unleash their ideas and set up a business. Entrepreneurs share insights in meet-ups organized by FoodHack and Crowdfoods. ETH Zürich, EPFL and HSG have entrepreneurship on the curriculum and run multiple Food startup programs such as ‘HSG FoodTech Lab’. Industry partners such as Coop, Migros, Givaudan, Ricolab, Nestlé, Bühler, Barry Callebaut – and even some non-Swiss global players like Coca-Cola and Mondelez – engage in the Swiss ecosystem through partnerships with Kickstart Innovation in Zurich and/or MassChallenge in Lausanne. The governments are creating manifestos to support this growth and slowly, (but steadily and increasingly), investors, family offices and foundations are opening up the doors to their board rooms …

In typical tried and tested Swiss fashion, many of these initiatives are growing from the ground up, driven by a single company, university, VC fund or canton, rather than being cascaded from the top down.

If the many actors and shapers in Swiss FoodTech and AgriTech now were to build a stronger collaborative network, connecting the dots between their activities and feeding into one another, the effect could quickly multiply and grow into a buzzing, vibrant ecosystem. Already we see collaborative partnerships emerge like the Future Food initiative forged by Bühler, Nestlé and Givaudan with ETH and EPFL.

The Future of Food is now – and it’s time to put Switzerland firmly on the map of Food Innovation Nations!

About the authors:

Ingeborg Gasser-Kriss is an innovation professional with a background of 26 years in corporate marketing and innovation. She is active in board roles, as an advisor to startups in the Kickstart and Founder Institute programs, and as an external advisor to big and small companies who aim to adopt 21st century innovation models. In her previous role as VP Global Innovation at Mondelez
International, she designed the incubation and venturing unit SnackFutures. She is a member of the Board of Directors at SV Group, owner and founder of Agent21 GmbH, and a keynote speaker on the Future of Food.

Christina Senn-Jakobsen is a Food Innovation Passionista aiming to be a part of making the world a better place. With a core focus on Food Science & Technology, Christina is heading up the Food & Retail Vertical at Kickstart. Further, Christina is a Co-Director at the Zurich chapter of the Founder Institute, supporting early-stage Food and AgriTech startups to get off to a great start.

Christina holds a Master degree in Food Science and Technology from University of Copenhagen and a Master in European Food Studies from Wageningen University.

Much of the essential data for a functioning digital society is controlled by a handful of global corporations. The majority of hardware and software for vital and critical systems are also produced by a few international companies. All these dependencies entail certain risks. The question therefore arises for Switzerland: How can the country increase its digital independence – its cyber sovereignty?

The discussions about the concept of cyber sovereignty are not new in themselves – but in Switzerland, a systematic examination of this strategic and at the same time complex topic has only been taking place in-depth for a few years now. In recent years, SATW, together with partners such as the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) and its expert group on Cyber Defence, has developed a definition of the term «cyber sovereignty» and corresponding fields of action for Switzerland. At the associating events, decision-makers from government, industry and science discussed possible fields of action. Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin presented his views on the topic. This year, SATW and Kickstart are organising a follow-up event on the subject as part of Cyber Week, in the presence of the Federal Delegate for Cyber Security, Florian Schütz, among others. 

Digital independence for Switzerland 

By cyber sovereignty we mean the ability of a country to make its own decisions in the digital space, to implement and enforce them and to protect its strategic interests. This definition explicitly doesn’t mean the political science understanding of the exercise of control by the state over digital applications. It is focused on the self-determined behaviour and action of the actors in cyberspace. For example, Switzerland should become more independent in key technologies and not have to rely solely on solutions from a few dominant global technology providers. Another aspect of cyber sovereignty concerns the self-determined handling of data by all citizens of our country.

Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin at last year’s SATW Event on Cyber Sovereignty.
© Manu Friederich

Autonomy in interdependency

Technological dependence is particularly delicate in critical infrastructures, the economy and society. Dependence can exist with regard to products, services or knowledge. The challenges posed by such dependencies are higher costs, more time and resources required, difficulties with compatibility or general security concerns that can lead to irreversible damage. In regarding dependency, the affected country has to be taken into account by planning or implementing corresponding actions: does the dependency affect Europe, USA or the rest of the world?

It is crucial that Switzerland identifies and defines the technology areas and topics in which an existing dependency can represent a security risk and is intolerable. SATW is currently planning to build up a corresponding project on how to deal with these issues.

Cyber sovereignty as a topic at national and international level

The issue of cyber sovereignty is attracting international attention. Already some years ago, in 2015, the Bitkom (Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und Neue Medien) published a paper on the topic of digital sovereignty and what should be fields of action for Germany and Europe in this regard. In Switzerland, the issue of cyber sovereignty can, on a governmental level, be found in particular in the «Nationale Strategie Digitale Schweiz» and the corresponding action plan. By the term «digitale Selbstbestimmung» the focus lies in particular on data sovereignty so that citizens can make their data available for the benefit of the general public. At a political level, two postulates by Marcel Dobler, among others, are pending which require clarification in terms of supply chain risks: One concerns the security of procurement of the Swiss Armed Forces (Postulat 19.3135), one handles the security of soft- and hardware-components regarding critical infrastructures (Postulat 19.3136). Further information on why supply chain poses a risk in an increasingly interconnected world can be found in this White Paper published by ICTswitzerland some days ago. 

First solutions exist 

At university, administrative and political levels, various players in Switzerland are dealing with the issue of cyber sovereignty and are already providing initial answers and solutions: With its Internet architecture SCION, ETH Zürich has developed a tool for more sovereignty in network communication that cannot be disrupted by any botnet. The development of this highly secure internet infrastructure «Made in Switzerland» is already well advanced and a forward-looking project in the area of cyber sovereignty. With the «Cyber-Lehrgang», the DDPS is contributing to a greater human capacity to act in the area of cyber-defence and thus to greater cyber sovereignty. 

Cyber sovereignty is key for future developments

Cyber sovereignty is also linked closely with the capabilities of a society in terms of speed, creativity, innovation, adoption and execution of trustworthy technologies and services. It’s really strategic to have agile and flexible world-class universities combined with the attraction for international high-tech companies. The number of vibrant and interconnected startups is another grade to measure the degree of cyber-physical sovereignty. Cyber sovereignty is producing additional trust on a national and international level. It’s key in all future developments in a democratic country. Just think about possible concepts and architectures for living in smart and secure cities on an interconnected smart and peaceful planet.

by Adolf J. Doerig, Member of the Executive Committee and President Advisory Board Cybersecurity SATW

It’s for the fourth time that promising startups from Switzerland and all over the world have settled at the innovation space Kraftwerk this autumn. And it’s for the fourth time, that Switzerland’s leading ICT company Swisscom is part of this initiative. As one of the founding partners of Kickstart, Swisscom has been supporting the program since the very beginning. Time to take a closer look at this collaboration. 

“Most of our growth areas are based on disruptive technologies & business models”. Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler, Chief Digital Officer at Swisscom, puts it in a nutshell: Without innovation and new ideas, business is no longer possible. Swisscom has recognized the need for innovation and is investing profoundly in this area. More than 50 people in the Swisscom Digital Business Unit are concerned with new digital business areas, internet- and blockchain-based services and the promotion of innovative ideas. They act as mediators between the world of startups and the Swisscom group with the aim of creating synergies. This is where Kickstart comes in: In the area of startup promotion and venturing, Swisscom has been working closely together with Kickstart since the inaugural edition. The aim is to identify promising young companies, to coach them and to support them in settling in the market, ideally by initiating PoCs and partnerships with the ventures.

Innovation transfer and generating growth  

Swisscom has many years of broad experience when it comes to the field of startup collaboration. The launch of Proofs of Concept is part of the Swisscom Digital Business Unit’s daily routine. For the telecom company, such partnerships are the origin of new business models and new products – and thus strengthening its core business and advancing into new ICT business areas. Their growth focus is digital and lies on topics such as the FinTech, Blockchain, Internet of Things, smart data or even e-health. 

Swisscom uses an innovation fast track to test ideas in the areas of trust services, digital assets, financial market places and others.

In this process, Kickstart is perceived as an important source: the program provides access to new ideas and exciting startups from all over the world. Consequently, the first three Kickstart programs have resulted in one investment and various partnerships and pilot projects between Swisscom and the participating startups. Swisscom Ventures has taken a minority stake in Labster (Kickstart 2018) and is supporting the VR EdTech company with building up collaborations with Swiss universities. Furthermore, Swisscom has integrated PriceHubble‘s data-based real estate services (Kickstart 2017) into its existing banking service. Together with Apiax (Kickstart 2017) and the Baloise Group, Swisscom has entered into cooperation in the area of Open API. And only recently, the latest Swisscom FinTech Map, which outlines the FinTech landscape in Switzerland, was published – namely in collaboration with the 2018 Kickstart participant Fintechdb

A great example of a successful collaboration: Swisscom’s latest FinTech Startup Map in cooperation with the Kickstart alumni Fintechdb.

Creating an intrapreneurship movement

In addition to working with startups, Swisscom is also committed to improving and expanding the innovative power of its own employees. For this purpose, Swisscom launched the intrapreneurship program Kickbox, a concept originating in Silicon Valley that aims to empower corporate employees to launch their own projects. Within Swisscom Kickbox, for example, almost 600 such projects were initiated within three years, many of them with long-term success. And, several of them actually end up at Kickstart at some point: Offering one of Switzerland’s largest support programs for intrapreneurship, Kickstart welcomes innovation teams from its partners every year. “After growing their idea within their own company, the intrapreneurship teams join us in order to scale their projects further”, says Katka Letzing, Intrapreneurship and Program Co-Lead at Kickstart. “Previous teams have benefited enormously from their time at Kickstart. The pace is high, weekly successes are expected, there are coaching sessions, workshops, exchange sessions with the advisors. Many projects experience a substantive push through this”. This year, nine intrapreneurship teams have joined the program aiming at growing their project, several of them from Swisscom. One example is Dermatologist, that offers a skin cancer classifier based on artificial intelligence. Just recently coming out of the Swisscom Kickbox program, the team is now about to start its Kickstart adventure. We are eager to see how this year’s intrapreneurs and startups/scaleups perform, and what the future holds for the cooperation between Kickstart and Swisscom as well as other partners.

by Roland Cortivo, Swisscom & Simone Bächler, Kickstart

AXA and Veezoo, who have met during the first iteration of Kickstart in 2016, have further extended their successful partnership. Veezoo provides a sales intelligence solution that makes the distribution of one of the biggest Swiss insurers more effective and efficient. Now, AXA rolls out Veezoo’s Augmented Advisory to their non-life tied agents in more than 250 agencies in Switzerland.

by Till Haug, Veezoo

Who would have thought that an informal get together would result in such a successful partnership: Veezoo is a Zurich-based ETH spin-off, that has developed a unique conversational solution based on artificial intelligence, which can analyze large amounts of data in seconds. Similar to Google or Siri, employees can enter a question using a simple input field, which is then answered by the intelligent software based on the available data. For instance: “Which customers were not in touch with us over the last 12 months?”. At the first Kickstart edition in 2016, the young company met with one of Switzerland’s leading insurance companies, AXA, for the first time. For AXA, Veezoo’s technology appeared interesting for many reasons, and, after several months of negotiations, Veezoo and AXA announced a 6 months pilot phase in late summer of 2017.

An efficient and effective solution for the distribution

The following year was in various ways successful for the two partners. At the prestigious EFMA Insurance Awards 2018, AXA and Veezoo jointly won the first prize in the category “Artificial Intelligence”. Meanwhile, their pilot project turned out to be a great success: “Thanks to Veezoo’s conversational solution, our sales partners can quickly and easily find the answers to their many questions – enabling them to serve their customers even more efficiently and effectively,” said Martin Studer, Head of Sales Development & Controlling at AXA.

User feedback during the pilot was highly positive, too: “A sales person is very often not structured in such a way that he or she knows what to select when and where in order to get the right result. The Veezoo technology is exactly what we as sales forces need and makes our work a lot easier”, said an AXA Generalagent.

Overall, the innovative solution of Veezoo helped AXA increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their distribution. The decision was made to put Veezoo into the hands of its sales force employees company wide. Meanwhile it is used to identify customer needs better, increasing the customer happiness and performance of the client advisors.

The secret of a successful partnership

Veezoo team.

Three years after their first meeting, both sides are extremely happy with their partnership. “Having such a successful relationship is not a given”, said Till Haug, Co-Founder of Veezoo. “I believe the secret is that we always meet at eye-level with transparent communication. We give our very best to see behind AXA’s pain points and address them quickly and properly. Working with AXA has been a pleasure throughout.” Daniel Zöllig, Product Owner Distribution MIS at AXA, agrees: “The cooperation with Veezoo is very successful and uncomplicated. The speed of implementation is impressive. Working together with a startup is an enrichment and generates a refreshing vibe.”

For the two partners it does not seem to stop there. Another evaluation is already ongoing, and Veezoo might be used even more widely spread within AXA in the future. This will certainly not be the last we hear about AXA and Veezoo.

At the heart of the Kickstart program lies facilitating the collaboration between corporations and startups and helping them to realize the promise of these partnerships. In 2019, Kickstart will bring promising entrepreneurs to Zurich for the fourth time, where they will work together with established partners aiming at launching joint projects and partnerships. But how does collaboration between such different parties work? Which are success factors and challenges and how can they be addressed? Dr. Jennifer Sparr and Prof. Dr. Gudela Grote from ETH Zurich have investigated these questions with us. Here are 5 practical insights from a research perspective:

1 Seeking for feedback and reflecting your team performance is key. 

Teams should make feedback-seeking and reflection a regular habit – not only during a program such as Kickstart, but always! Research shows that these practices help to improve creativity, learnings and performance of individuals and teams.

2 Building your relationship on respect, fairness, trust and honest interest in collaboration is crucial. 

In order to establish a successful and trustful collaboration, do agree on clear goals and obligations in a participative and cooperative way! Do agree on transparent rules and processes and practice an open communication on eye-level.

3 Tensions exist – and actually, this is good news! 

Corporations and large organizations experience tensions when it comes to working with startups: How to focus on their current needs and at the same time create room for serendipity? How to find an optimal cost-benefit ratio? How to balance stability and flexibility? How to cooperate with competitors?

Why is this good news? If handled well, tensions create learning and productive change as for example in several organizations, who have started to work on their processes and structures in order to become more flexible and to make collaboration with startups easier. Further, understanding the multi-level goals large organizations have and the different time horizons of these goals, can be helpful when it comes to accepting and balancing certain tensions. For example, when considering the cost-benefit balance, uncertain short-term investments into PoCs may balance well with the long term change in the organization towards an innovation culture which is stimulated by the exchange with the startups. 

4 Emphasize the benefit of giving.

What we learned from the large organizations was that a helpful mindset for collaborating with startups is to emphasize the benefit of giving. They pointed out that helping the startups and learning from them is a success, even if the collaboration with a startup did not necessarily involve any immediate monetary benefits for them. The collaboration is beneficiary in terms of cultural development, exposure to the entrepreneurial spirit of the startup world and the image of the organization internally as well as in public. So the advice would be to make giving a priority while making sure to capitalize on the valuable returns at different levels.

5 Taking part in Kickstart is a roller coaster ride.

Be prepared for an adventure! During the program, the participating entrepreneurs had a whole range of strong feelings: from excitement, inspiration and determination over distress and nervousness to scare. On average, positive emotions like excitement, inspiration and determination were quite frequent throughout the program – which is good, because from literature we know that positive emotions positively influence decisions, intentions and the evaluation of opportunities.

However, also negative emotions are an important source of information that needs to be used wisely. The Kickstart program with its impulses, support structures and social events aims to foster both: nursing the positive emotions and making good use of the more negative ones for learning.  

The learnings and suggestions above are based on scientific interviews and surveys with the 2018 startups and partners. Find out more: Practical insights from a research perspective: Collaboration between Start-ups and Organizations in the Kickstart Program 2018

These findings also entered the academic world already: In August, the ETH team will attend the Annual Academy of Management Meeting 2019 in Boston with a talk based on their research insights with Kickstart. In case you’re interested in their talk at this major management conference, get in touch with Jennifer (jsparr(at) to get a copy of their abstract “Balancing Tensions in Open Innovation”.

More learnings regarding the collaboration between startups and established organizations can be found in the book “Kickstarting Collaboration” that was published together with digitalswitzerland. The research team of ETH Zurich will continue their work with the 2019 batch.

ETH Zurich Research Team: 
Dr. Jennifer Sparr, Nora Varesco Kager & Prof. Dr. Gudela Grote

Kickstart Team: 
Dr. Christoph Birkholz & Katka Letzing

Fotos: Anja Wurm / Ringier

In Switzerland, more than 2 million tons of food end up in the garbage bin rather than on the plate every year; 300 kilograms per capita. KITRO, a Swiss-based startup that participated in Kickstart 2017, has developed a technology to change this – and has successfully tested it with one of Switzerland’s leading retailers. Here is their collaboration story:  

by William Downey, KITRO

For us at KITRO, participating in Kickstart was for many reasons an exciting opportunity. The program caters to multiple industries through its specific verticals, both for startups and partners. We had (of course!) done our research prior to the acceleration and knew that, as a FoodTech startup, Coop could be a partner with highly interesting collaboration opportunities for us. Advantageous to us, Coop has a motivation to be part of Kickstart as well and has been partnering with the program since the very beginning in order to get first access to promising startups and to pilot products that could add value to their current services and strategies.

We started our Kickstart journey in September 2017: We met the Kickstart team, got to know the program and were introduced to the partners. After 11 weeks of hard work and intense negotiations, we were excited to announce that we’d reached our intended goal: a pilot project with Coop.

KITRO co-founder Naomi MacKenzie pitching at Kickstart 2017.

Half a year later, in summer 2018, we measured and monitored the food that was thrown away in three Coop restaurants in Basel. Within three months, a reduction of avoidable food waste by up to 37% was achieved, and we were able to show the growing potential of solutions tackling food waste with one of Switzerland’s main food distributors.

Martin Wasserfallen, Head of Services and Product Management, and Marcel Schildt, Project Manager of Gastronomy at Coop, made the pilot as smooth as possible, and we appreciate their continuous support as we explore opportunities to continue working together in the future, on a larger scale. “The pilot phase with KITRO showed considerable potential in terms of food waste reduction, which we will now pursue further”, Martin Wasserfallen stated, “the open and fresh collaboration worked smoothly and the whole KITRO team showed a great commitment to Coop Gastronomy.”

The KITRO technology.

Christina Senn-Jakobsen, Vertical Lead Food & Retail Tech at Kickstart, said: “What started out as a Proof of Concept during our 2017 program, has proven its value to both Kitro and Coop. The project  is also a success for our Planet Earth where food waste is a neglected topic, in spite of its significant negative impact on climate change. We are proud of both KITRO and Coop!”

The whole KITRO team is excited to work with such leaders in the industry that are actively pushing to make sustainable changes. Everyone has waste but not everyone takes action to address it, so we were excited that one of the biggest players in the food and beverage industry in Switzerland signed to measure. Coop’s efforts in terms of sustainability reach beyond the tackling of food waste – in case you want to find out more, check out their initiative “Taten statt Worte” (“Actions, not words” in English). If you want to learn more about KITRO’s food waste management technology, check us out here.

Fotos: Philippe Rossier, Ringier / KITRO

Three Kickstart participants; three scenarios. Altoo, YUKKA Lab and AAAccell have two things in common: all three were selected to participate in the Kickstart Accelerator program, which connects its participants with leading organizations and all three have embarked on collaborative projects.

German company YUKKA Lab and Switzerland-based Altoo, together with Swisscom, explore the opportunities of Open Banking for the Swiss financial sector, as well as the integration of YUKKA Lab´s News & Trend service into the Altoo platform. YUKKA Lab is also collaborating with University of Zurich spinoff and Kickstart 2017 alumni AAAccell, to create a joint sentiment-quant engine.

We asked Oliver Berchtold, CPO at YUKKA Lab, Maximilian Adelmann, Senior Quant Engineer at AAAccell, and Martin Stadler, CEO at Altoo AG, how these collaborations started, what makes the Kickstart program so special and what advice they have for startups and scaleups concerning the initiation of cooperation.

How did you meet your collaboration partners? What was the exciting element that motivated you to talk about cooperation?

Martin: We met with the participants and their different backgrounds and exciting business ideas as part of the Kickstart Accelerator Program. This get together provided the inspiration thinking about teaming up.

Oliver: Kickstart Accelerator did connect us! We met Martin from Altoo there, and we both knew right away that we could integrate our Sentiment Indicators into their Portfolio view, as well as offer our News Lab to their UHNWI clients, as an expert research tool with state-of-the-art analytics and high-quality news. 

Whereas, we met Sandro and Max from AAAccell through a client who thought it would make sense to combine the two applications in POC.

Maximilian: Yes, it was at the site of one of AAAccell’s clients. Andreas and Oliver were presenting YUKKA Labs sentiment engine there.  

Oliver: We continued the discussion directly after the meeting and elaborated the benefits of a potential collaboration, since the two services just blended so well together. As a next step, we tested our data to see if it would enhance their results. Sandro and Maximilian were so happy with the result that we decided to cooperate and, on the spot, drafted the fair terms of our partnership. We put those terms into a formal contract, signed it, and immediately started the development of our combined product offering.

Maximilian: I was impressed by the power of their approach and how well they could visualize the strength of their product. Right away, I saw the vast potential that YUKKA Lab’s sentiments could have to improve our quant engine. Fortunately, Andreas and Oliver’s view of our product was similar, so we started talking about collaborating on the first day that we met.

Oliver: It just makes sense to combine AAAccell’s price-based portfolio optimization with our sentiment indicators. Moreover, there is no one on the market with a similar offering yet. Also, the skill sets of the two companies complement each other well.

In general, it is exciting to work with other startups, because they are agile and can make decisions very quickly. It’s great to launch projects that show fast results and then enhance products based on new affiliations.

How did you find out that you and your projects fit together? Was it based more on having compatible ideas or was it a decision based on compatibility and getting along with each other? What role did the mentors and Kickstart play?

Maximilian: YUKKA Lab was aiming to enrich their sentiment signals with quantitative models, while we at AAAccell considered adding sentiment to our quant engine. So, instead of going through the time and resource-consuming process to build up knowledge in a new field, it felt like a natural decision to profit from the strong expertise of a collaborative partner.

The fact that both YUKKA Lab and AAAccell are startups in a similar phase made the collaboration easier. The whole process moved very fast, and both sides are working in the same spirit. YUKKA Lab’s excellent product was the primary reason for us to collaborate, but the good fit on the personal level with Andreas and Oliver was also essential to us.

In our case, Kickstart didn’t have a direct role in the collaboration, also because we participated in different years. However, Kickstart Accelerator Company label is definitely a factor that enriches trust in the collaborator.  

Oliver: I totally agree. I think both components are equally important. Obviously, the idea and products need to match and combined, create an additional value that none of the companies could individually deliver. That is the charm of cooperation: To offer something new and innovative to the market that meets the customers’ needs. However, of course, the personal fit is key to such collaboration. Trust is the foundation cooperation is built on. If there is no personal fit, it is unlikely that a collaboration lifts off.

Exploring collaboration opportunities at one of Kickstart’s main events at Kraftwerk (Foto: Anja Wurm, Ringier)

How was it for you, Martin, and for Altoo?

Martin: Our mission at Altoo is to provide simplicity for complex wealth, enabling our clients to get simple insights, to better understand and control what’s going on with their total wealth, and to know where to set their focus. This perfectly matches the YUKKA’s technological capabilities to create more transparency in the flood of investment news and find the most important information for our clients’ investments. As Oliver said, ideas and products need to match.

And of course, the support at Kickstart was great. The mentors were all very experienced, which created the perfect environment to enable collaborations with incumbents and other Kickstart participants.

Could you give us an outlook on some tangible results your cooperation will bring?

Maximilian: Currently, we work with YUKKA Lab on building a sentiment-quant engine with very high potential. This engine is supposed to turn into a product that both companies can offer to their clients.

Oliver: It will allow our customers to benefit from improved performance and risk management through a unique combination of quant models and sentiment.

Martin: As part of the Proof of Concept with YUKKA Lab, we are not only exploring the technical feasibility, but also testing the client response for such a news feature. This will define how our cooperation is set in the future, focusing on creating added-values for our clients.

What do you get out of a collaboration like this, that you can’t get from just investing enough money?

Martin: Living co-creatorship and fostering innovation is a key pillar of Altoo’s corporate strategy. Living it in the daily business with other companies showcases to our clients how agile we are at approaching different aspects of wealth management in new ways.

Oliver: Combined with the additional value for the customer, it brings more marketing and sales power through joining forces and uniting each other’s talents.

Maximilian: Uniting each other’s talents is an important factor. We instantly get strong expertise and data in a field that has high value to us. Even with investing a lot of money into building a sentiment engine, it would have taken us months or even years to get sentiment of comparable quality. Collaborating with YUKKA Lab gives us the possibility to roll out a product in a short period and gain a first mover advantage.

Do you have practical advice on how to start exploring potential collaboration partners and how to decide which partner is a good fit?

Oliver: It all starts with having a good idea for a combined product vision, that meets a specific client need. Then, you need to strip it down and see if you can feasibly integrate each other’s offering. The hardest part is to find a fair business model that satisfies both parties.

Maximilian: I advise having a good network, knowledge of the relevant markets, and always an open mind for opportunities. I would base my decision to collaborate on several factors:  the product of the potential partner, the organization, accomplishments, clients, and lastly, the personal fit between the collaborators.

Martin: In general, to be efficient, collaboration needs to be a natural fit; one that is worthwhile to invest time in. Nonetheless, thinking out of the box has helped us to create either more/new ideas or to redefine the focus of our company’ roadmap.


Oliver Berchtold is CPO, CBD and Co-Founder of YUKKA Lab AG , Berlin and Zurich-based FinTech for AI-derived insights for the financial industry. YUKKA Lab, a 2018 Kickstart company, works with Altoo exploring the opportunities of “Open Banking” with Swisscom for the Swiss financial sector, as well as on the integration of YUKKA Lab´s services into the Altoo platform.




Maximilian Adelmann is Senior Quant Engineer at AAAccell, a spinoff startup of the University of Zurich, that develops innovative AI / ML solutions for the financial service industry and a Kickstart 2017 alumni. Together with YUKKA Lab, they are working on a sentiment-quant engine to optimally combine YUKKA Lab’s sentiment with state-of-the-art quant models. 




Martin Stadler is CEO of Altoo AG, a company that provides simplicity for complex wealth, enabling their clients to interact intuitively with their total wealth in a totally new way.  Altoo, a 2018 Kickstart company, elaborates with YUKKA Lab on how to integrate the YUKKA News & Trend Lab into the Altoo platform.

It is less than a year ago that the US and UK based startup Adjoint took part in the Kickstart Accelerator program. Within the last months, a lot has happened for the FinTech company – and now, they open their first Swiss office. Here is Adjoint`s update:

In 2017, Adjoint was selected to participate in Kickstart Accelerator in Zurich. During the program, we were able to collaborate with powerful multinational organizations and establish valuable partnerships on the Swiss market. Within the following months after the program, we have worked hard on further developing this network and the strategy has paid off: Some weeks ago, we have been able to open our very first operation in Switzerland. With our office in Zug, we have officially launched our presence in Switzerland.

The new location of the company will represent the fourth major hub of our rapidly growing organization. The three other office hubs include our US headquarters in Boston and Houston as well as our UK location in London. We are dedicated and looking forward to expanding our expertise and relationships throughout the Swiss ecosystem. 

“It is very exciting to see Adjoint opening their Swiss office. I’m looking forward to seeing them grow their presence in Switzerland. In my eyes, Adjoint is a great asset for the FinTech and blockchain communities worldwide and in Switzerland”, says Katka Letzing, Kickstart Program Co-Lead and FinTech & Crypto Vertical Lead.

Adjoint CEO Havell Rodrigues at the CEO & Founders Dinner during Kickstart Accelerator 2017

In addition to the new Swiss office, Adjoint welcomes an incredibly talented and experienced financial services expert, András Miklós. András is a master in design thinking and certified fintech professional who will lead the Swiss business development efforts for Adjoint. Prior to joining the Adjoint team, András was managing FX and interest rate risk exposure for large corporations in Hungary, after which he joined Credit Suisse International Wealth Management in Zurich to drive part of their strategic project portfolio.

Looking ahead, Adjoint will be joining the global treasury community at the International EuroFinance conference in Geneva from 26-28 September, 2018. Here, we will introduce our strategic treasury management solution to Swiss-based and global treasurers. The consolidated, multi-currency and multi-bank account is enabled by Adjoint’s private & permissioned blockchain technology. 

Fotos by Philippe Rossier, Ringier // A version of this piece originally appeared on the Adjoint website on July 27 2018,

This year, five (!) intrapreneur teams join us for the program – more than ever before. Meanwhile, there is a great update from one of our alumni teams: Rent’n’Share, the only intrapreneur team from last year’s program, will officially launch in autumn. Here is their story:

In last year’s Kickstart Accelerator, we, a team from AXA, worked on Rent’n’Share, a car subscription service at an attractive “all-inclusive” price and with a sharing option. During the program we successfully launched a pilot, which is still running. Now we are happy to announce that AXA decided to move forward with the project. The aim is to take preorders as of late September and go start the delivery by mid of October – under a new brand.

“The car subscription model of Rent’n’Share has a very convincing value proposition and addresses the markets’ needs. For us as the most innovative insurer in Switzerland, investing in such an offer is very attractive,” says Dominique Kasper, Head of Property & Casualty AXA Switzerland.

The service will start with a small fleet, consisting of a small city car, a family station wagon, an SUV and an electric car. The fixed monthly price will include all fees, taxes, insurance and services, so all the customers have to pay for is parking and fuel/electricity (and the occasional speeding fine). Unlike buying or leasing a car, with Rent’n’Share you are flexible – whenever your life situation changes, you can change your car too.

For us as a corporate team, the Kickstart Accelerator program was very challenging, but extremely helpful and motivating. Mentors, coaches and peers helped to fine-tune our offering, business model and value proposition. We also received a lot of encouragement and feedback on our idea.

The Rent’n’Share team: Christina Meyer, Cécile Oberholzer, Karsten Fuhrmann, Albert Schwitter and Thomas Fischbacher

As the only intrapreneur team, we tried to get the most out of the program, which we could customize around our needs. The quality and amount of input and especially the speed was overwhelming. Our advice to this year’s intrapreneur teams: Focus on Kickstart and don’t try to split resources between projects or daily routine. And join as many masterclasses, workshops and events as you can.

“Rent’n’Share made large leap forward during the Kickstart program and it was great to work together with them on prototyping their game-changing business model. To see this story going on, is fantastic. I believe that the flexible and ecological concept of renting and sharing cars, that Rent’n’Share has developed, has the potential to successfully change the mobility market dynamics,” says Ruth Armalé, Smart Cities Vertical Lead 2017.

If you would like to find out more about Rent’n’Share and their car renting & sharing project, check out their websiteThis year, Credit Suisse, Migros and Swisscom are bringing intrapreneur teams into the program. Find out more about their projects here.

Kickstart Accelerator connects international startups with corporates, cities and universities to accelerate collaborations for deep technologies. However, we are not the only ones. Several such programs exist claiming to offer a platform for innovation partnerships. So, as an aspirational founder, how to make your choice about which program actually brings your company forward vs. which program offers just a bit of “startup circus” for corporate managers? Here’s a hint: Check how serious the corporates’ CEOs are taking their role in the accelerator. Do they even care?

Kickstart Accelerator offers exceptional access to the main decision-makers of our corporate, city and university partners. With our C-Level Engagement Strategy, we ensure that the CEOs and executives of our partner organisations are personally participating in Kickstart Accelerator in order to meet the startup founders and initiate joint proof-of-concept projects and other deep tech innovation partnerships.

The CEO- and Founder-Dinner / Foto: Philippe Rossier

Hence, for the 2018 batch, we are proud to announce that the CEOs and Country Heads of AXA, Credit Suisse, Swisscom, Migros, Stäubli, ewz, Ringier, IBM, UBS, Swiss Post, Raiffeisen, Generali, SBB, valora, and 15 more corporates have already confirmed their participation in the program – along with the presidents of our university partners as well as political leaders of Switzerland.

Switzerland provides an outstanding ecosystem for startups – especially, for those that aim to collaborate with corporates, cities and universities. And Kickstart is the accelerator to facilitate innovation partnerships between later-stage startups developing deep technologies and established players considering startup founders as serious business partners.

For the entrepreneurs, we pay your stipends, you keep all your equity, we connect you with top VCs and we help you leverage Switzerland’s exceptional business ecosystem for deep tech innovations.

Sounds like a plan? – Apply now.


by Christoph Birkholz

After a successful initial year in Lausanne,  Kickstart’s EdTech & Learning Vertical comes to Zurich with a three year vision to help build a world-class education, technology and innovation eco-system in Switzerland. Up to 10 later-stage EdTech startups will accelerate their deep tech innovations with our Kickstart partners: corporates, universities, foundations, and public institutions. Our EdTech & Learning Lead Tim Lehmann shares his personal view of launching the EdTech Vertical in Zurich.

 I’m about to cycle Zurich’s Stauffacherbrücke. It’s an early fresh morning. Spring has melted away the layers of ice of a crystal clear Sihl river. My new office at the innovation and collaboration space, Kraftwerk, appears right next to her. Like every morning at the crossing, while waiting on my bike, after just having passed a big stack of Zurich’s Google offices (Google’s 2nd largest after the US), I spot the construction site of Zurich’s former main stock exchange building. The scaffolding in front of the impressive portal-like entrance hides behind a head-high temporary structure. Painted in blue and white letters it reads, “Education First — The World Leaders in International Education”. By the end of 2018, one of the world’s largest education companies will have taken over the famous landmark building, completely restructuring its inner core. One of Switzerland’s biggest newspapers, Tagesanzeiger, with its publisher’s view right across the Sihl, titled the ‘take over’, “Zurich’s stock exchange becomes a school”.

Zurich’s former main stock exchange building.


From computerised finance to education

The finance world’s early computerisation in the 1990s is literally arriving in the education and learning sector. The first wave of digital transformation of finance ended not only in its collapse in 2008, but an ever more aggressive und unequal flow of capital into all parts of industries and our lives. The digitisation of the education and learning landscape could mark a turning point for the new technologies to do better for thinking the relation between technological innovation and political, economic and social inventiveness.

Accelerating partnerships between startups and established players

In our team at Impact Hub Zürich‘s Kickstart Accelerator, we work on both –  the tech in finance and education right across the street from the ‘Neue Börse’ at Kraftwerk Innovation Space. Just recently, we launched into our third program year with a variety of partners, ready to pose their challenges to scout national and international startups that would help them tackle these challenges. In 2018, we opt into such new fields that we care about, like the technologies of education and learning — and keep what we like and has been proven key industries (what we call ‘verticals’) for the Swiss innovation space: finance, smart cities and food tech. We shift towards even more piloting between startups and established companies and institutions, such as multinationals, SMEs, foundations, cities, universities, schools, and federal and local governments. This requires Kickstart’s focus to change from startups to scale-ups — more mature startups that are capable of partnering with the established players.


Kickstart’s Kanban practice ‘Launch 2018’.


Governing a technological and market society

Kickstart’s EdTech focus, in addition to the Impact Hub Zurich’s collaboration and local eco-system approach, merges the tech and impact focus. (Impact Hub Zurich is a Google for Entrepreneurs partner and member of 100 globally connected and locally embedded Impact Hubs around the world). Our EdTech impact focus signals Government Councillor Dr. Silvia Steiner’s patronage of the EdTech Vertical launch in Zurich in 2018. If we consider impact and scale in the education industries serious, it requires close partnering with the government. Yet, similar to what happens at Zurich’s Europaallee, a central area owned by the government’s train service provider SBB — large tech companies, like Google, overtaking government ground — there will be new players venturing and pushing the boundaries of a resilient, often times stiff education sector. With Swisscom, Switzerland’s largest telco corporation, and Google as EdTech partners, we help to facilitate a thin line between the state and the market.

The cross-sector association digitalswitzerland raised initial industry momentum for EdTech in Switzerland with the Kickstart Accelerator EdTech Vertical in Lausanne in 2017 and its education and talent initiative. We are now expecting Swiss firms to see education and learning not only as a politically poisoned, low-revenue business, but EdTech as a field of innovation for new technologies, new markets and society at large. I personally look forward to having Education First setting up its 1000 employees in 2018 right in front of our office space. I hope that EF will be opening up its ‘portal’ and not be as much of a black box like the emerging tech and information industry has become. Akin to the Spotify and iTunes models in an analogy to the music industry, the education sector rightly fears a Napster moment. Yet, industry players will need to be prepared for carefully riding the long rising tide of the education and learning sector, especially in a social democratic Europe.

Contexts of learning as a social and technological practice

Impact driven tech in education and learning means better and simpler tech. Kickstart’s integration of science and engineering driven technologies (Deep Tech Nation Switzerland) is an important step we do into this direction in 2018. Yet, simpler tech does not mean less techie, but more driven by the contextual complexity and human-centred processes of learning as a social practice (and technological, think of your old school’s blackboard). Constructivist learning sciences experts like Dr. Dominik Petko, Vice president of the University of Teacher Education Schwyz, speak of Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD). In today’s light of digitising and technologically equipping the learner’s pathway, the ZPD theory considers an individual learner’s limits within these developments. Dr. Petko’s publicly funded work as an academic, like — an AI optimised learning schedule that identifies a student’s overload within flexible learning environments — could inspire (more) solid pedagogic concepts for EdTech business models in what industry experts sometimes describe as frustrating product driven business landscape.

Building science and engineering momentum in EdTech

In this vein, we will build on EPFL ‘s experience in EdTech, particularly its 2017 launched EdTech Collider, as well as our new partners ETH Zürich and the University of Zürich. (EPFL and ETH are the two Swiss universities funded by the Swiss federal government — both focus on science and technology driven basic research and education; ETH is among the world’s top 3 ranked publicly funded universities). If we look at the leading EdTech innovation clusters around the world in China, Scandinavia, the UK and the US, Switzerland needs to use today’s momentum in order to make its mark in what Switzerland should be strong in as a knowledge and technology-based society. Mercator Foundation Switzerland’s three-year support of the EdTech vertical acknowledges our vision to help build momentum for an EdTech cluster in Switzerland. More momentum will join if the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research and the Federal Council will approve the EdTech proposal of its National Research Program on digital transformation.


Kickstart’s Co-Lead Katka Letzing organizing the Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange week for international Machine Learning / AI startups.


Momentum for ‘transition skills’

What [as entrepreneurs] do we take from this momentum on a personal level? At Impact Hub Zürich, our education spin-off STRIDE Unschool for Entrepreneurial Leadership constantly challenges our learning approach as a leading startup eco-system provider. In the global Impact Hub Network, we boldly say, “The world is changing, and we are on the transition team”. Yet, what kind of competences are required in this transition team? And, are we, even as entrepreneurial explorers of our contexts, not also damned to reflexively learn from our hacking and breaking of things?

Many of us were rebels at school. I personally was one ‘without a cause’— breaking things not for the better. I respect the skills of our community of founders and starters. However, I truly believe that it’s not (only) through the startup experience that we capture all aspects of life(-long learning). A proactive approach for founders to take learning serious — and to combine it with startup success — could be to become educators and instructors ourselves. There is an armada of young people and talents (backed by a political agenda in Switzerland) waiting to learn from the startups’ way of hustling ourselves into a structurally different future.


A version of this piece originally appeared on the Impact Hub Zürich website on 09. April 2018,

DCbrain, Teilnehmer des letztjährigen Kickstart Accelerators, möchte in einer Zusammenarbeit mit Swisscom aufzeigen, wie künstliche Intelligenz die Energieeffizienz in Rechenzentren optimieren kann.

DCbrain, ein europäischer Anbieter von AI-gestützter Software zur Netzoptimierung, hat sich zur Durchführung einer dreimonatigen Machbarkeitsstudie (Proof of Concept) mit dem Schweizer Telekommunikationsunternehmen Swisscom zusammengetan. In dieser Machbarkeitsstudie will DCbrain demonstrieren, wie dessen revolutionäre Technologie Energieeffizienz mit betrieblicher Optimierung kombiniert, ohne dass dies den Investitionsaufwand in komplexen Netzwerken wie Rechenzentren erhöht. Dank der Partnerschaft mit DCbrain kann sich Swisscom besonders intensiv mit dem Thema maschinelles Lernen auseinandersetzen. Das Projekt war während des Kickstart Accelerators im Herbst 2017 zustande gekommen und läuft seit Ende Februar.

Swisscom macht mit bei der AI-Revolution

Bigna Salzmann, Senior Corporate Responsibility Managerin bei Swisscom sagt: „Der Kickstart Accelerator ermöglicht es uns, Startups und ihre Technologien im Bereich Smart City kennenzulernen. Wir freuen uns über die Zusammenarbeit mit DCbrain, um die Energieeffizienz in unseren Rechenzentren zu erhöhen und damit einen Beitrag zu unserer Corporate Responsibility Strategie zu leisten.“

Die Partnerschaft mit DCbrain unterstreicht das Engagement von Swisscom für die Energiewende dank der Verwendung neuer Technologien. Neue Technologien wie die von DCbrain ermöglichen es dem Telekommunikationsanbieter, den Energieverbrauch eines Rechenzentrums besser nachzuvollziehen, insbesondere was die Kühlgeräte betrifft. Mit der Software von DCbrain können die Ingenieure von Swisscom den Energieverbrauch besser überwachen, während datengesteuerte Entscheidungen dafür sorgen, dass die Sicherheitsmargen gleich bleiben.

“Zu sehen, wie sich die Partnerschaft zwischen unserem Partner Swisscom und DCBrain entwickelt, ist motivierend“, sagt Ruth Armalé, Smart Cities Verantwortliche beim letztjährigen Kickstart Accelerator. “Die Anwendung neuer Technologien wie die der Künstlichen Intelligenz im Bereich Energieeffizienz hat in meinen Augen grosses Potenzial.”

Das Team von DCBrain


Über DCbrain

DCbrain bietet eine AI-basierte Software zur Optimierung und Modellierung verschiedener Arten komplexer Netzwerke (Strom, Kühlung, Wärme, Öl) an. Das Unternehmen analysiert Strömungsdaten (Flow Propagation) und hilft dadurch Managern, ihr Netzwerk besser zu verstehen und schneller bessere Entscheidungen zu treffen. Insgesamt steigert die Lösung von DCbrain die betriebliche Effizienz. Sie wird inzwischen von Branchengrössen wie Total, Engie oder ID Logistics eingesetzt.

DCbrain hat gerade eine Finanzierungsrunde über 1,5 Millionen Euro abgeschlossen, um in der Schweiz, Deutschland und den Benelux-Staaten zu expandieren und seine Technologieführerschaft in Frankreich weiter auszubauen.


Über Swisscom:

Swisscom ist der führende Telekommunikationsanbieter der Schweiz und gehört auch im Bereich IT zu den führenden Unternehmen. Der Hauptsitz befindet sich in Ittigen nahe der Hauptstadt Bern. Swisscom orientiert sich kompromisslos an den Kundenbedürfnissen, setzt auf Service und Qualität und investiert massiv in die Netze der Zukunft.

Das Swisscom Netz wird zu 100 % aus einheimischer erneuerbarer Energie betrieben. Ihre Telefonzentralen kühlt Swisscom mit Frischluft statt Klimaanlagen. Swisscom verpflichtet ihre Lieferanten überdies zur Einhaltung sozialer Standards.


Über Kickstart Accelerator:

Der Kickstart Accelerator bringt Startups, Grossunternehmen, Städte, Stiftungen und Universitäten zusammen, um gemeinsam technologische Innovationen voranzutreiben. Neue, wissenschaftsbasierte Technologien haben das Potenzial, einige der grössten Herausforderungen unserer Zeit zu lösen. Sie setzen voraus, dass einflussreiche, etablierte Unternehmen und innovative Jungunternehmen mit mutigen Ideen zusammenarbeiten. Der Kickstart Accelerator bringt jedes Jahr bis zu 100 solcher Jungunternehmer und -unternehmerinnen mit führenden Akteuren für Proof-of-Concepts (PoCs), Pilotprojekte und andere Innovationspartnerschaften in der Schweiz zusammen. Das Programm bietet den teilnehmenden Startups Zugang zu den Führungskräften und Entscheidungsträgern der Partner-Organisationen. Es werden weder Gebühren noch eine Eigenkapital-Beteiligung der Startups verlangt.

Der Kickstart Accelerator ist eine Initiative des Impact Hubs Zürich und wurde 2015 von digitalswitzerland ins Leben gerufen. In Zusammenarbeit mit etablierten Partner-Organisationen wie Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros und Swisscom sowie AXA Winterthur, Bildungsdirektion des Kanton Zürich, ETH Zürich, EY, Gebert-Rüf-Stiftung, Stadt Zürich, Stäubli, Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, Swisslinx und Universität Zürich, fördert das Programm 2018 Startups in den vier Bereichen EdTech & Learning, FinTech & Crypto, Food & Retail Tech sowie Smart Cities & Infrastructure.


DCbrain, Kickstart Accelerator 2017 alumni, has partnered with Swisscom to demonstrate how Artificial Intelligence can be used to optimize energy efficiency in Data Centers.

DCbrain, a European AI-powered grid optimisation software provider, has partnered with the Swiss main telecommunication firm Swisscom for a three months Proof of Concept (PoC). The PoC will help DCbrain to demonstrate how its disruptive technology can combine energy efficiency with operational enhancement without increasing capital expenditure in complex networks such as data centres. The partnership will also allow Swisscom to engage intensively with the topic of machine learning on a real-life basis. The project was initiated at Kickstart Accelerator in fall 2017 and is running since late February.

Swisscom engaging in the AI revolution

Bigna Salzmann, Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager at Swisscom: “Kickstart Accelerator allows us to get to know startups and their technologies in the domain of smart city. We are looking forward to cooperate with DCbrain to improve the energy efficiency in our data centers and contribute to our strategy in corporate responsibility.“

With this partnership Swisscom shows its commitment towards energy transition using new technologies. New technologies such as the one offered by DCbrain will enable the telecommunication provider to have a better understanding of its main data centre’s energy consumption, especially with cooling units. DCbrain’s software will enable Swisscom’s engineers to better monitor energy consumption while maintaining the same safety margins thanks to data-driven decisions.

“It is very encouraging to see this partnership between our corporate partner Swisscom and DCbrain emerging”, says Ruth Armalé, Kickstart Smart Cities Vertical Lead 2017. “I am convinced that applying Deep Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence in the field of energy efficiency has breakthrough potential”.

DC Brain Team


About DCbrain

DCbrain, a Microsfot AI factory incubated startup, offers an AI-based software dedicated to various types of complex networks (electricity, cooling, heat, oil) optimisation and modelisation. Our technology digitizes our clients’ networks and enables network managers to visualize in real-time their grid performance, simulate what-if scenarios to refine maintenance plans and to optimize the overall network’s performance as a result of Machine Learning and Graph-based algorithms.

DCbrain turn data into flow propagation and this way helps grid managers to better understand their network and take better decisions faster. Overall, DCbrain’s solution enhances operational efficiency. Our solution is now used by industry leaders such as Total, Engie or ID logistics.

DCbrain has just completed a €1.5 milion funding round in order to expand internationally in Switzerland, Germany and Benelux and to reaffirm its technological leadership in France.


About Swisscom:

Swisscom is Switzerland’s leading telecom provider and one of its foremost IT companies, headquartered in Ittigen, close to the capital city, Bern. Swisscom brooks no compromise when it comes to serving customer needs; it focuses on service and quality and invests massively in the networks of the future.

The Swisscom network is fully powered by renewable domestic energy. We cool our data centres with fresh air rather than air conditioning. We require our suppliers to meet social standards.


About​ ​Kickstart​ ​Accelerator:

Kickstart Accelerator bridges the gap between startups, corporates, cities, foundations and universities to accelerate deep tech innovation. Science and engineering driven technologies have the potential to transform humanity’s biggest challenges into solvable problems. They require unprecedented collaboration between powerful established organizations and audacious entrepreneurs. Each year, Kickstart brings around 100 such entrepreneurs to Switzerland to collaborate with key players for proof-of-concepts, pilot projects and other innovation partnerships.

Kickstart Accelerator is an initiative of Impact Impact Hub Zürich and was launched 2015 by digitalswitzerland. In 2018, Kickstart runs four verticals (EdTech & Learning, FinTech & Crypto, Food & Retail Tech and Smart Cities & Infrastructure) together with established partner organizations across industries and the private and public domain: Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros and Swisscom as well as AXA Winterthur, City of Zurich, Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, ETH Zürich, EY, Gebert-Rüf-Stiftung, Mercator Foundation Switzerland, Stäubli, Swisslinx and University of Zurich.

Good things take time. The joint project between Veezoo and AXA wasn’t all plain sailing. Shortly before the finish it even threatened to fail. Thanks to a lot of patience, excellent collaboration and tenacity, AXA and Veezoo managed to establish a successful partnership.

As Switzerland’s biggest insurance company, AXA works with complex systems and large volumes of data. Extracting and preparing useful information from this huge amount of data can be time consuming and requires professional handling. This is where the technology from Veezoo brings a clear value add.

Understanding data with Veezoo

The insurance company and the ETH spin-off met for the first time at Kickstart Accelerator in fall of 2016, where AXA appeared as a partner and Veezoo as one of the first startups in the program. It quickly became clear that the startup’s software was of interest to AXA. Because, with Veezoo’s smart, dialog-based data analysis software, data and information can clearly and easily be made accessible and useful – and this has considerable potential in many areas for AXA.

With Veezoo’s help, concrete questions can be answered easily and in a way that can be understood by anyone. Questions are asked to Veezoo just like in Google and Siri; here, however, based on company data: “How many new customers aged over 30 have we gained in Zurich in the past 3 months?” The question is answered in seconds with a clear, interactive graphic. Answers can also be further explored, either by clicking on individual elements of the visualization or simply by asking a follow-up question, such as: “How many of them came from our online channel?”


Euphoric test phase

Thanks to AXA’s open innovation approach, a potential collaboration and a use case could be prepared very quickly and presented to the decision-making committee. The Customer & Distribution Board wasn’t fully convinced with the original use case. „In a subsequent attempt, we focused more closely on problems of the daily business“, says Marcos Monteiro, Co-Founder of Veezoo. „In the end, it was the focus on the benefit AXA had thanks to Veezoo’s technology, that resulted in the final approval of the pilot.“

In phase one, constructive and close collaboration was essential. After just a few weeks, a running version of Veezoo could be tested. „Selected users in the AXA sales department tested the software for its functionality and to uncover possible deviations in the data reproduction“, says Svea Meier, Open Innovation Developer at AXA. „Initially, some answers from Veezoo differed from the results computed using internal business logics. However, following investigation by both parties, the systems quickly produced fully identical numbers.“ As a result of the test phase, the evaluation showed that the test persons were very satisfied with the support of Veezoo. They were particularly enthusiastic about the extremely simple way answers and information could be obtained from the large AXA data volume. None of them wanted to go back to their daily work without Veezoo.

The final hurdle

Shortly before the end, the Customer & Distribution Board further challenged the AXA/Veezoo team, insisting on full compliance with the process before permanent implementation of the software.

AXA and Veezoo worked hand in hand on that. After clearing the remaining open topics, the business case was presented also to the Executive Board. Further requests were submitted. A few days later, everything was implemented and resulted in the final approval.

For Kickstart Accelerator Co-Lead Katka Letzing, this is a good example of how Kickstart Accelerator can help closing the gap between startups and corporations: „It`s great to see how this pilot project between Veezoo and our partner AXA turned into a longer term partnership. I believe that this kind of collaborations contribute to the Swiss innovation ecosystem in a significant way.“

by Svea Meier, AXA and Till Haug, Veezoo


Selecting 30 startups from over a 1500 of applications is something we take really seriously and we knew that seeing startups in person and giving them a chance to present their ideas could help us to make better decisions. No one can argue that seeing the passionate pitch helps you to understand the idea much better than a multi-page application. That’s why last week we invited 60 startups from all over the world to join us in the 2-day Bootcamp in Zurich. (more…)

Since May 1st 2017, it is legal to sell and eat insects in Switzerland. It’s time to prepare ourselves to find mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers sold in supermarkets and restaurants (and maybe try some – for those who dare!). For two billion people, mostly living in Africa, Asia and South America, insects are already part of their daily diet. And since 2015 it is possible to eat edible insects in a few European countries, including Belgium. Will it become a new food trend in Switzerland? We have asked some experts about how the food landscape could change. Keep reading to find out some interesting insights!

What are the benefits of edible insects?

The Food and Agricuture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has carried out several studies since 2003 about edible insects as a food solution. According to their study “Regulating the use of insects as food and feed”, edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. Insects have a high food conversion rate: for instance, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Furthermore, they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. Insects can be grown on organic waste. Therefore, insects are a potential source for conventional production (mini-livestock) of protein, either for direct human consumption, or indirectly in recomposed foods (with extracted protein from insects); and as a protein source into feedstock mixtures.


Photo credits: Philippe Rossier, Kickstart Accelerator, Visit from Johann Schneider-Ammann, President of the Swiss Confederation (11/10/16)

Will this have an impact on Switzerland’s FoodTech industry?

We have interviewed David Emmerth, Food Vertical Lead at Kickstart Accelerator, and Perttu, CEO and Co-Founder of EntoCube, and asked them about what this new legislation brings to Switzerland. David highlights the pioneering role Switzerland is taking in the FoodTech industry by allowing the sale of insects for daily consumption. “This makes Switzerland an ideal location for startups in the insect area to test their products. In addition, alternative protein sources are among the leading innovation drivers in the food industry – and insects play a central role”.

Entocube, one of the Kickstart Accelerator 2016 participants, pointed out the huge market potential insects have. With an estimated 360M food market and a 20 billion protein market available, companies in Switzerland are starting to consider this alternative. Perttu Karjalainen, CEO and Co-Founder of EntoCube, has shared with us how their insect farming technologies can increase the production efficiency and output. According to Perttu, “This is a very important step for Europe and the western world. It’s fantastic that Switzerland is leading the change towards insect-based foods and has built a sound legislation to support this change. It is already a food trend, and it will keep growing“.

Photo credits: Philippe Rossier, Kickstart Accelerator, Visit from Johann Schneider-Ammann, President of the Swiss Confederation (11/10/16)

Coop and Migros are taking first steps

We spoke with the two largest retailers in Switzerland, Coop and Migros, Global Partners of our Food Vertical at Kickstart Accelerator, and asked them about what the legalization of the selling and consumption of edible insects means for them, and if they are planning to launch any new products soon.

Coop has shared with us that they are soon planning to launch products made from insects:

“Spotting and implementing prospective trends is part of our culture. As there is an increasing number of people with passion for innovative and exotic food, we plan to introduce insect products like burgers or meatballs in our supermarkets as soon as possible”. –  Silvio Baselgia, Head of department for fresh products at Coop

Migros looks forward to the developments in this field: “Migros is very interested in new food concepts and is actively pursuing interesting projects connected to long-term nutrition changes. We will certainly follow the updates about how insects are used for human consumption”. – Migros

Startups in this field: you have a new market where you can test out your products!

The startup Notakey tackled the issue of electronic identification (eID) at last year’s Kickstart Accelerator and secured proof of concept with Credit Suisse, Swisscom and UBS. This issue is currently of interest to many companies, as it can be used in a number of applications to add considerable value for clients.

The benefits of digital identity can be illustrated by one simple example. Nowadays, every company identifies its clients independently, forcing the client to memorize a vast array of different user names and passwords and provide the same information – address, age, date of birth, etc. – over and over again. This requires significant time and effort from all parties, taking up valuable time for the user and resulting in inefficient processes, higher costs and sometimes lower conversion rates for companies. With a system based on a common platform, online businesses and administrative processes can be designed and developed much more efficiently to bring important benefits to both companies and, most importantly, clients. Customers will eventually be able to register at online shops and public offices with their bank login details or take out a mobile phone contract or insurance policy online.

Notakey has developed a mobile software application offering authentication that is both extremely secure and user-friendly, and gathered its first experiences from the issue of digital identity in Latvia – a combination that attracted the attention of renowned companies Credit Suisse, Swisscom and UBS. After initial discussions at the Kickstart Accelerator, it quickly became clear that the parties wished to create a joint proof of concept. They ultimately opted for a four-month PoC with the aim of proving functionality to show that it is possible to operate a cross-sector system with several different parties, while at the same time demonstrating a high degree of user-friendliness.

This evidence was obtained during the PoC. Under laboratory conditions, it was demonstrated that a registered bank customer could take out a mobile phone contract with their existing client data without needing to provide additional identification.

For a startup, however, securing proof of concept is about much more than obtaining technical evidence, as Notakey’s Co-Founder Janis Graubins explains: “This process has brought us closer to the companies, enabling us to build a network of contacts with their internal specialists and learn much more about the needs of their clients.” Acquiring this kind of important knowledge is vital in allowing startups to target their products appropriately, expand their portfolio and enhance their credibility in the market. “We had great experiences at the Kickstart Accelerator and during the PoC that will certainly help to drive us forward. Last but not least, our trip to Switzerland enabled us to attract the attention of investors.”

The PoC was also invaluable for the three companies involved, who not only improved their understanding of the technical aspects involved but also enjoyed a positive experience with a young, dedicated team who understood how to advance projects in an agile way. It was also useful to have an ‘independent’ company within their own organization to offer new ideas and challenge existing processes and procedures. The companies report that the collaboration was extremely constructive, with only the startup phase – in which several parties were required to choose an efficient path for cooperation – proving to be a challenge. In particular, collaborating across borders required a high degree of flexibility.

Looking to the future
All of the project’s participants agree that companies like Credit Suisse, Swisscom and UBS can contribute a considerable amount of expertise to a national eID system in the areas of security and data protection. They are also highly likely to participate in such a system. They already manage large amounts of client data in digital form, are trusted by clients, process secure transactions (payments) every day and use advanced means of identification. They also comply with strict requirements regarding Know Your Customer (KYC) processes, money laundering and other due diligence obligations.

The project participants believe that a common, open eID system tied to the companies’ existing infrastructure should be established in Switzerland. The same platform would therefore include several different identity providers. Interoperability between providers would be guaranteed and the end consumer could choose their preferred provider. While partners are now being sought to participate in the next stages of this project to establish a common national eID, the Kickstart Accelerator and the contribution of Notakey mean significant progress has already been made.

Das Startup Notakey hat sich mit dem Thema der digitalen Identität (eID) beim letztjährigen Kickstart Accelerator einen Proof of Concept (PoC) mit den Unternehmen Credit Suisse, Swisscom und UBS gesichert. Das Thema ist derzeit für viele Unternehmen aktuell, weil damit Anwendungen möglich sind, die Kunden einen grossen Mehrwert bringen.

Die Vorteile der digitalen Identität lassen sich an einem einfachen Beispiel erklären. Heute findet die Identifizierung eines Kunden bei jedem Unternehmen autonom statt. Er muss sich eine Vielzahl von Benutzernamen und Passwörter merken und immer wieder dieselben Daten wie Adresse, Alter, Geburtsdatum, etc. erfassen. Dies verursacht grosse Aufwände: Für den Nutzer bedeutet es einen nervenden Zeitaufwand, für Unternehmen ineffiziente Prozesse, höhere Kosten und mitunter auch eine tiefere Conversion. Mit einem System, das auf einer gemeinsamen Plattform fusst, könnten Geschäfts- und Verwaltungsprozesse im Internet sehr viel effizienter gestaltet und abgewickelt werden, was sowohl den Unternehmen, aber insbesondere auch den Kunden grosse Vorteile bringen würde. So könnten sie sich dereinst mit dem Banken-Login etwa bei Online-Shops und Ämtern anmelden oder einen Handy- oder Versicherungsvertrag online abschliessen.

Notakey hat eine mobile Software-Anwendung entwickelt, die Authentifizierung mit sehr hohem Sicherheitsniveau bei hoher Nutzerfreundlichkeit bietet. Zudem hat das Startup erste Erfahrungen mit dem Thema der digitalen Identität in Lettland gesammelt. Eine Kombination, die das Interesse der drei renommierten Unternehmen Credit Suisse, Swisscom und UBS auf sich gezogen hat. Nach ersten Gesprächen am Kickstart Accelerator war schnell klar, dass man einen gemeinsamen PoC machen möchte. Man entschied sich für einen 4-monatigen Proof of Concept. Darin sollte der Funktionsnachweis erbracht werden, dass es möglich ist, ein branchenübergreifendes, föderalistisches System mit mehreren Parteien zu betreiben, das gleichzeitig eine hohe Nutzerfreundlichkeit aufweist.

Während des PoCs wurde tatsächlich der Beweis erbracht. Unter Laborbedingungen konnte gezeigt werden, dass ein registrierter Bankkunde mit seinen bestehenden Kundendaten und ohne zusätzliche Identifikation einen Mobiltelefonvertrag abschliessen kann.

Für ein Startup geht es in einem PoC aber nicht nur einfach um einen technischen Nachweis, sondern um viel mehr, weiss Janis Graubins von Notakey: “Wir sind sehr nahe an die Firmen herangekommen, konnten ein Beziehungsnetzwerk zu deren internen Spezialisten aufbauen und viel über die Bedürfnisse der Kunden erfahren.” Startups erhalten so wichtiges Wissen, um ihre Produkte zielgruppengerecht anzubieten, ihr Portfolio auszuweiten und ihre Glaubwürdigkeit im Markt zu erhöhen. “Wir haben am Kickstart Accelerator und während dem PoC tolle Erfahrungen gemacht, die uns auf jeden Fall weiterbringen. Nicht zuletzt haben wir dank der Reise in die Schweiz Aufmerksamkeit von Investoren erlangt.”

Auch für die drei beteiligten Unternehmen war der PoC wertvoll. Sie haben nicht nur die technischen Aspekte besser verstehen gelernt, sondern auch eine positive Erfahrung mit einem jungen und engagierten Team gemacht, das es versteht, Projekte auf eine agile Art und Weise voranzutreiben. Es war zudem hilfreich, ein “unabhängiges” Unternehmen innerhalb der eigenen Organisation zu haben. Das bringt neue Ideen und ermöglicht ein Hinterfragen bereits bestehender Prozesse oder Abläufe. Von den Unternehmen hört man, dass die Zusammenarbeit sehr konstruktiv gewesen sei. Nur die Anfangsphase sei eine Herausforderung gewesen, da ein effizienter Weg der Kooperation mit mehreren Parteien gefunden werden musste. Insbesondere die Zusammenarbeit über die Landesgrenzen hinweg habe ein grosses Mass an Flexibilität erfordert.

Die Projektbeteiligten sind sich einig: Unternehmen wie die Credit Suisse, Swisscom und UBS können in Bezug auf Sicherheit und Datenschutz sehr viel Know-How in ein nationales eID-System einbringen. Zudem sind sie prädestiniert, um an einem solchen System mitzuwirken. Sie verwalten bereits sehr viele Kundendaten digital, geniessen das Vertrauen der Kunden, wickeln tagtäglich sichere Transaktionen (Zahlungen) ab und haben fortschrittliche Identifikationsmittel. Zudem erfüllen sie strenge Auflagen bezgl. Know Your Client-Prozessen (KYC), Geldwäscherei und weiteren Sorgfaltspflichten.

In der Schweiz soll nach Sicht der Involvierten ein gemeinsames, offenes eID-System aufgebaut werden, an das Unternehmen ihre vorhandene Infrastruktur anbinden können. So würde es verschiedene Identitätsanbieter auf einer gemeinsamen Plattform geben. Die Interoperabilität zwischen den Anbietern wäre gewährleistet und der Endkonsument könnte sich für seinen favorisierten Anbieter entscheiden. Es werden nun Partner gesucht, die sich am weiterführenden Projekt beteiligen möchten, um eine gemeinsame nationale eID aufzubauen. Durch den Kickstart Accelerator und die Mithilfe von Notakey ist man auf jeden Fall schon mal ein gutes Stück weitergekommen.

Collaboration between startups and corporations often is a win-win situation. Why can such cooperations be this fruitful? We spoke to Veronica Lange and Andreas Kubli from UBS and wanted to know about the value of building strong partnerships and the uniqueness of Kickstart Accelerator.

[Deutsche Version]

Why is UBS interested in startups?

Andreas Kubli (AK): We realized very early on that fintech startups can help us accelerate digital transformation at the bank, and in the meantime collaborations have become a tradition for us. We don’t have to do everything that we offer our customers ourselves. If a startup has a great solution, particularly in an area that is not part of our core competencies, we are happy to discuss a potential collaboration.

Veronica Lange (VL): Owing to their organizational structure, startups are often a lot more agile than a major corporate group, such as UBS. This enables them to significantly reduce the time-to-market for new innovations. They also often have specific technical know-how, which can be applied to very good effect in the financial sector.

What can UBS offer startups?

VL: Collaborations offer a typical win-win situation. Startups benefit from an established platform with a large customer base and the security of a trustworthy major bank. We also bring a great deal of expertise to the table: banking experience, sound advice, extensive professional knowledge, personal contact, long-standing relationships and excellent financial products.

AK: In addition, we have gained a lot of experience in collaborating with startups over the past few years. That is very important, because when a startup collaborates with a corporate group there is always the danger that it will be “crushed” by the complex structures and processes. However, we have found very good ways of preventing that from happening and have launched successful collaborations—for instance with bexio, DSwiss and SumUp.

VL: Access to capital is certainly also a decisive factor for startups. We can help startups, such as the participants in Kickstart Accelerator, with their pitch for capital to investors.

Why should I, with my startup in Switzerland, approach Kickstart Accelerator rather than look to London, Singapore or New York?

AK: Kickstart Accelerator is one-of-a-kind globally, and one of the largest multi-corporate startup support programs in Europe. It is unique because it is supported by more than 15 major corporate partners, which all pull together to promote the Swiss innovation ecosystem. From last year’s program, we were able to make a proof-of-concept with both Notakey and Zoa, which we are currently still working on.

VL: Arguments in favor of Switzerland are its expertise as a financial center and a strong educational system combined with excellent technical universities, gifted talents, a very high level of education and a large number of potential investors in the country. Global investors also rate Switzerland highly. Many of them traveled to Zurich in January to attend the Investor Summit, where they met with Swiss startups.

AK: I haven’t come across the aforementioned collaborative aspect as much in other markets. Switzerland, however, is ideal for collaboration because of its manageable size.

What was your best/most surprising moment when the Kickstart Accelerator program was run for the first time last year?

AK: With Eric van der Kleij, we were able to bring on board a recognized expert to help develop an accelerator program. I was really impressed by how we were able to set up one of the largest European programs in such a short time. The interaction between a wide range of partners with a common goal created a unique dynamic.

VL: I was impressed by the quality of the applicants from all over the world. I also sensed a great interest and a huge commitment internally on the part of the employees to support the accelerator program and the startups.

What are your expectations for this year’s accelerator program and from what areas would you like to see startups come?

AK: Last year’s program exceeded expectations in terms of scope, attracting attention and project studies. I hope that even more startups will sign up this year and that we will see even more PoCs. We also want to keep spreading Switzerland’s good reputation around the world. In a best-case scenario, we may convince foreign startups to come to Switzerland. I wouldn’t like to specify any particular areas, but if a startup demonstrates a collaborative spirit, I look forward to the exchange.

VL: I can go along with that. A project study in the areas of distributed ledger, smart contracts or wealthtech would be great. But I am also very open to other topics, and I would really like to wait and see what new ideas startups from all around the world approach us with.