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 our complex, hyper-connected, technology-driven world, we need to work together across industries and sectors like never before. Ecosystem Innovation describes the process of new solutions and technologies emerging from collaboration and partnerships within a system of many organizations and individuals. This book is a collaborative effort of 31 co-authors from multiple organizations. It is the follow-up of Volume 1 “Kickstarting Collaboration” published in 2018.

Ecosystem innovation requires a certain mindset and humility, skills and capabilities, and experiences for corporates, startups, SMEs, municipalities, universities, philanthropic organisations and politicians to work together. Ecosystem innovation is not yet a clearly defined term and you will read multiple definitions and uses of the concept in this book. Yet, what all articles have in common, is at the core of the metaphor “ecosystem”: one species (or organization) can only thrive, if other species (or organizations) thrive as well. 

Ecosystem Innovation – How to create successful partnerships between high-growth startups and established organizations. Vol II.

Published in November 2019 by Kickstart.

In partnership with Engagement Migros, digitalswitzerland and Impact Hub Zürich.

Download “Ecosystem Innovation” as pdf!


and much more … 


Umberto Annino, SATW; Prof. Dr. Andrea Back, University of St.Gallen; Babar Baig, WriteReader; Dr. Angela Beckenbauer, ZHAW School of Management and Law; Dr. Christoph Birkholz, Kickstart & Impact Hub Zürich; Nicolas Bürer, digitalswitzerland; Manuela Disch, Swisscom; Dr. Matthias Filser, ZHAW School of Management and Law; Guillaume Gabus, digitalswitzerland; Ingeborg Gasser-Kriss, 21st century innovation agent; Prof. Oliver Gassmann, University of St.Gallen; Dr. Ben Graziano, ZHAW School of Management and Law; Dr. Holger Greif, PwC Switzerland; Prof. Gudela Grote, ETH Zürich; Till Haug, Veezoo; Kathrin Hoesli, Swisscom; Philip van Hövell, PwC Switzerland; Nora Varesco Kager, ETH Zürich; Peter Kasahara, PwC Switzerland; Dr. Tim Lehmann, Kickstart; Katka Letzing, Kickstart; Prof. Adrian W. Müller, ZHAW School of Management and Law; Raimund Neubauer, Kickstart; Dr. Lukas Peter, Swisscom; Kathrin Puhan-Henz, you advance GmbH; Josephine Ritzel, Kickstart; Christina Senn-Jakobsen, Kickstart; Dr. Jennifer Sparr, ETH Zürich; Thomas Vellacott, WWF Switzerland; Tina Werro, Swisscom; Dr. Christian Westermann, PwC Switzerland.

Design by Grafik2.

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.

40 innovations in FinTech, EdTech, HealthTech, Food & Retail Tech, Smart City and Cybersecurity are gaining strong momentum from cooperation with leading corporations and organizations.

After four months of intense preparations and collaboration, Kickstart has the great honour to announce the innovation partnerships closed between the participating startups and intrapreneurship teams and Kickstart’s partner corporations and organizations.

Partnerships in the field of Cybersecurity:

The Kickstart Cybersecurity Batch 2019.

Partnerships in the field of EdTech & Learning:

The Kickstart EdTech & Learning Batch 2019.

Partnerships in the area of FinTech & Digital Assets:

The Kickstart FinTech & Digital Assets Batch 2019.

Partnerships in the Food & Retail Tech sector:

The Kickstart Food & Retail Tech Batch.

Partnerships in HealthTech:

The Kickstart HealthTech Batch 2019.

Partnerships from the Smart City area:

The Kickstart Smart City Batch 2019.

Partnerships and projects in the Intrapreneurship Vertical:

The Kickstart Intrapreneurship Batch 2019.

Photos by Thomas Lüthi, Ringier.

Every year, Kickstart works together with a wide network of top-class advisors and experts, who support our startups and scale-ups with their broad specialist knowledge in deep tech, innovation and entrepreneurship. One of them is Oliver Durrer, Managing Director of our program partner SwissLEAP, who supports both the Intrapreneurship and the EdTech & Learning Vertical. In this interview, he shares how Lean Startup methods can be used to enhance both customer-centric learning as well as organizational learning.

First and foremost: Do you have a morning routine?

I do indeed have a morning ritual that I try to cultivate and follow:

First, right after waking up, I go for a 15 minutes sitting meditation session. I use Emily Fletcher’s method of the “3 Ms”: Mindfulness (all about being fully present in the moment with all your senses), Meditation (giving your body deep rest and sort of purging the stress of the past) and Manifestation (practising gratitude and vividly envisioning the future, combining it with actual emotions as if you have already experienced it). 

Second, I do a breathing exercise inspired by Wim “the Iceman” Hof. It’s a form of abdominal and chest mouth-breathing hyperventilation combined with holding your breath for as long as you can after completely exhaling. This makes me feel alert but calm and focused at the same time.

Third, a short morning workout routine of 20-30 minutes and I am ready to win the day. 

What are your key recommendations for startups?

First, I like to ask them about the company’s purpose (the why) and learn whether the teams are clear and aligned on the deeper motivation and its roots. This is crucial for the company’s vision and values as well as a key driver of individual intrinsic motivation to help them get through the tough times to realize their company’s mission. To structure the startup team’s challenges, I like to use a simple but powerful curated framework we have dubbed the SwissLEAP Diamond – a combination of 2 Golden Triangles:

  1. Customer – Problem – Solution
    Make sure that you understand the problem you want to solve by deeply understanding your customer having that very problem, before obsessing about your solution or product. In other terms, citing Ash Maurya: “Be in love with the problem, not with your solution.”
  2. Desirability (Is there a need?) – Feasibility (Can we build it?) – Viability (Can we profitably and sustainably scale it?)
    Once you have confirmed the need/demand for your solution, you can shift your focus on building the solution in a sustainably scalable way. Focus on solving the customer-problems with the highest impact on your business’ success and with the highest remaining uncertainty. This is a great way to de-risk your enterprise.

In combination with this framework, we use powerful problem-solving techniques and methods for accelerated customer-centric learning and de-risking, such as Lean Innovation. As my friend Brant Cooper, co-author of The Lean Entrepreneur, taught me, the base are the 3 Es: Empathy, Experiments and Evidence

An example of such an experiment is the one Dropbox used: Before even writing a single line of code for their product, they used a video to illustrate the problem and their solution and asked people to sign up if they were interested in such a cloud-storage product. If memory serves they received something like 70’000 sign-ups in very little time. The Dropbox team generated Evidence from this Experiment that there was a need for this kind of solution.

This accelerated customer-centric learning is extremely valuable for startups – also in a corporate startup context for intrapreneurs. For sustainable success with lean startup and lean innovation practices, the culture and context of a larger organization most often need to holistically evolve, though. The core common denominators are learning and collaboration, whether we are in a pure startup setting or in a corporate context. It is like Yin&Yang: both startups and established enterprises can and should learn from each other, a blend of their respective best practices is the likely combination for success. Here, adopting a learning mindset and practices, in combination with the adequate structure, systems, strategies and culture is crucial – also when it comes to corporate-startup collaborations.

What does “Lean Startup” mean for you personally? 

Lean Startup emphasizes learning as much and as fast as possible with as little resources as possible to avoid or reduce “waste”. The build-measure-learn and innovation accounting approaches beautifully combine creativity with a scientific structured approach for effectiveness and efficiency in problem-solving and designing products and services. 

Personally, I like to use Lean Startup methods to drive customer-centric learning as well as to enhance stakeholder-centric organizational learning. I even use it as a personal development tool by applying experimentation and learning loops to my own life – for example to my morning routine ;-).

About the author:

A certified lean innovation coach, Oliver’s 15+ years track-record of catalysing a culture of organizational learning, intrapreneurship and innovation, as intrapreneur and entrepreneur, spans across large enterprises, SMB and tech startups in Europe, Asia and the US, over a broad range of functions and fields. He started, scaled and integrated an EdTech startup and created an InnoLab for Migros Club School, Switzerland’s biggest further-education institution. Oliver founded SwissLEAP to empower purpose-driven pioneers to increase impact by evolving corporate culture with lean innovation, intrapreneurship and organizational learning to create shared value. 

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.

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.

Patient monitoring through artificial intelligence, 3D-printed medical products, and wearables to track health and lifestyle – it’s these kinds of innovations we aim to support in Kickstart’s newly established HealthTech Vertical. But why scale up your HealthTech startup in Switzerland? HealthTech Vertical Lead Josephine Ritzel has the answers.

Switzerland is not only known for its strong economy, supported by low corporate taxes next to many other factors. A large talent pool and a high level of education make Switzerland attractive for entrepreneurs from all over the world. In the U.S. News & World Report, which rates categories such as entrepreneurship, openness for business and quality of life and more, Switzerland has been ranked #1 for several years in a row. When it comes to HealthTech in particular, we see Switzerland as the ideal place to innovate and grow. Here are five reasons for this:

1 – The Swiss Healthcare System

Switzerland has become the best healthcare system in Europe last year. In the latest Euro Health Consumer Index, Switzerland overtook the Netherlands and is now at the top of the league. The country excels especially in terms of access to medical services. According to the The Healthcare Access and Quality Index HAQ, published in the UK journal “The Lancet“, Switzerland ranks within the top 10. New, game-changing technologies and innovations could make the Swiss healthcare system even better and transform the practice of medicine. Startups could make a major contribution towards Switzerland’s healthcare system, making it even more efficient and patient-oriented.

2 – Innovation

In the Global Innovation Index 2018, Switzerland has been holding the top position since 2011. Reasons for this include the strong collaboration between universities and industry in terms of research as well as the political and regulatory environment. Switzerland is also considered one of the rising deep tech nations. In a study by Wavestone, Switzerland ranks seventh when it comes to access to funding for deep tech companies. Startupticker wrote an interesting article about this. Furthermore, the startup hub of Zurich saw great growth in 2018. The number of funding rounds rose from 26 to 92, which is the highest rise amongst all major hubs in Europe, according to a report from corporate consulting firm EY.

3 Education

Building a company is not just about hard work and passion, it is also a team effort, so you need highly skilled and well educated people as team members. To grow your business even further, you will probably hire employees who have a proven expertise in specific areas, also you can engage a professional business advisor.

When it comes to higher education, Switzerland is one of the leading countries in the world. In Reuters’ ranking of Europe’s most innovative universities, the two Federal Institutes of Technology, EPFL in Lausanne and ETH Zürich as well as the University of Zurich appear in the Top 15. The Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018 listed 5 Swiss Universities within the Top 100 and the renowned  Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is ranked even within the Top 20. Today, 41% of people aged between 25 and 64 have a higher-education qualification (university or vocational education). Find more facts about education in Switzerland here.

4 – Investments

Just recently, the Swiss Venture Capital Report stated that “Investment in Swiss startups has hit the billion mark. In 2018, nearly CHF 1.24 billion flowed into Swiss startups – an increase of 31.8% from the previous year. The number of financing rounds increased simultaneously, growing by 31.4% to 230.”Related to HealthTech, it was observed that BioTech and MedTech continued to receive the highest share in 2017 /2018. Growth was particularly strong in the canton of Zurich – as reported by Switzerland Global Enterprise in 2018.

5 – Research and Technology

Research is an important topic in Switzerland. Close to 3% of the GDP are invested in research and development (R&D). By this, Switzerland is among the countries with the highest spending on R&D in relation to GDP. With regards to medical research, a wide range of projects are carried out at University of Zurich and Universitätsspital Zürich. Located in Zurich, Berne, Geneva, Lausanne and St. Gallen, Switzerland has six clinical research centers, known as Clinical Trial Units (CTUs). Additionally, the two Basel-based pharma corporations Roche and Novartis belong to the top 20 companies in the world with the largest research budgets.

Also when it comes to medical technology, Switzerland is one of the leading countries. The Swiss MedTech industry accounts for 1.1% of all employees within the country, which is the highest percentage share in Europe. Furthermore, no other European country has such a high enterprise density in this category; there is a dense network of MedTech, BioTech, and NanoTech companies all over Switzerland.

The Kickstart HealthTech Vertical, supported by Migros, Swiss Healthcare Startups, AXA, Cognizant, PwC Switzerland and Ricolab, aims at fostering innovation in the field of health technologies. Startups that provide services, products, and new technologies that help reshaping health, medical related processes and technologies, are invited to apply now.

About the Author
Josephine Ritzel is leading Kickstart’s newly established HealthTech Vertical. With a degree in Business Administration and Healthcare Management, she gained her expertise during the time working for the largest private hospital group in Switzerland, on both the hospital and the group level. Afterwards, she joined a consulting company and managed projects mainly in the fields of health and life insurance. Overall, she has nearly 10  years of experience in the healthcare and medical sector.

Photo: Philippe Rossier, Ringier

Today, Swiss cities rank very high when quality of living, personal security and attractiveness for doing business are considered as factors. These achievements are mainly based on investments and innovations made in the past. Kickstart’s Smart City Vertical Lead Ray Neubauer says that in an international environment with ever increasing pace in technology turn-over rates and development, Switzerland has to ensure that the country is not losing ground compared to international competitors.

Switzerland’s Transition

Imagine Switzerland without its outstanding railway network. Today, it is considered to be the best in the world and a major pillar of Switzerland’s economy. The basis for this and other success stories was laid in the 19th century through visionary politicians and economic leaders like Alfred Escher, who amongst others planned and built Switzerland’s first railway lines, contributed significantly to the foundation of ETH Zurich, and established the predecessor of today’s Credit Suisse bank . At that time, Switzerland was a rather poor country and courageous decisions were taken in the context of poverty, emigration and other economic shortages.

Today, the situation has completely changed, with Switzerland being among the wealthiest nations on earth and having an extraordinarily high quality of living, personal security levels and attractiveness as business location.

Persisting and New Challenges

Beside this remarkable evolution, various challenges still persist or evolved over the last decades. As an additional factor, the willingness to take brave decisions and to accept a certain level of risks connected with the introduction of innovative technologies seems to have decreased in parallel to the increased standard of living.

Taking one more look at today’s mobility: Switzerland has indeed one of the best public transport systems in the world. Nevertheless, the Swiss mobility sector still accounts for around 30% of Switzerland’s CO2 emissions – mainly caused by individual transport and not even taking into account aviation. In other economic sectors like electricity supply or real estate, the challenges and need for changes are equally extensive and also appear mostly unsolved.

To solve the country’s challenges, Swiss political and economic leaders need to return the spirit of taking courageous and visionary decisions. This could happen by introducing innovative solutions and taking a certain level of risks connected with these new technologies, which in turn would prepare Switzerland for the future in a way that the country retains its position among smart and highly-developed nations. This is especially important, as large rising economies like China, but also established countries such as the USA, Japan, Korea or Singapore are currently in the process of transforming into innovation hot spots.

Kickstart and the Smart City & Technology Vertical

Contributing to the solution of these challenges, Kickstart’s main aim is to foster innovation in Switzerland. This is achieved through bridging the gap between promising later-stage startups and Swiss corporations, cities, universities and other organizations. Kickstart provides a conceptual, organizational, and communicational framework for the concrete implementation of partnership projects between the startups and Swiss organizations.

Kickstart’s Smart City & Technology Vertical focuses on topics such as Smart Energy, Sustainable Buildings, Future Mobility, IoT and Connectivity, City Services, and Industry 4.0. Within these focus areas, Kickstart and its Smart City & Technology partners – the City of Zurich, the City of St. Gallen, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE, Axpo, CSEM, Empa NEST, and Stäubli – jointly implement high-quality pilot projects to test the financial viability and technological feasibility of smart technology solutions proposed by international startups.

Together, all involved parties advance smart technology solutions that increase the sustainability, connectivity, productivity and resilience of Swiss businesses and cities, and ultimately, contribute to the attractiveness of Switzerland as place to live and to do business.

Kickstart zu Gast bei der Zürcher Stadtpräsidentin. (/Thomas Meier, Ringier)

About the Author

Ray Neubauer is Kickstart’s Smart City & Technology Vertical Lead. He also holds positions as business developer and advisory board member in different Swiss energy startups and smart city non-profit organisations. During his career he worked for established and startup companies in the Swiss machine industry, as well as the real estate, the building material, and the energy sector. He graduated as BSc. in Electrical Engineering and MSc. in Sustainable Energy Technologies and Management.

Education technology startups compete for engineering knowledge, capital, and institutional partners in the high-margin, commercial technology markets. To compete in the global race for resources and attention, EdTech startups face decisions regarding where it is best to develop their companies and which regions could help them make their products profitable. Kickstart’s EdTech & Learning Vertical Lead Tim Lehmann showcases 6 ways of how EdTech startups can fine-tune their innovations in Switzerland.

According to The Economist, Switzerland is one of the world’s most advanced education systems. Among the 50 countries covered in the latest index, Switzerland ranks second, right after Finland. Although economies such as the USA or China are known as some of the world’s biggest EdTech markets and therefore provide the right market size to scale-up, they are apparently underachieving in future education demands, as stated in the Economist Group’s recently published study. Switzerland and Finland, on the other hand, excel particularly in their policy environment. When it comes to fine-tuning EdTech innovations for the global markets, these countries are definitely to be considered.

Quality and complexity of innovating in advanced systems

When innovating in advanced education sectors, EdTech startups need to take into account opportunities and challenges. The opportunity to innovate in an advanced system lies to a great degree in quality: Advanced education systems provide top engineering talent, ambitious and intelligent institutions from universities to foundations, and substantial funding sources from long-term capital to research grant funding. On the downside, challenges might lie in the overdetermined character of advanced, highly integrated systems. High-quality systems lead to complexity: demanding environments in which there is little space for poorly designed inventions. To come up with new solutions, considerable investments in collaborative alliances, sector know-how and technologies are needed.

6 practices of innovation partnerships

At Kickstart’s EdTech & Learning Vertical, we help international and Swiss technology ventures to make an innovative leap in and through Switzerland’s education system. Our ambition is to help innovators create collaborative alliances. Based on the EdTech ventures that have participated in Kickstart, we have come up with 6 exemplary collaboration practices to showcase their achievements.

1 – White-label product partnerships with local EdTech companies

Kickstart and foundation partners coordinated and funded a white-label partnership pilot between the Danish EdTech startup WriteReader and the local education software company Dybuster with market access to Germany. Growing into high-quality education sectors requires local know-how, networks and reputation. The local company helps add a high quality, premium element in a demanding local market for the global mass product.

EdTech Pitches during Final Selection at Kraftwerk. (/Anja Wurm, Ringier)

2 – Engineering partnerships with science-driven technical universities

The Kickstart partner foundation Gebert Rüf provided the UK based EdTech startup RosieReality an innovation grant to develop their hardware into an AR/software technology in partnership with Wyss Center, a prestigious Swiss university industry center. Later, the Rosie team moved from London to Zurich where they became an official spin-off of ETH Zurich. Today, the startup develops an ambitious computer vision technology for the US, B2C consumer markets and attracts global tech companies and engineering talent from around the world.

3 – Proof-of-concepts in teaching with large-campus universities

The technical university partner of Kickstart, ETH Zurich, conducted a proof-of-concept with the Norwegian EdTech startup Differ for large-scale course collaboration: In a chatbot supported online environment, teaching assistants help students to collaborate on exercises. The pilot targeted a math student course for around 500 engineering students, a very critical and thus demanding course for the university’s ambition to educate top-tier engineers. Apart from the prestigious partner in the university landscape, the startup benefitted from intensive iteration with faculty and teaching assistants to test and further develop its product.

4 – Grant-funding for feasibility studies to advance product-market-fit

Two of Switzerland’s largest foundations, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and Jacobs Foundation, provided grant-funding for a feasibility study to test out the application of the Danish EdTech startup WriteReader in Swiss primary schools. The app helps children to learn writing and reading by creating their own books. The funding supported the test roll-out among 50 primary schools with an evaluation of how teachers perceive the app. The startup benefitted not only from the association with the prestigious foundations, but also from a high-quality analysis and video documentary material of the test study for promotional activities in German speaking countries.

5 – Proof-of-concepts for product-market pivots with corporations

Kickstart partner corporation Swisscom implemented a proof-of-concept with the Swiss EdTech company TEACHY in order to bring more traction to the corporation’s internal expert matching software. The EdTech company pivoted its student tutoring matching software and knowledge to motivate corporate employees to exchange their expertise and build knowledge-driven relationships.

6 – Venture Fund investment in EdTech startups

The Danish company Labster raised $21M in Series B Funding from different investors, including Kickstart partner Swisscom Ventures. This will help Labster to bring their Virtual Reality labs to STEM students, in order to provide a learning environment in which they can experiment with different lab scenarios. To scale-up an education product requires trusted and skillful investors who are willing to understand and learn that the EdTech sector is different to other tech markets.

Here is why Robert MacKenzie, Vice President Engineering & Research at Labster recommends taking part in Kickstart:

Kickstart 2019

In 2019, Kickstart is looking for promising EdTech startups from around the world working with Swiss corporations, foundations, schools, and universities on a set of innovation challenges. Apply now!

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.

In addition to bringing together startups with corporations, cities, foundations, and universities, Kickstart is weaving a network of connections to investors. A highlight of this year’s investor activities was the Kickstart Investor Summit that took place on Nov 8 at Kraftwerk.

We live in interesting times, where the technology world and its financing are undergoing profound changes. Europe is self-confident about deep tech, and we are convinced that it could become a “love story” for Switzerland. Yet, the “completeness” of the ecosystem and the financing chains are still far behind the US, and there is a heavy reliance on non-Swiss VC investors, little growth and lack of scaling capital – this was, in a nutshell, the introductory keynote from Redalpine’s founding partner Michael Sidler at Kickstart Investor Summit 2018. 

Furthermore, an increasing number of family offices are in search of higher yields from their investments and gravitate towards riskier products with better returns, as a result, among other factors, of societal change, which drives new investment opportunities, as Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, Global Head of Investment Strategy and Research at Credit Suisse International Wealth Management explained in her speech on Supertrends.

With this in mind, and the support of Credit Suisse, Meyerlustenberger Lachenal and Swisscom, we brought together over 100 investors (Business Angels, Family Offices, Venture Capital, Corporate Venture Capital, Funds of Funds), startups and partners to participate in the summit, profiling first-rate speakers and top pitches from our Kickstarters18.

Revolut did the final appearance at the summit to revolutionize the financial industry’s mindset with their unicorn-growth-game: “We are underdogs. We keep learning. We innovate. Everyday is a new fight. Technology is our weapon. We identify opportunities. We focus. We execute.” – Andrius Biceika, Head of Business Development at Revolut.

It was a great opportunity for new capital to strengthen the ecosystem, and for individual investors to connect, exchange, and invest!

At Kickstart we take 0% equity from the startups joining the batch and we work with our investor partners to provide the startups with the best insights and knowledge to successfully seize investment opportunities, which has led to some great success stories: within just six weeks of collaboration sprint, this year the Kickstart startups have raised CHF 6.5 Mio. In total, since the beginning of 2016 (30 months), the Kickstart startups have raised over CHF 85 Mio, including the outstanding success story of the Korean startup Blocko that participated in the 2017 program: In the first half of 2018, Blocko has raised CHF 8.9 Mio in a series B financing round with Samsung Ventures among other investors, led by SparkLabs Ventures. Moreover, the startup has established operations in the UK with 12 new employees and, through Aergo, has raised CHF 30 Mio through an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). Blocko’s Chief Innovation Officer Alison Shim is certain that her participation at Kickstart was crucial in the recent successful funding rounds and the ICO. Besides the 47 unique meetings with enterprises and investors that took place during the acceleration phase, the team, through an introduction from their Kickstart mentor, got in touch with the current chairman and CEO of Aergo.

Looking forward to hearing more of these success stories in the future, so let’s keep an eye on our Kickstarters and their traction!

Investor Program Lead, Ruth Armalé and Program Co-lead, Christoph Birkholz, kicking-off Kickstart Investor Summit 2018.

Panel: “Good news for the Deep Tech nation: Swiss investments and risk capital trends” with Daniel Keiper-Knorr, Speedinvest, Cédric Köhler, Creathor Ventures, Alexander Stoeckel, btov, Dr. Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, Credit Suisse International Wealth Management, and Anat Bar-Gera, Cyverse.

“Speed Dating” at Kickstart Investor Summit.

Fireside Chat “New growth capital funds in Switzerland” by Roman Gaus, Future Fund and Alexander Schlaepfer, Swisscom Ventures. Moderated by David Hug, Ringier Digital Ventures.

Fireside Chat “Nuances of Family Offices investing in startups” by Cynthia Jurytko, Wille Finance AG and Hampus Thorson, Armada Investment. Moderated by Andreas Thors, Partners Group.

35+ collaborations resulted from Kickstart 2018, 10 of which in the EdTech & Learning Vertical, that  took place for the first time in Zurich. 7 of the PoCs in this new vertical were launched together with Kickstart’s University Partners ETH Zürich, University of Zurich and ZHAW. Time to ask them some questions.  

3 Questions to Prof. Michael Hengartner, President of the University of Zurich

In what way will the digital transformation change the way we teach and learn?
Digital transformation has a profound impact on how we set priorities in research and teaching at the University of Zurich. Research with large datasets is already today found everywhere, from the natural sciences to medicine to the humanities, and the demand for talents with data science proficiencies will increase even more. We are observing a similar development, but with a lag, with machine learning and AI. The promotion of digital skills and digital literacy is thus becoming a key element in our portfolio of courses and curricula. And this is even more true in the area of continuing education: the ongoing technological revolution dramatically increases the risk of de-skilling and makes life-long learning all the more important. The digital transformation also changes the way we teach, in offering us new tools, from MOOCs to VR to AR, and helping us personalize the educational support that we can offer our students. E-learning and online courses make it possible to study virtually at any time and from anywhere, creating new opportunities for cooperation and exchange.

Are you –personally – a “Techy”?
I am not an early adopter, but certainly very interested in the benefits that new “tools and toys” can offer. I recently moved to running an almost paperless office – but still have a lot of “legacy paper” lying around! (laughs)

Which technologies in the field of EdTech excite you?
Personally, I find the potential offered by intelligent virtual and augmented learning
environments (VR and AR) particularly exciting. Virtual environments allow students to
experiment and learn in ways that would have been impossible before. In a simulated laboratory, for example, students can conduct experiments that would be financially prohibitive in the real world. Or they can train a particularly tricky or perhaps even dangerous experiment or intervention first virtually. Virtual learning environments have a great potential for providing new insights in almost every discipline. In the future, it might be possible to simulate social settings of past centuries or distant geographic environments.

I am also a great believer in the value of personalized learning. Here I do see however a major challenge in how to secure the protection of these highly personal data, and this possibly over a very long time. Overall, it is clear that EdTech can greatly improve the quality of our education, especially whenever there are structural limits, like large student numbers or limited financial resources.


3 Questions to Stephan Loretan, Member of the Executive Committee of ZHAW School of Management and Law

In what way will the digital transformation change the way we teach and learn?
New technologies will lead us to didactic possibilities, some of which are still unimagined today. For example, the use of virtual reality in case studies will lead us to even greater practical relevance. Imagine you are running an assessment as part of your leadership training with (real) cases represented in the virtual world such as salary or contract negotiations. In this case, the digitization opens up the possibility for students to improve their skills regardless of time and place. Furthermore, in the case described above, the unlimited use of digitization can also save costs.

How and why is ZHAW working together with startups?
The ZHAW cooperates with startups in various fields. This already begins with the offer of modules on the Bachelor level in the field of “Entrepreneurship”. We also carry out training for start-ups on behalf of Innosuisse. Furthermore, we support startups in picking up speed, especially at the early /seed phase in our RUNWAY Incubator. We select the startups according to the criteria high level of innovation, respectable market chances and strong founding team with high commitment.

Why is ZHAW supporting Kickstart Accelerator?
The ZHAW is convinced that aspects such as new learning experiences (i.e. Gamification, mobile learning), digital / blended teaching formats, customized / individualized learning strategies and products, collaborative learning platforms and lifelong learning concepts will become more and more important in the education sector. The Kickstart Accelerator offers us the opportunity to get to know startups that focus on these aspects and, if possible, to launch a collaboration with them.


In the EdTech & Learning Vertical, the following 10 collaborations were agreed on: 

Details can be found here. Pictures: UZH / ZHAW

We’re delighted to announce the collaborations between the #kickstarters18 startups and established organizations. More than 35 PoCs and partnership projects have resulted from the program.

Kickstart, a program of Impact Hub Zurich, launched in 2015 by digitalswitzerland, bridges the gap between later-stage startups, corporations, cities, universities, and institutions to accelerate deep tech innovations with positive impact. For the third edition, 30 Swiss and international tech startups had moved into the collaboration space Kraftwerk in Zurich, where they met with leading corporations and organizations aiming at launching joint projects. More than 70 such partnership projects have emerged from the programme since its inception. 

Here is the overview of the 2018 pilot projects and partnerships:  

(Details in the Media Release)               

The EdTech & Learning Vertical saw 10 collaborations:



In the Fintech & Crypto Vertical, 10 collaborations with Kickstart partners were agreed on:



The Food & Retail Tech Vertical saw 9 collaborative projects resulting from the programme:



The Smart Cities & Infrastructure Vertical Vertical resulted in 6 cooperations:



“It is exciting to see such a great number of collaborations between the startups and the partners that are growing the Kickstart Community,” said Kickstart Co-Lead, Katka Letzing. “This shows that Kickstart has the potential to truly connect technology startups from all over the world with the Swiss innovation ecosystem.”

Next to the cooperation between the startups and the large partners, some of the startups have also initiated partnerships with each other: For example, Sharing Academy (Spain) and TEACHY (CH) agreed on a PoC to combine their forces of business and software development with the purpose of improving education in Switzerland. In the FinTech Vertical, ResonanceX and Altoo AG  are teaming up for a joint exploration in providing next-generation post-trade information for structured product investments to wealthy individuals. Kickstart alumni PriceHubble and Altoo explore possibilities on real estate valuation based on machine learning for comprehensive digital wealth management. And YUKKA Lab AG has entered into a partnership with the Kickstart alumni AAAccell.

In addition, Mondays has partnered with Diversify to offer corporates and startups the opportunity to tangibly deliver on their top level diversity goals, by providing women’s essential products in the workplace. In the meantime, Kickstart supported the startup AVUXI from UK in closing a partnership deal with 3 Swiss online travel companies, including Nezasa and Bedfinder. Swiss startup vlot. got support to work on closing two partnership deals in the field of InsurTech.

Furthermore, during the few weeks of  Kickstart 2018, the startups have raised 6.5 million CHF funding from international and Swiss investors.


New Cybersecurity Vertical in 2019 in cooperation with SATW

In the coming year, Kickstart aims at tapping into new technology areas: Together with the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW, the program will launch a Cybersecurity Vertical in order to foster innovation in the fields of IT-, information- and data security. Additionally, Kickstart is in advanced conversations for a vertical on health technologies in Zurich.

The program has already agreed on several partnerships for the 2019 edition: Coop, Swisscom, Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, Axpo, Stäubli, Gebert Rüf Stiftung, CSEM,  and others have been confirmed as partners for next year’s program.


Fotos by Anja Wurm, Ringier

Next to the 30 finalist startups, also five intrapreneurship teams participated in the 2018 Kickstart program – more than ever before. We notice a growing interest in the topic of intrapreneurship. Here is what it’s all about.

Did you know that the post-it sticky notes you probably use every day, were invented by an intrapreneurship team? The same applies for Gmail, the Sony Playstation, and other famous inventions. The term “intrapreneurship” is composed of “intracorporate” and “entrepreneurship” and was first used by the US entrepreneur Gifford Pinchot back in the 1980s. Pinchot described intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do”, employees of a large company with extraordinary creativity, courageous ideas and entrepreneurial talent, who work autonomously and dedicatedly on their own projects, next to their “normal” tasks at work. Intrapreneurship is a bottom-up approach to enable innovation within a company. To get back to the famous post it note; the self-sticking paper to make notes was invented more than 40 years ago by scientists at 3M. The idea itself was actually born by chance, and could have easily been forgotten after some time. However, as 3M gave their employees the possibility to dedicate a certain amount of their work time for their own projects, the idea was developed further – and turned into a product that should not be missing on any office desk today.

Innovation as top priority – and biggest challenge

Not only 3M, but also Google and other companies have recognized the value of giving their employees the flexibility and time to work on own projects next to their daily work. A reason for this is the rising pressure to innovate: Enterprises across all industries are confronted with the effects of digital change. In order to stay competitive, innovative ideas are constantly in demand, which makes innovation a top priority, but also a great challenge for companies. The larger and more international a company is, the more complex its organizational structures become. This implies a certain lack of flexibility, which makes the implementation of new ideas becomes more complicated and time-consuming. That’s why companies look for alternative ways of innovating,  such as collaborating with startups, or, as an alternative, fostering “entrepreneurship within the organization”, thus enabling intrapreneurship.

Growing interest in intrapreneurship

Kickstart puts its focus on both topics: On one hand, we make collaboration between startups and large companies and organizations possible. On the other hand, we support intrapreneurs coming from our partner companies. The interest in the latter has grown noticeably. While, in the first two editions of Kickstart, we supported one intrapreneurship team each, in 2018 already five intrapreneurship teams took part in the program. Credit Suisse, Swisscom and Migros were all bringing intrapreneurship teams into the program. “The pressure to be innovative, to meet changing market needs and to prevail against the competition has increased,” says Kickstart Program Lead Katka Letzing. “This makes intrapreneurship more and more important.”

The intrapreneurs batch of 2018.

Out of the comfort zone

The 2018 intrapreneurs worked on various projects; the OLIQ team from Mibelle Group (Migros), for example, works on an oral vitamin spray, while Menu Casa (Migros) is specialized on home delivery service of healthy and delicious meals for people in the prime of life. At the same time, Robo VC, an intrapreneurship team from Swisscom, applies Artificial Intelligence to support investors in the venture capital industry making their investments. As diverse as their projects are, at Kickstart all intrapreneurs are confronted with very similar challenges: “The pace is high; intrapreneurs have to develop new models, develop their products, process a lot of information and at the same time cooperate with their organizations in the right way,” Katka Letzing says. In workshops and together with a great pool of high-class mentors and experts, the intrapreneurs learn classical innovation methods, identify their target group, improve their product and define their go-to-market strategy. Michael Meier from the intrapreneurship team from Club School Migros is well aware of the fact that “there are many tasks that lie outside our comfort zone. But our project had reached a point where it needed new inputs. Now we are presented with so many ideas, that it is challenging to free up sufficient resources in addition to your daily work. We see the time at Kickstart as an opportunity to push the project forward intensively.”

Samer Alshamkany & Colin de Silva from BankPay with Zurich Mayor Corine Mauch.

Samer Alshamkany from BankPay, an intrapreneurship team from Credit Suisse, says: “At Kickstart, we are able to experiment, learn, change direction, experiment and learn again in a short period of time with as much flexibility as possible”. Also, the intrapreneurs get the unique opportunity to pitch their projects in front of C-level representatives of their own company, for example during the Opening Ceremony or at the CEOs and Founders Dinner.

Many of the Kickstart intrapreneurship projects are still up and running, such as the car-renting-and-sharing service UPTO, which initially started at Kickstart in 2017. In the meantime, we cannot wait to see a new intrapreneurs batch coming in for 2019 and to continue this success story.

Fotos by Anja Wurm & Thomas Meier, Ringier

The deep technology age requires much more collaboration between unlikely allies. Yet, collaboration is hard. The book “Kickstarting Collaboration” is building on research from ETH Zurich and University of St. Gallen, case studies from Kickstart Accelerator, as well as many more experiences from digitalswitzerland, University of Zurich, corporates and startups to provide hands-on recommendations for partnering between deep tech startups and large organizations.



Kickstarting Collaboration – How to create successful partnerships between high-growth startups and established organizations

Published in November 2018 by Kickstart Accelerator and digitalswitzerland

Download “Kickstarting Collaboration” (pdf) here!







Dr. Christoph Birkholz, Kickstart Accelerator & Impact Hub Zürich; Nicolas Bürer, digitalswitzerland; Daniel Ginter, digitalswitzerland; Prof. Dr. Gudela Grote, ETH Zurich; Katka Letzing, Kickstart Accelerator; Dr. Maria Olivares, University of Zurich; Lukas Peter, Swisscom & University of t. Gallen; Dr. Jennifer Sparr, ETH Zurich; Katrin Winiarski, University of Zurich; Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler, Swisscom.

Design by Grafik2.

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.

The Kickstart Accelerator 2018 startups are selected! 30 promising tech companies from 12 countries will come to Zurich this fall to work together with Swiss corporations, universities, cities and foundations in order to drive deep technologies. Next to them, also 5 intrapreneur teams will participate in this year’s program – more than ever before.

Kickstart Accelerator has chosen 30 technology startups for its 2018 program. The companies will come to Zurich for seven weeks this autumn, where they will meet with Swiss corporations, cities, universities and foundations aiming at initiating successful innovation partnerships and joint pilot projects. No other program in Switzerland is bringing together as many established organizations with technology startups as Kickstart Accelerator.

The following startups participate in Kickstart Accelerator 2018:

EdTech & Learning

CodeAll (Poland) is a coding-platform that addresses people that want to get the first steps in programming in general and master the basics of programming and algorithmic, connecting software with sensory hardware in a similar way to Lego Robots.

Differ (Norway) brings your classes, study groups and professional networks closer together, so you can learn more, teach better and get things done with a little more fun – based on AI. 

Gnowbe (Singapore) is a mobile micro-learning platform that enables enterprises to onboard and train employees more efficiently and effectively with over 60 clients in 17 countries.

Labster (Denmark) has developed revolutionary life-sciences (VR+ Desktop) simulations, customizing learning programs with the world’s leading universities and licensing globally, potential applications as well in leadership training. (UK) is a skills-driven continuous-professional-development platform with smart career readiness features.

Sharing Academy (Spain) is a peer-to-peer tutoring marketplace that allows students to offer and to find peer tutoring classes from any course within his degree and university.

TEACHY (Switzerland) helps apprentices & pupils to increase their grades at school significantly by providing a completely new kind of personal or online 1-1 tutoring.

WriteReader (Denmark) is a global literacy platform that enables children (3-10 years) to become creators and authors by using 21st-century skills.

FinTech & Crypto

Altoo (Switzerland) empowers wealthy individuals and their families to consolidate and interact with their total wealth in a simple and intuitive way, including crypto. 

Asteria (Sweden) automates cash flow forecasting and give feedback to understand clients’ business cash flow and help make more data driven business decisions.

Fintechdb (Norway) is a service that helps FinTech buyers to understand the FinTech market, so that they can make the right choices when it comes to finding partners, analyzing competition and trends, or just getting a broad overview.

Gauss Algorithmic (Czech Republic) combines internal and external data to understand the motivation behind users purchasing financial products like loans and using advanced analytics methods like machine learning to find new “similar” customer. 

Reportix (Germany) helps businesses to bring real contracts into Blockchain technology – legally sound, for humans, machine processable. 

ResonanceX Ltd. (UK) is a digital platform enabling the end-to-end automation of the price discovery, issuance and administration of Structured Products.

Trakti (UK) is the first contract negotiation and management platform enabling the possibility to run deals/contracts negotiations using different protocols and interaction models on a self service base and automate the obligation management of the contract via smart contract and blockchain. 

vlot (Switzerland) is a B2B2C platform opening up an agile and integrated world of risk analysis, coverage and life planning.

YUKKA Lab AG (Germany) is a technology leader in the field of Augmented Language Intelligence and context-based text analysis for the financial industry.


Food & Retail Tech

Alver Golden Chlorella (Switzerland) aims to improve consumers’ health as well as our environment by offering foods that are healthy, tasty and sustainable containing plant protein and the micro-algae Golden Chiarella®.

Besso (Germany) is an unconventional socially-minded brand, created by a barista to give to tea the attention it deserves.

Mondays (Switzerland) is a monthly subscription service delivering 100% plastic free period products to your door.

LuckaBox (Switzerland) is a cloud-based platform for on-demand deliveries and warehousing to provide retailers with what their customers increasingly demand: on-demand deliveries.

microPow (Switzerland) is an all-natural delivery system for aromas and flavors which drastically improves the storability and enhances the release of contained aroma and flavor compounds.

Yarok Microbio (Israel) provides a new fast testing technology for the food industry. Detect & count bacteria (E.coli, Listeria, Salmonella, etc.) in 45 minutes instead of days.


Smart Cities & Infrastructure

AVUXI (UK) is working on the conversion of geo big data for indexing the popularity of every place on earth.

Block Dox (UK) is working on occupancy and indoor environmental tracking sensors and data analytics.

Fleco Power AG (Switzerland) is a technology platform for decentralized energy systems consisting of control system and IoT-based hardware.

Hivemind (Switzerland) is an IoT platform including a collection of web services to connect, manage, and maintain IoT devices.

Kido Dynamics (Switzerland) is a data analytics platform with reconstruction and forecast techniques for smart cities focussing on mobility patterns.

Pedius (Italy) has developed a text-to-speech/ speech-to-text solution for deaf and hard of hearing people using voice recognition and speech synthesis.

The Energy Audit (Italy) is an AI-based energy management software with real-time data acquisition and predictive models for energy consumption.


In autumn, the selected startups will come to the innovative premises of Kraftwerk located in the centre of Zurich, where they will work on accelerating their projects in close exchange with Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros, Swisscom, Department of Education of the Canton of ZurichETH Zurich, Gebert Rüf Stiftung City of St. Gallen, City of Zurich,  Mercator Foundation Switzerland, Mondelēz InternationalSwiss Federal Office for Energy SFOE, University of Zurich, ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences and many more partners of Kickstart Accelerator. 


Intrapreneur Teams

Next to the 30 startups, also 5 intrapreneur teams will participate in the program – more than ever before. Intrapreneurs are “entrepreneurs within a company”; although being integrated in a corporation, they act as autonomous teams on innovative projects – very similar to a startup. Credit Suisse, Migros and Swisscom are bringing intrapreneur teams into the program:

Credit Suisse: Open banking project to enable efficient and secure payment processing for e- and m-commerce.

Menu Casa (Migros): Home delivery service of healthy, varied and delicious food for people in the prime of life who are not able or willing to cook for themselves.

OLIQ (Migros): Innovative and liquid supplements combining vitamins, minerals and natural plant extracts, e.g. for strengthening the immune system or boosting the energy level.

Migros Klubschule: Online coaching platform for personal and professional development with more than 7`000 teachers and experts of Migros Klubschule.

Robo VC (Swisscom): Software as a Service based on Artificial Intelligence to support investors in the venture capital industry in planning and making their investments.

Kickstart Accelerator is operated by Impact Hub Zurich, which is the largest local community within the global Impact Hub network worldwide. The program, which was launched 2015 by digitalswitzerland, takes place from July to October, including a one-week Planning Sprint in September and a six-weeks Collaboration Sprint from October 1st to November 9th, during which the international teams will be on site in Zurich.

Photos by Anja Wurm, Ringier. 

We have just extended our deadline for applications! Startups and scaleups from Switzerland and all around the world can apply until June 10th. Still wondering whether or not apply for Kickstart Accelerator 2018? Here are the reasons why you should.

As one of the 30 selected startups for Kickstart Accelerator, you will get the chance to enter into innovative collaborations with leading Swiss corporates, cities, universities and foundations. We will support you every step of the way to make this happen! Your benefits include:

Access to senior executives: Kickstart gives participants the opportunity to connect with its partners‘ senior executives. More than 30 CEOs, decision-makers, movers and shakers of Swiss corporations and institutions have confirmed their participation to one of Kickstart’s main events. Find out more about our C-level engagement here.

Quarter of a million in partnership budget: Participants get the chance to access funding for successfully initiated collaborative projects with Kickstart partners.

Bringing together founders and C-level executives. 

Collaboration training and facilitation: Kickstart is actively fostering collaborative projects between the startups and the accelerator’s partners.

Program stipends: Kickstart participants can expect a program stipend of up to CHF 10’000 per startup.

Your Personal Mentor and access to Experts: Entrepreneurial mentors are at the center of Kickstart Accelerator. We think of mentoring as building a relationship with someone who accompanies and inspires you along your journey and helps you to navigate within the Swiss market. In addition to mentoring, startups have access to a wide network of experts in varied industries, for 1:1 sessions.

Focused access to investors: Kickstart facilitates connections with national and international investors.

Free office space and infrastructure: Kickstart provides office space and infrastructure to all participants at an extraordinary innovation and collaboration space: Kraftwerk. The rebuilt, former electronic transformer station lies within a few minutes from Zurich’s main railway station. Kraftwerk offers various event-, workshop- and meeting rooms; as well as a large special event space and a lively café, spread over 1200 m2.

Collaboration and Innovation Space Kraftwerk. 

Networking and Community events: Weekly networking events at Kraftwerk and external locations allow participating startups to fully emerge themselves into the Swiss innovation ecosystem. Community building events throughout the program aim at establishing strong bonds between the vertical cohorts in order to enable peer-support across the program.

Media exposure: Startups get the chance to be covered in various local and national media outlets, newsletters and on social media.

Startup and Innovation Ecosystem: Overall, participating startups can benefit from a fast-track access to Swiss startup and innovation ecosystems.

And the best part: Kickstart Accelerator takes zero equity and charges zero fees.

Have a look at these great examples of successful collaborations that were initiated within the last two years: Next to 30 PoCs and partnerships that resulted out of last year’s program, a couple of weeks ago we were able to announce another PoC between the AI-startup DCBrain and our partner Swisscom. Additionally, the insurance company AXA and Veezoo, an alumni startup from our very first program in 2016, announced that they have deepened their relationship and established a successful partnership. We are looking forward to making these kind of stories possible again this year – together with amazing partners such as Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros, Swisscom, Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, the cities of St. Gallen and Zurich, ETH Zürich, Gebert-Rüf-Stiftung, Mercator Foundation Switzerland, Swiss Federal Office for Energy, University of Zurich, AXA, EY, Stäubli, Swisslinx, PwC Switzerland, Helbling and more.

If you are a startup or scaleup with a promising technology, product or business idea in the fields of EdTech & Learning, FinTech & Crypto, Food & Retail Tech or Smart Cities & Infrastructure, then apply until June 10th and become a #kickstarters18.

In case you have any questions, feel free to contact our Vertical Leads: Katka Letzing for FinTech & Crypto, Tim Lehmann for EdTech & Learning, Christina Senn-Jakobsen for Food & Retail Tech and Ruth Armalé for Smart Cities. We are looking forward to working with you!

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.

Switzerland’s largest innovation acceleration program, Kickstart Accelerator, brings together startups with established companies, universities, cities and foundations in Zurich to promote deep tech innovation and its impact on the future of humanity.

Zurich, April 3, 2018 – Kickstart Accelerator opens the application phase for the third edition of its program. Switzerland’s largest innovation acceleration program focuses on deep technologies – science and engineering driven technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain and others – across different sectors, bringing together key actors in these fields. Promising later-stage startups will meet with partners such as Credit Suisse and Swisscom in the area of financial technology. Retailers Coop and Migros aim to work with startups in the area of food and retail; while universities such as ETH Zurich and University of Zurich will focus on education and learning technology. The City of Zurich and AXA Winterthur will seek out and support pilot projects and proof of concepts in the area of Smart Cities.

Collaboration between civil society, industry, government and science as key to innovation

Kickstart Accelerator aims to initiate successful partnerships and pilot projects between the participating startups and the partner companies and institutions. “The first two programs resulted in over 30 ambitious proof-of-concepts (PoCs) and collaborations,” says Kickstart Co-Lead Katka Letzing. “In our view, genuine and sustainable innovation is only possible through cooperation across sector and company boundaries. That’s why we are focusing even more on these partnerships this year”.

Later-stage startups preparing to accelerate their technologies, business models and market access with the help of such collaborations can now apply for the program. The application period will close on 27th May. 30 startups and intrapreneur teams (innovation teams from companies, cities and universities) will have the opportunity to take their products or technologies in the areas of EdTech & Learning, FinTech & Crypto, Food & Retail Tech as well as Smart Cities & Infrastructure to the next level in Zurich this fall.

Internationally connected and widely supported

Kickstart Accelerator is run by Impact Hub Zürich, which is part of a wide international network of entrepreneurship and innovation centers. The program was initiated by the cross-sector association digitalswitzerland in 2015 and counts on key partners such as Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros and Swisscom as well as AXA Winterthur, City of Zurich, ETH Zürich, EY, Gebert-Rüf-Stiftung, Mercator Foundation Swit

zerland, Stäubli, Swisslinx and University of Zurich. The commitment of and value for these partners has increased since Kickstart’s launch: “Looking back at the success of the past two years of Kickstart Accelerator, Credit Suisse has benefited tremendously from the ideas and technologies generated through this program”, says Thomas Saler, Digital Solutions – Head of Fintech Partnerships at Credit Suisse (Switzerland) Ltd. “This year, we are excited to commit again to continue our support to the innovation ecosystem.”

Coop, one of Switzerland’s leading retailers, will again be a partner in the Food vertical: “Being a Global Partner for three consecutive years, we have come to appreciate the work with the startup teams”, says Benedikt Pachlatko, Project Manager Kickstart Accelerator at Coop. “We look forward to gathering new ideas for innovative projects and to collaborating on concrete Proof-of-Concepts with some of the startups.”

New program structure with focus on Proof-of-Concepts and collaborative projects

The kickoff for the four-month program will be a two-day Selection Bootcamp on 9th and 10th of July 2018: The 60 most promising startups out of the applicant pool are invited to pitch in front of a jury of experts. 30 of them will make it into the program, which consists of a one-week Planning Sprint in September and an intense six-week Collaboration Sprint from October 1st to November 9th in the innovation and collaboration space Kraftwerk located in the centre 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


Kickstart ​Accelerator, ​Zurich-based ​technology ​accelerator ​programme ​ends ​tonight with ​the ​announcement ​of ​numerous ​Proof ​of ​Concepts ​and ​other ​partnerships

Over 30 Proof of Concepts (PoCs) and partnerships have been secured at Kickstart Accelerator, one of Europe’s largest no equity, multi-corporate accelerator programmes that culminates today – most of them with leading corporations. Coop, Credit Suisse, Empa, EY, Helsana, Migros, PwC Switzerland, Raiffeisen, Swisscom as well as UBS have entered into partnerships ​with ​the ​entrepreneurs ​participating ​in ​this ​year’s ​acceleration ​programme. At tonight’s grand Closing Ceremony the established PoCs and other partnerships will be announced in addition to the winners in each vertical, who will receive a 25`000 CHF grant. The accelerator – an initiative of digitalswitzerland and operated by Impact Hub Zurich – saw 29 startups as well as an intrapreneur team from AXA Winterthur and Swisscom working in collaboration for 11 weeks in the specially designed co-working space Kraftwerk. Their goal was to develop, scale and promote their business in the Swiss innovation ecosystem with the guide of industry experts and unparalleled access to internationally recognized corporations. The programme also supported by C4DR and evitive, focused on the fields of FinTech, Food, Smart Cities as well as Robotics & Intelligent Systems, which ​is ​reflective ​of ​Switzerland’s ​heritage ​innovation ​sub ​sectors.

Foto: Philippe Rossier

PoCs ​to ​deliver ​better ​air ​quality, ​blockchain-based ​e-voting-systems ​and ​ways ​to ​avoid ​food ​waste.

In ​the Fintech ​vertical, ​14 ​PoCs ​and ​other ​partnerships ​were ​secured ​with ​Kickstart ​Partners:

Credit Suisse and Swiss-based Startup PriceHubble are exploring a cooperation in the field of mortgage ​business.

Credit Suisse is looking into how to use ​Adjoint’s blockchain technology to improve compliance processes ​in ​their ​FX ​operations.

 Credit Suisse is discussing potential for a cooperation in the field of compliance with Zurich-based Apiax.

Credit Suisse and Blocko are collaborating to explore opportunities in the field of blockchain-based ​e-voting ​systems.

EY ​and Apiax ​are ​going ​to ​intensify ​discussions ​about ​a ​possible ​partnership.

EY is collaborating with US-startup Adjoint to develop a PoC in the field of blockchain for a global insurance ​client.

Helsana insurance and Fjuul are joining forces to further improve functionality and user experience ​of ​the ​new ​Helsana+ ​App.

PwC Switzerland has signed a Letter of Intent with Zurich-based Apiax to intensify the discussion about ​joining ​forces ​to ​work ​on ​digitising ​compliance ​processes ​in ​the ​financial ​industry.

PwC Switzerland and Finnish startup Fjuul have signed a Letter of Intent to further evaluate the option ​of ​jointly ​bringing ​exciting ​digital ​solutions ​to ​insurance ​companies.

Swisscom is planning a PoC to integrate services that PriceHubble offers into their existing banking ​service.

Swisscom ​cooperates ​with Apiax ​as ​well ​as SoBA ​on ​a ​PoC ​to ​work ​in ​the ​field ​of ​Open ​Banking.

UBS and AAAccell, a University of Zurich spin-off working in the field of risk- and asset management, ​will ​start ​a ​PoC ​project ​to ​build ​a ​smart ​risk-based ​engine.

UBS and PriceHubble, a startup offering innovative real estate software-as-a-service solutions, agreed ​on ​a ​common ​PoC ​to ​further ​develop ​UBS`s ​offering ​in ​the ​mortgage ​business.

UBS and CityFALCON have worked closely together to explore different opportunities on how to leverage a potential partnership. Nothing has been agreed yet, however, it can be confirmed, that UBS ​sees ​value ​in ​exploring ​CityFALCON`s ​offering ​in ​a ​potential ​PoC.

The Food ​vertical ​saw ​four ​PoCs ​resulting ​from ​the ​programme:

Coop has announced a collaboration with Swiss company KITRO. The two firms plan to test KITRO’s ​solution ​to ​prevent ​food ​waste ​at ​several Coop ​restaurants ​within ​a ​PoC ​next ​year.

Raiffeisen Bank has acquired a Living Farming tree by the Italian Food startup Hexagro Urban Farming ​as ​the ​first ​step ​of ​a ​PoC ​and ​will ​validate ​a ​potential ​use ​in ​Raiffeisen ​offices.

Coop and Migros have both agreed on individual PoCs with FlavorWiki. Their technology allows food producers, retailers and others to collect detailed data about consumer taste preferences. Coop ​and ​Migros ​will ​both ​test ​this ​technology ​internally.

The Smart ​Cities ​vertical ​resulted ​in ​seven ​PoCs ​and ​other ​collaborations:

Swisscom Broadcast will work together with Zurich-based startup Antavi on a PoC to develop a smart ​tracking ​solution ​for ​public ​safety.

Swisscom has signed a PoC with uHoo. The ICT-provider will integrate the indoor air quality device ​by ​the ​Singapore-based ​company ​in ​the ​Swisscom TestLab ​in ​Biel.

Swisscom and Hawa Dawa have signed a PoC to develop a real-time data model of air quality in Zurich. The German startup is leveraging open data from the city of Zurich and is using big data analytics ​and ​machine ​learning ​algorithms ​to ​model ​the ​air ​quality ​in ​the ​whole ​city.

– The city of Bern provides Hawa Dawa in a PoC with data to establish a profound data model and to ​calibrate ​their ​instruments.

Swisscom starts a partnership with BikeLook: The Irish startup will use Swisscom’s Low Power Network ​to ​have ​an ​improved ​battery ​lifetime.

Empa will be launching a PoC with Zurich-startup Parquery that is working in the field of smart parking ​management.

– The cities of Zurich, Bern and St. Gallen, are discussing further collaboration and sharing of knowledge ​with ​different ​startups, ​e.g. ​with BikeLook ​from ​Dublin.

The Robotics ​& ​Intelligent ​Systems ​vertical ​saw ​one ​confirmed ​partnership:

Coop has defined a PoC with Indian startup iFuture Robotics to test the startup’s autonomous robots ​to ​automate ​certain ​processes ​within ​Coop’s ​retail ​warehouses.

In addition to the cooperation between the startups and corporate partners, some of the startups have also started to cooperate with each other. For example, the intrapreneur team Rent’n’Share has partnered with the UK/Switzerland based startup Spark Horizon to offer a sustainable mobility solution. The FinTech startups AAAccell, Blocko and Coincube confirmed partnerships to work on two individual blockchain pilots. Zurich-based Apiax is going to work with South African startup Libryo in the field of legal and insurance solutions. Meanwhile, CoinCube and CityFALCON will be working together on AI/blockchain solutions and London-based startup Nivaura, that took part in the 2016 programme, is starting a joint project with Adjoint from this year’s batch focusing on blockchain solutions.

“It is great to see the number of partnerships between the startups and the corporates has increased significantly compared to last year,” said Patricia Schlenter, Programme Manager at Kickstart Accelerator. “This shows that Kickstart Accelerator has the potential to truly support international startups ​to ​gain ​access ​to ​the ​Swiss ​innovation ​ecosystem.”

International ​tech ​companies ​anchor ​in ​Switzerland

Several of the participating startups have already or are planning to bring units of their businesses to Switzerland. For example, the Ghana-based food tech startup Farmerline is planning to base their third office in Zurich and US-startup RADiCAL is opening the first office outside New York in Zurich to attract talent in the areas of AI and autonomous systems, with the Zurich office expected to serve as the company’s research and development lab. In addition, US-startup COINCUBE is incorporating in Switzerland ​to ​implement ​projects ​in ​the ​digital ​asset ​space. ​More ​incorporations ​are ​being ​planned.

International ​and ​local ​funding ​floods ​in: ​More ​than ​8 ​million ​CHF ​raised ​in ​5 ​months

Furthermore, since the start of the programme in July this year, the Kickstart Accelerator startups all together have raised more than 8 million CHF funding from international and Swiss investors.

“At the beginning of the programme, we set ambitious goals – and we are overwhelmed to even have exceeded them. Besides the promising cooperation agreements, several of the startups are also hiring Swiss employees or even plan to open a new office here,” Programme Manager Patricia Schlenter said. “In addition, the quality of this year’s startups was exceptionally high – as for example shown by the investor funds raised since the programme started. We are convinced that Kickstart Accelerator 2017 has ​once ​again ​contributed ​to ​strengthening ​the ​Swiss ​innovation ​ecosystem.”

Kickstart Accelerator 2017 ends tonight with the official Closing Ceremony. It will be live streamed on Kickstart ​Accelerator’s Facebook ​page ​today ​from ​4:15 ​PM ​to ​7:15 ​PM ​CET.

Read the official press release for more information about the PoCs ​and ​partnerships ​in ​detail.


As we’ve hit the mid-term part of Kickstart Accelerator 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about time. Time is one of the biggest assest startups have when starting out. They invest a lot of hours into building the product, usually forgetting about life-work balance, driven by the passion for their creation.

On the other hand, time or better – lack of it, can also be a main reason why startup fails. Everybody who’s been in startup scene long enough, knows that it takes a lot of time, until startups develop a sustainable income streams, that is needed to finance their operations. Sooner or later, the saved cash planne dries out and if they haven’t secured enough funding or sales to sustain operations – they run out of time.

At Kickstart Accelerator, however, we feel a flow of time a bit differently. The whole idea of the accelerator is to provide a concentrated amount of resources (from access to expertise and mentorship to free working space and introductions to investors) in a short period of time, so a startup could accelerate their growth. And this is exactly what we have seen in the first six weeks of the program.

So far, all together 3 startups have raised over $3.25million in funding (Libryo – $1m, Apiax $1.5m and CityFalcon – $725k), there are currently over 40 PoCs discussions with our partners, launched 3 crowdfunding campaigns launched, numerous prototypes and product iterations developed and more. All in all, seems quite a lot to achieve in 6 weeks, but it only shows at what speed startups execute and what is their perception of time. There is also a lot of progress you can’t simply quantify, but sometimes one meeting, one workshop, one masterclass or networking event sometimes all it takes.

To give you a feel, what is it like to be part of Kickstart Accelerator, we have launched a weekly video series on our YouTube Channel, where we show highlights from events, talk to startups, teams, experts and mentors and just try to pass on the overall vibe. Below are the videos from weeks 1-6, you can subscribe to our channel here if you’d like to get more insights.



Redefining the insurance industry

The insurance industry is going through a digital transformation, and technology is offering many new possibilities while disrupting established business models. IoT data, public data, open data gathered by governmental bodies and customer data gathered by search engines and companies are bringing digitization to the forefront of many businesses. Nowadays it is not only important to collect those insights, but also to understand the data and be able to make data-driven decisions that are applicable to your company and industry.

In this rapidly changing environment, insurance companies have identified the need to adapt quickly. Here is where speed, innovation and the collaboration between large corporations and startups come into place.

Win-Win partnerships

At Kickstart Accelerator, we foster such partnerships, which are both beneficial for startups and our corporate partners. An example that clearly illustrates this mutual collaboration is the PoC agreement reached by AXA and Veezoo, which was announced last week for the first time during the Kickstart Accelerator Opening Ceremony.

Veezoo and AXA are working together to make the information hidden in the company’s data easily understandable. In this proof of concept, Veezoo learned how to answer lots of different questions about AXA’s data on Sales and Distribution. For example, if they want to know what is the average duration of the contracts that got extended, they don’t need to wait until a data analyst queries that data for them – they can simply ask Veezoo and it will answer with a chart in a matter of seconds. Veezoo has acquired knowledge about that domain and can now help decision makers identify new sales opportunities by answering their questions.

The goal of the proof of concept is to show, how Veezoo can reduce their reporting backlog by hundreds of hours per month, while at the same time enabling the management to take more informed decisions. The project will take three months until completion and involves multiple stakeholders from both sides. The next steps after a successful PoC is to roll out Veezoo into AXA’s productive systems and expand to other domains, where Veezoo can add value.
Veezoo, the first conversational Artificial Intelligence to explore and visualize data, participated in the first badge of Kickstart Accelerator. Veezoo presented its solution to AXA for the first time during the Kickstart Accelerator program in 2016. By the end of the program the conversations started and they developed into a formalized proof of concept agreement.Katka Letzing, Fintech Lead and mentor at Kickstart Accelerator, helped Veezoo to connect with AXA. She also took part of the process in order to accomplish the proof of concept partnership.

Fotos: Philippe Rossier f. Kickstart Accelerator, 7.9.2017, Zürich, EWZ Unterwerk Selnau, Official Opening

Proof of Concept

Ivo Streiff, Head Innovation Management at AXA Winterthur: «With Veezoo, we are exploring ways of making it possible for employees to access complex data in a straightforward way, and this allows us to engage intensively with the topic of machine learning on a real-life basis.»
Marcos Monteiro, Monteiro, Co-Founder and CEO of Veezoo: “We expect to show how Veezoo can reduce the reporting backlog of AXA’s data analysts by hundreds of hours each month, while at the same time enabling the management team to find new strategic opportunities in the data themselves. We are very thankful to Kickstart Accelerator for the critical role it has played in facilitating a great corporate-start-up partnership.”

“Our mission is to foster collaboration in many ways, including helping to setup Proof of Concepts for our startups as well as helping corporations get access to new technologies as it fits. It is great to see Veezoo and Axa in a partnership to use machine learning in real life that can make a real difference.” – Katka Letzing, Fintech Lead, Kickstart Accelerator.

More details about the PoC can be found here.

Dear All,

it’s the moment we’ve been all waiting for…1500+ applications, 2 months, 1 Bootcamp and 100+ pitches later we have the names of the 30 startups that will join the 11-week programme starting on September 4th.


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…)

It’s hard not to notice the fast pace of innovation that is all around us. It touches all aspects of our everyday lives – from the way we commute or communicate to the way we pay for things and produce goods. Education is not an exception. Being one of the key drivers of innovation and progress, the education industry is poised to undergo drastic technological evolution in the coming years.

Switzerland is one the leaders in Higher Education

And as usual, it comes down to startups, that are willing to pursue the disruptive ideas with minimal resources, to drive this evolution. But the question is – where shall they go? We, at Kickstart Accelerator, say – come to Switzerland! With its combined leadership in education and innovation, Switzerland offers a unique environment to accelerate the next generation of EdTech startups that will bring global impact. According to QS World Universities Ranking, four of Swiss universities are in the World’s Top100. Moreover, based on THE World University Rankings, ETH is #1 in Computer Science and EPFL is proudly in #1 place in the ‘Young University Rankings’ (Universities that are less than 50 years old). And the list could go on and on. Undoubtedly, it makes this alpine gem one of the best places to start in or bring an EdTech business to. And that’s exactly what we encourage all startups that work on Education Technology do.

Launch of a new vertical

At Kickstart Accelerator, we are super excited to see how this ecosystem will be further enriched by our newly launched EdTech Vertical, in partnership with EPFL and operated by venturelab. The ten most promising international and Swiss EdTech startups will be invited to Lausanne from September to November 2017. They will profit from benefits such as stipends of CHF 10`000, coworking-space at the EdTech Collider as well as access to a broad network of investors, experts, mentors and business partners. They will also have a chance to win cash prizes at the end of the program. Located at the heart of the thriving startup community on the EPFL campus, they will be hosted at the EdTech Collider – Switzerland’s first collaborative space dedicated to ambitious entrepreneurs transforming education and learning through technology.

EPFL campus from birdsview

EPFL campus from birdsview

Excitement is in the air

It is big news for Switzerland. As Nicolas Bürer, Managing Director of digitalswitzerland (initiator of Kickstart Accelerator), says: “The launch of the EdTech vertical in Western Switzerland confirms the commitment and capacity of the region to develop groundbreaking technologies that change people’s lives. The ecosystem here is stimulating and innovative while providing a stable infrastructure and access to finance and expertise.” In the last years, EPFL has taken leadership in the European MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) landscape. “With this, Lausanne has become an important hub for education of the future, offering the perfect environment and opportunities to significantly expand educational technologies”, says Pierre Dillenbourg, Professor at EPFL.

For Kickstart Accelerator, the new EdTech Vertical means tapping into another exciting field of innovation.  “The digital technologies will disrupt the traditional way of learning and will bring major changes to classrooms. Thanks to this sixth vertical in Lausanne, Kickstart Accelerator will be part of that development”, shares Patricia Schlenter, Program Manager at Kickstart Accelerator. Venturelab’s Director Jordi Montserrat is convinced that this trend will be growing further: “This development is fueled by multiple educational projects, cutting-edge research projects on learning technologies and promising digital education startups emerging in Switzerland and Europe. Bringing these actors together and helping them thrive by offering a collaborative space and building a strong support ecosystem, can significantly contribute to the development of the Swiss education and learning technology sector”.

Apply now

If you are working on an education technology startup – it’s your time to shine. Apply for the EdTech vertical by July 10th, 2017 right here:

We look forward to receiving your application!

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.

The world is seeing unprecedented growth and demographic shifts. Innovative solutions are changing urban environments and the way we live. By 2050 it is expected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities and  for the first time in human history, there will be more elderly people than young children. Therefore, building sustainable cities and managing urban resources effectively is becoming a very important task in the 21st century.

The use of digital technologies like the Internet of Things represents a huge opportunity to overcome such urban challenges. A Smart City is an urban area that has become more efficient, more environmentally friendly, more sustainable and more socially inclusive through leveraging such technologies. Smart Cities are more attractive cities – they are built around users and designed to optimize resources: They use information and technology to monitor and collect relevant data about streets, buildings, water, traffic, energy usage, transportation or the air. By making better decisions and developing or adding city services based on this data cities become a healthier place to live, visit and do business in.

In Switzerland, we can find some initiatives that promote smart cities, such as the recent premier edition of the Make Zurich hackathon or the SmartSuisse conference. This year, Kickstart Accelerator has a new vertical on Smart Cities to accelerate high impact, entrepreneurial solutions in the following 9 Focus Areas: Building, Citizen Engagement, Education, Energy, Healthy Living, Mobility, Operations & Infrastructure, Tourism and Urban Planning.


1B 2C 3E 4 4En 5M 5O 6 7
The world of architecture and construction is changing at a fast pace: there are now new materials being used that increase the energy efficiency in buildings. Concepts such as “smart homes”, “sustainable design” and “disassembly and deconstruction of buildings” or “building management systems” are becoming more popular, and the rise of “smart buildings” is now a reality. Have you ever thought of an idea that reduces workplace cost, improves the usage of public buildings or helps minimize the environmental impact of the building lifecycle?

The focus areas outlined above all play a key role to develop the cities of the future. If you have a great idea and would like to bring your startup to the next level, take a look at the Kickstart Accelerator program, one of Europe’s largest zero equity, multi-corporate accelerators. Apply before April 30th and find more details at

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.


Wenn Startups und Grossunternehmen zusammenarbeiten, dann ist das oft eine Win-Win-Situation. Was ist es, das solche Kooperationen derart fruchtbar macht? Wir haben mit Veronica Lange und Andreas Kubli von UBS über den Wert von starken Partnerschaften und die Einzigartigkeit von Kickstart Accelerator gesprochen.

[English Version]

Wieso interessiert sich UBS für Startups?

Andreas Kubli (AK): Uns wurde sehr früh bewusst, dass uns Fintech-Startups helfen können, den digitalen Wandel in der Bank zu beschleunigen und inzwischen haben Kooperationen für uns Tradition. Wir müssen nicht alles, was wir unseren Kunden anbieten, selber machen. Wenn ein Startup eine tolle Lösung hat, insbesondere in einem Bereich, welcher nicht zu unseren Kernkompetenzen gehört, sprechen wir gerne über eine mögliche Kooperation.

Veronica Lange (VL): Startups sind durch ihre Organisationsstrukturen häufig sehr viel agiler als ein grosser Konzern wie UBS. Dadurch können sie die Time-to-Market für neue Innovationen extrem reduzieren. Zudem haben sie oft spezifisches, technisches Know-how, welches für die Anwendung im Finanzsektor sehr interessant ist.

Was kann UBS Startups bieten?

VL: Kooperationen bieten eine typische Win-Win-Situation. Startups profitieren von einer etablierten Plattform mit einem grossen Kundenstamm und der Sicherheit einer vertrauenswürdigen Grossbank. Ausserdem bringen wir sehr viel Know-How mit: Bankerfahrung, kompetente Beratung, umfangreiches Fachwissen, persönlicher Kontakt, langjährige Beziehungen und exzellente Finanzprodukte.

AK: Zudem haben wir in den letzten Jahren viel Erfahrung in der Zusammenarbeit mit Startups gesammelt. Das ist sehr wichtig, denn wenn ein Startup mit einem Konzern zusammenarbeitet, besteht immer die Gefahr, dass es von den komplexen Strukturen und Prozessen “erdrückt” wird. Wir haben aber sehr gute Wege gefunden, damit das nicht passiert und so erfolgreiche Kooperationen, beispielsweise mit bexio, DSwiss oder SumUp lanciert.

VL: Entscheidend für Startups ist sicherlich auch der Zugang zu Kapital. Hier können wir Start-ups, beispielsweise den Teilnehmern des Kickstart Accelerator, beim “Pitch” für Kapital bei Investoren unterstützen.

Wieso soll ich mit meinem Startup in die Schweiz an den Kickstart Accelerator kommen und nicht nach London, Singapur oder New York gehen?

AK: Der Kickstart Accelerator ist einmalig auf der Welt und eines der grössten firmenübergreifenden Startup-Förderprogramme Europas. Einmalig ist er deshalb, weil er von über 15 Grossunternehmen getragen wird und die Partner alle an einem Strick ziehen, um das Schweizer Innovations-Ökosystem zu fördern. Wir konnten aus dem letztjährigen Programm heraus sowohl mit Notakey als auch mit Zoa je einen Proof-of-Concept machen, an denen wir zurzeit noch arbeiten.

VL: Für die Schweiz spricht die hohe Kompetenz als Finanzplatz sowie ein starkes Bildungssystem, gepaart mit hervorragenden technischen Hochschulen, begabte Talente, ein sehr hohes Bildungsniveau und sehr viele potenzielle Investoren im Land. Auch globale Investoren schätzen die Schweiz. Viele von ihnen reisten im Januar an den Investor Summit nach Zürich, wo sie mit Schweizer Startups in Kontakt kamen.

AK: Das bereits angesprochene kooperative Element kenne ich von anderen Märkten weniger. Die Schweiz ist aufgrund der überschaubaren Grösse prädestiniert dafür.

Was war euer bester/überraschendster Moment bei der ersten Durchführung des Kickstart Accelerators im letzten Jahr?

AK: Mit Eric van der Kleij konnten wir einen ausgewiesenen Experten für den Aufbau eines Accelerator-Programms gewinnen. Die Art und Weise, wie es gelungen ist, in kürzester Zeit eines der grössten europäischen Programme zu etablieren, hat mir sehr imponiert. Das Zusammenwirken von verschiedensten Partnern mit einem gemeinsamen Ziel hat eine einzigartige Dynamik hervorgerufen.

VL: Ich war beeindruckt von der Qualität der Bewerber aus aller Welt. Zudem spürte ich intern ein grosses Interesse und riesiges Engagement der Mitarbeitenden den Accelerator und die Startups zu unterstützen.

Was erwartet ihr für den diesjährigen Accelerator und Startups aus welchen Bereichen würdet ihr gerne sehen?

AK: Das letztjährige Programm hat in Sachen Reichweite, Aufmerksamkeit und Projektstudien die Erwartungen übertroffen. Ich hoffe, dass sich dieses Jahr noch mehr Startups anmelden und wir noch mehr PoCs sehen werden. Ausserdem wollen wir den guten Ruf der Schweiz noch weiter in die Welt hinaustragen. Im besten Fall können wir ausländische Startups überzeugen, in der Schweiz ansässig zu werden. Auf bestimmte Bereiche möchte ich mich nicht festlegen, aber wenn ein Startup einen kollaborativen Spirit verfolgt, freue ich mich auf den Austausch.

VL: Dem kann ich mich anschliessen. Toll wäre eine Projektstudie in den Bereichen Distributed Ledger, Smart Contracts oder WealthTech. Aber ich bin auch sehr offen für andere Themen und lasse mich noch sehr gerne überraschen, mit welchen neuen Ideen Startups aus aller Welt zu uns kommen.

Many startups have a fixed time horizon within which they need to attract funding. Their own resources may enable them to get quite a long way. To develop a demo, an app, a website, a business plan. All of course informed by a vision, talented team and a customer need to solve for. So isn’t this enough? Simply put the startup in front of an investor, articulate the vision and the startup can then obtain the funds they need to start and to grow?

It is unfortunately not that simple. Investors will demand to see current users and to understand how quickly the startup is growing. If the startup’s answer is “I don’t have a use case or user base, that’s why I need the funding” – the feedback will not normally be positive for the startup. Usually it will be that they are not ready to raise venture funding before the validation of the technology, which often requires investment for development and runway – a vicious Catch 22.

Furthermore, many potential customer companies are conservative by their nature. They often like to see evidence of a direct or indirect peer company having worked with the startup, before they engage / become customers of the startup. This process is time consuming if starting with smaller customer companies and gradually increasing the size of the customer company to achieve any market capture.

So, to kick-start development and market validation, an accelerated path can start with a Proof of Concept (PoC) with an established company, as part of the startup’s journey to developing customers and attracting investment.

Moreover, as Andrea Alunni, Senior Advisor at Oxford University Innovation, states, it will also significantly benefit the startup as they focus and improve their product or service:

“PoC is instrumental to take novel ideas into practice, supporting inventors’ business confidence and releasing drivers to innovation embedded in the tacit knowledge of the inventors. The ultimate outcomes of proof of concept investments depend on the ability of the supported technologies to reach the market and generate returns”.

Link to relevant article:

The PoC should be correctly framed and agreed up front with the partner(s). What’s the agreed specification? How long is the development period? How is it to be funded? What are the conditions around the use of the resulting IP? What are the startup’s rights to publicise the association with the partner company and the resulting developments? How does the longer term engagement get structured after a successful PoC?

At the Kickstart Accelerator, startups benefit from access to many of the largest and most successful companies in Switzerland and beyond. These companies can also benefit by deploying the startups’ ideas and agility onto commercial challenges they are facing. In addition, the programme is also supported by leading, global Management Consultancies who can facilitate access to their numerous clients. And so provide potential win-win-win opportunities for the startups, the consultancies and their selected clients.

Successful PoCs are a key part of a startup’s journey and are also fundamental to their stakeholders. We believe that we will see numerous PoCs progressed from the Kickstart Accelerator programme. A key statement of the progamme’s value and results.

Would you like to see your startup grow at a faster pace, get mentorship from industry experts and the chance to attain an initial investment? The Kickstart Accelerator is back, stronger than ever!

Kickstart Accelerator is one of Europe’s largest multi-corporate accelerators with intensive innovation processes for joint Proof-of-Concepts (PoCs) between global corporate partners and selected startups. Backed by experienced entrepreneurs, investors, academia and top companies in Switzerland, Kickstart Accelerator offers a unique opportunity to bring your startup to the next level in just 11 weeks!

Start your company off on the right track: Apply for a chance to be one of the selected startups!

The program will take place between September 4th and November 17th, 2017. We are looking for international startups and intrapreneurial teams operating in the following areas: Food, FinTech, Robotics & Intelligent Systems, Smart Cities (in Zurich) and Healthcare (in Basel).

Did you know that Zurich is one of the fastest-growing startup hubs and one of the world’s leading financial centres? Kickstart your career in Switzerland and live in Zurich or Basel for three months.

Benefits at a glance:

Apply at for an opportunity of a lifetime and scale your startup in 11 weeks!

Find out more about why you should join the Kickstart Accelerator during our Q&A webinars.

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