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 kickstart-accelerator.com 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.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, spread the word using the hashtag #kickstarters17 or sign up for our mailing list to get updates and news about the program!

Wow, Wow, Wow –  the Kickstart Accelerator 2016 has come to an end and the first batch of Kickstart has exceeded our expectations in every possible way!

The international talent in this year’s cohort highlights the potential of Switzerland to be the digital tech hub on the European stage.  On the final demo day the following five PoCs have been confirmed between leading European corporates and startups.

Credit Suisse, Swisscom and UBS, have partnered with Notakey, which provides solutions allowing users to securely notarise digital transactions to explore its suitability as a cross-industry platform. Such a “digital identity-ecosystem” would allow for consumer use cases: for instance, in the future a registered banking client could sign a mobile phone contract without further identification and vice versa.

Swisscom is also partnering with lenditapp, the fintech company active in the U.S. and Switzerland, for a 4 month PoC, which will see the two firms develop a technology solution that includes machine learning, data aggregation and underwriting models to automate and reduce the risk in lending to small & medium sized enterprises.

PwC Switzerland and Veezoo, a conversational artificial intelligence technology that enables users to search their company’s data, will conduct a PoC for internal PwC use. The intention is to further develop and validate the Veezoo solution for deployment in corporate environments.

EY has launched a cooperation with Nivaura in Switzerland and the UK. The aim is to test Nivaura’s innovative blockchain-based platform, which enables complex financial products to be issued, executed and administered. EY sees great potential for synergies with its business partners and clients globally.

Raiffeisen Switzerland has agreed a PoC with lenditapp to use their solution for the automated digital processing of balance sheets, to bring more convenience and outstanding quality into the credit process.

Raiffeisen Switzerland has also agreed a PoC with LastMile to explore the possible uses of Chat Bots in their support organisation based on text and voice in all Swiss national languages and dialects.

Further to the PoCs, Coop and Migros have agreed to pilot tests with Faitron, which is developing a portable HeatsBox that heats up meals on the go and in the workplace. The trials will test the acceptance, performance and convenience of the product. The test results will be shared with Faitron to make further improvements to the device and determine possible commercialisation. Coop has also been working with Essento, a Swiss food production company that uses insects, within the framework of the Coop Sustainability Fund. Coop will indirectly work with EntoCube, the producer of crickets through, EntoCube’s collaboration with Essento in a joint venture.

Our ambition has been to give the participating startups the opportunity to test their products at scale with some of Europe’s largest corporates. The corporate partners’ willingness to collaborate and share their infrastructure, data and expertise with the startups is a win-win for industry innovation and the creation of an ecosystem that lives beyond the programme.

We hope to continue building on our strengths in fintech, robotics and food, and expand our ecosystem to include other idustries as well. The increasingly supportive business and regulatory environment in Switzerland enables entrepreneurs and established industry titans to come here to collaborate, innovate and accelerate growth together.

 

FOTO: PHILIPPE ROSSIER, 3.11.2016, ZUERICH, KICKSTART-ACCELERATOR, CLOSING DAY

 

Image credits to Philippe Rossier, Ringier

A Pandora’s box of challenges offering a Cornucopia of opportunities.

Is it difficult to know where to start when trying to write a useful post about some key activities in Blockchain and Bitcoin, because the world consists of the widest range of reader, including investors, entrepreneurs, professionals, the deepest technical and business experts right the way through to the ordinary person on the street and those that are only just discovering Blockchain or distributed ledger technology for the first time.

Also because the potential impact could be so profound, any writing (especially as short as this) will rarely do it justice. Even the terminology can be confusing (which I am not going to address here and keep it simple by using just ‘Blockchain’), but for the purpose of this article I have decided to offer some short answers to a few questions I am often asked by those new to Blockchain, and then share some observations on some of the exciting conversations taking place in and around the Kickstart Accelerator and the wider Swiss and UK Blockchain community.

And so to the first question:

What is Blockchain? Upon reflection I decided not to take up space answering that question here, partly because I think the average reader of this particular blog probably knows quite a lot already, but if you are relatively new to the topic then a simple search will produce a lot of excellent primers, but here are a couple of useful links: (No affiliation – just liked the clarity of the description).

A short video from the World Economic Forum, here.

Investopedia has some useful definition paragraphs here:

(Note: – not all definitions on the page are relevant such as “Block Trade” but most are).

What will the impact of Blockchain be?

In my view – two words sum it up: – utterly profound.

But both in a really good way as well as in some surprising, challenging and unintended ways. If we consider for a moment that one of the key ‘useful’ things being introduced with Blockchain is the concept of moving from ‘centralised trust at a price’ to an agreed, shared ‘distributed truth’ with potentially greatly reduced repeating (and costly) need for a central trust authority, it really is a potential cornucopia of astonishingly useful opportunities. But what these opportunities will require (particularly from those that are building or even regulating these new opportunities), is a whole new level of understanding and capability, both technical, legal, business, regulatory, and not forgetting the need for great capability around the ethics around some of these opportunities. We need that in order to ensure that the purposeful or accidental misuse of Blockchain doesn’t unleash a true Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

The other important point to make is that the pace of change is fast. And those that are predicting 10 to 20 year adoption timeframes are forgetting the drive of the “unreasonable entrepreneur,” backed by bold risk capital and the incredibly low digital barriers to entry nowadays. Also the flight of some of the best talent, fed up with fighting fires and supporting legacy, as well as almost weekly announcements of senior executives heading up or advising some of the boldest new startups.

I was asked what I thought some of the key examples were of interesting developments we have seen over recent years in Blockchain, Bitcoin and Ethereum:

One of the questions we are most often asked (by government, corporates, investors, and startups) is “when or how long will Blockchain take to enter the mainstream and what are the barriers/things we should be thinking about.”

I will take a stab at a qualitative answer below, but first let me share an anecdote:

A few months ago I was chatting with one of the members of our team in London during our preparations for the Kickstart Accelerator in Zurich and he asked me the same question. Bear in mind this is someone who during their interview told me that they had read the original Satoshi Nakamoto white paper and had written a paper on the subject. My answer at the time was: – “when it becomes as transparent to us as TCP/IP, and we can just enjoy the benefits of Blockchain technology and all its applications in business, government and society.”

His reply was interesting because it actually made my point perfectly: He said:- “what’s TCP/IP?”

So there you have a simple answer: The equivalent young person in a reasonable number of years who are “digital natives” will hopefully automatically assume they can enjoy the benefits of things like:

And many more use cases as we experiment and test the technology as it applies to the widest range of industries and uses.

So how do we get there? Well one way is that we continue to encourage the major corporates to engage with some of the most innovative startups such as those in the Kickstart Accelerator, and push to test and try these new solutions together.

Another thing that needs to happen sooner rather than later is that national regulators need to really grasp what Blockchain really means. Challenging concepts such as trans-national distribution of data, stateless domicile, unclear place of supply and use, trustless trust, more on this here and a whole new grasp of fifty shades of “identity” in the new world.

Some are getting there, such as the UK through its regulatory sandboxes and the sharing of knowledge between countries. And I for one am rarely pushing for regulators to be asked to do more; but this stuff is so important, and rather than knee jerk reactions to try solve problems once they have happened we need to encourage them to engage and embrace the technical, geographic, operational and even ethical parameters of this fast emerging field, so they know what to encourage and not regulate, and what to protect.

Die ETH Zürich eröffnet ein weltweit einzigartiges Robotik-Labor, in dem getestet wird, wie Architekturprojekte in Zukunft ressourceneffizient, emissionsarm und verdichtet umgesetzt werden können.

 

Um zu erforschen, wie Digitalisierung und Automatisation den Bausektor prägen könnten, hat die ETH Zürich am 22. September ein neues Gebäude eröffnet: Das Arch_Tec_Lab. Wer das Gebäude betritt, hebt unwillkürlich den Blick zum kunstvoll gewellten Holzdach, das aus tausenden von Holzlatten mit der Hilfe eines Roboters gefertigt wurde. Ein faszinierender Anblick.

 

abb1Das von Robotern gefertigte Holzdach des Arch_Tec_Lab. © Andrea Diglas, ITA/Arch-Tec-Lab AG, ETH Zürich 2016

 

Unter dem Dach: eine zweistöckige Galerie mit lichtdurchfluteten Büros. Darin entwerfen Architekturforscher gerade die Zukunft des Bauens, die im Labor im Erdgeschoss des neuen Gebäudes schon mal in die Gegenwart geholt wird. Das Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, kurz RFL, ist ein weltweit einzigartiges Robotik-Labor, in dem vier ABB-Roboter von einem deckenmontierten Güdel-Flächenportal hängen. Zusammen kommt die Installation auf 36 Systemachsen, mit deren Hilfe Objekte auf eine Genauigkeit von einem halben Millimeter an jedem beliebigen Ort im 45 x 17 x 6 Meter grossen Raum platziert werden können. Die ABB-Steuerung kann sämtliche Achsen kontrollieren – ein Weltrekord, vermutet das Projektteam.

ABB als Sponsorin der vier Roboter und deren Steuerung ist am Projekt massgeblich beteiligt. „Das RFL zeigt die Kompetenz von ABB im Bereich Robotik: Als Partnerin von einer der bedeutendsten Architekturfakultäten der Welt, engagiert sich ABB für den Wissenstransfer zwischen Forschung und Industrie“, sagt Frank-Peter Kirgis, Global Business Line Manager von ABB.

 

abb2Das RFL im Aufbau: Montage eines ABB-Roboters © Gramazio Kohler Research ETH Zürich 2016

 

„Mit dem RFL machen wir einen wichtigen Schritt in Richtung einer digitalen Baukultur“, sagt Professor Matthias Kohler, der zusammen mit Professor Fabio Gramazio einer der acht Professuren des Instituts für Technologie in der Architektur leitet, die das Arch_Tec_Lab zusammen realisiert haben. Tobias Bonwetsch, Projektleiter, der das RFL schon seit Projektbeginn 2010 leitet, fügt an: „In diesem Labor werden wir die Zukunft des Bauens ausloten.“ Eine spannende Herausforderung im Hinblick auf die einzigartige Möglichkeit, zweistöckige Objekte im Massstab 1:1 in einem Labor herstellen zu können.

 

abb3Das Robotic Fabrication Laboratory © Andrea Diglas, ITA/Arch-Tec-Lab AG, ETH Zürich 2016

 

Wie sieht sie aus, die Zukunft des Bauens?

Digitalisierung und Automatisation sind auch in der Baubranche auf dem Vormarsch. Zwar langsamer als in anderen Branchen, aber doch unaufhaltsam. Das Bauen wird in der Zukunft digitaler, modularer und automatisierter. Dahinter steckt die Idee, dass eine geschlossene, digitale Kette sämtliche Schritte im Bauprozess verknüpft – vom Entwurf bis zum Bau. Und dank Robotern ergibt sich für Architekten eine Vielzahl von neuen Gestaltungsformen und Funktionalitäten. Roboter schliessen so im Baubereich einen „Fabrication Gap“ – was bedeutet, den Graben zwischen Entwurf und Realität, zwischen Plan und Umsetzbarkeit zuzuschütten. Der Architekt plant, was umsetzbar ist. Der Roboter baut, was geplant ist.

 

abb4Montage des Holzdaches © Arch_Tec_Lab 2015, www.espazium.ch

 

Eine anschauliche Erklärung davon, wie Roboter in der Baubranche eingesetzt werden können, bietet der Vergleich mit dem dreidimensionalen Druckverfahren. Roboter im Bau können, genau wie 3D-Drucker, einem Objekt während des Entstehungsprozesses eine gewisse Form geben und damit dessen Funktionalität bestimmen. Einzig, dass der Roboter nicht mit Tinte, sondern zum Beispiel mit Holzlatten oder mit Backsteinen arbeitet. Dabei entstehen Formen und Konstrukte, deren Fabrikation von Menschenhand zwar möglich, allerdings extrem aufwendig wäre. Ein Modul des geschwungenen Dachs des Arch_Tec_Labs zum Beispiel kann von einem Roboter in rund 10 Stunden zusammengenagelt werden. Menschen bräuchten für die gleiche Arbeit mehr als 100 Stunden. Dabei ersetzt die Maschine den Menschen nicht, sondern erschliesst vielmehr Architekten ein bisher nur wenig genutztes, gestalterisches Potential. Eine Architektin, die einen Bauroboter zur Verfügung hat, ist also gestalterisch freier und weniger an die Grenzen traditioneller Bauweisen gebunden. Somit entscheidet die Architektin nicht aus Kostengründen, ob sie eine gerade oder eine geschwungene Wand baut, sondern aus ihrem Gusto für Design.

 

Ressourcenschonend bauen dank Robotern

Es geht aber nicht nur um Ästhetik, sondern auch um Ressourceneffizienz. Türmt ein Roboter Backsteine aufeinander, nennt man dies additive Assemblierung. Im Gegensatz dazu steht die heute weitverbreitete subtraktive Bauweise, wo Material zum Beispiel mit einer Fräsmaschine abgetragen wird. Dabei entstehen Abfallprodukte. Modulares Bauen, bei dem man von einer kleinen Einheit ausgehend in die Grösse baut, hat daher das Potenzial, Ressourcen zu schonen.

 

abb5Additives Bauen mit ABB-Roboter ©NCCR Digital Fabrication, Gramazio Kohler Research ETH Zürich

 

Ein weiteres Beispiel, wie Roboter dazu beitragen, dass Materialien sparsam eingesetzt werden, ist die Herstellung von gewundenen Betonformen ohne den Einsatz einer Schalung. Roboter schweissen dafür Drahtgerüste zusammen, die mit Spritzbeton gefüllt werden. Da die Schalung entfällt, die es beim herkömmlichen Betongiessen benötigt, spart diese Bauweise Ressourcen – vor allem, wenn es sich um einmalige Projekte und nicht um eine Massenproduktion handelt.

 

abb6Drahtgerüst für die Konstruktion einer geschwungenen Betonwand © NCCR Digital Fabrication, Gramazio Kohler Research und Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab ETH Zürich

 

Multidisziplinäre Teams werden die Ärmel hochkrempeln

Sobald das neue Labor nun Tür und Tor öffnet, können multidisziplinäre Forschungsprojekte umgesetzt werden. Denn um diese weltweit einzigartige Anlage auf Herz und Nieren zu testen, ziehen Architekten, Ingenieurwissenschaftlerinnen, Robotik-Spezialisten und Material- und Computerwissenschaftlerinnen als Teil des nationalen Forschungsschwerpunktes (NFS) Digitale Fabrikation, der an der ETH Zürich beheimatet ist, am gleichen Strick. 20% der Nutzungszeit soll ausserdem externen Nutzern zugesprochen werden. So sollen andere Fakultäten der ETH aber auch andere Forschungsinstitute an der fortschrittlichen Technologie forschen können.

Unter anderem soll auch in situ Bauen im Labor simuliert werden. Dabei wird die Situation eines Roboters auf der Baustelle nachgestellt. Was braucht es, damit sich ein Roboter in einer typischerweise unstrukturierten Gegend auf einer Baustelle zurechtfindet? Es muss eine Art von künstlicher Intelligenz entwickelt werden. Schliesslich muss sich die Maschine mit gewissen einprogrammierten Regeln in der unvorhersehbaren Situation zurechtfinden. Eine Herausforderung, deren Lösung wohl schon bald die Gebäude prägen wird, in denen wir heute aufwachsen und altwerden, einkaufen und ausgehen, arbeiten und studieren.

Text: ABB Robotics

One-third of the world’s food is being wasted; that’s equivalent to one trillion dollars – it’s as huge as the Brazilian economy. To understand this problem even deeper a young team of entrepreneurs went to an importer in Germany to learn that they are throwing 27 tons of Bananas every week –  just because they turned yellow during shipping which is already considered ripe and not fit for distribution. Retailers and also farms are throwing away tons and tons of fruits and vegetables because they are spoiled or they look ugly and this means massive disposal costs for companies as well as an enormous environmental impact on the world.

This very team of entrepreneurs, a food startup named FoPo Food Powder is currently being accelerated at Kickstart Accelerator in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s  Europe’s largest multi­-corporate technology accelerators and the home to 30 international startups, which have been chosen from 850 applicants and are now based in Zurich until November for the 11-week accelerator program.

FoPo Food Powder aims to solve food waste and malnutrition by saving food from being wasted. They collect fruits & vegetables from farms, groceries, and importers, dry them through spray or freeze drying and pulverize them. Like this, they can extend its shelf life from 2 weeks to 2 years. This process also maximizes logistics for transportation and saves nutrition by up to 90%. FoPo Food Powder can then be used as an ingredient for baking, flavoring, drinks, as well as for humanitarian aid purposes as it is easy-to-use and easy-to-deliver.

FoPo Food Powder and the other startups from the Kickstart Accelerator’s Food Vertical are strongly supported by the sound practical and scientific competence of local universities and food innovation leaders in Switzerland. The ETH in Zurich with its renowned World Food System Center is supporting the program with its research facilities, while major Swiss food retailers such as Migros, Coop and multinational food and beverage companies are providing cutting-edge technology, infrastructure and mentors to the startups to accelerate all these promising business ideas.

Another cutting edge technology is coming from EntoCube, another startup at the Kickstart Accelerator. EntoCube is fixing the broken food system with insect farming technologies. Their microclimate control system ensures rapid growth and higher yields, while automation reduces labor costs and fluctuations in production. With these technologies, the environmental and culinary benefits of insects can be harnessed by the masses, which is more and more becoming necessary!

With the Earth’s population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need for new sustainable sources for food. For both, Coop and Migros, sustainability has long been an integral component of their strategy as well as taking into account the economical, social and ecological objectives.

While resources like arable land and fresh water are growing increasingly scarce, there is an urgent need for more efficient food sources to be discovered and exploited. The world’s eyes have already turned to a group of edible insects as a very sustainable food source: they are efficient to produce, environmentally friendly and highly nutritive human food. Over two billion people already eat insects and this number is on a trajectory to grow further as insect are popularized in the developed world.

Well, both City and Canton of Zurich, Switzerland have recognized the potential of the Kickstart Accelerator and its Food Vertical and are thus, together with the preeminent economic umbrella organisation Economiesuisse, facilitating a fruitful exchange between the startups and the Swiss ecosystem.

In the last few weeks, we have been focused on preparing the entrepreneurs to raise capital from investors. This coaching has covered the presentation materials and live pitching that are essential for entrepreneurs, as well as how to put together adequate documentation to engage investors & key things to know regarding amounts of capital to raise and valuation.

Given the type of investment returns that Angel and Venture Capital investors typically look for, we have started by ensuring that all the entrepreneurs are effectively articulating a vision that clearly shows how their business could scale to be gigantic. This coaching has comprised of a significant amount of one-to-one sessions. The results have been quite dramatic for those who recognize the effectiveness of communicating their long-term goal more powerfully while remaining focused on the initial part of their business. We have also made it clear that although this work is targeted at investors, a compelling pitch/story has enormous value when recruiting new team members, as well as engaging new partners and customers.

We also spent significant time in groups and one-to-one pitch coaching sessions with the entrepreneurs to prepare them for the Mid-Term Demo day and meetings with investors.  The goal was to get the entrepreneurs to simplify their pitches and incorporate elements to make them more memorable. These included storytelling, emotion and humour. Significant time was spent getting some of the entrepreneurs to slow down when giving their pitches and how to engage more efficiently with the audience. One thing all the entrepreneurs learned is that there is no substitute for preparation and practice, practice, practice! It was evident to the audience at the Mid-Term demo day just how dramatically most of the pitches had improved from the beginning of the Kickstart Accelerator.

Now that the pitches have been improved (although the work is ongoing), we have started work on documentation and strategies that entrepreneurs need to obtain meetings with investors. One key part of the documentation is constructing very compelling and concise email summaries that investors will review when deciding whether to take a meeting. Our experience (in setting up 100s of meetings with investors) is that investors typically make a decision in about 45 seconds as they are reading the summary, regarding whether they want to be introduced to an entrepreneur, so we keep the reading time of an email summary to this length. We don’t believe in executive summaries that investors need to open (attachments) and they are typically too long. We think of email summaries in the same way that Amazon thinks of getting a customer to buy a product. The more concise the information and the simpler/fewer the steps to get the investor to say “yes” to an introduction, the better.

Beyond preparing entrepreneurs for engaging with investors, we have been ramping up investor engagement.  This has included inviting leading VCs and angels to the Final Demo day, introducing various startups to investors and arranging one-to-one investor/entrepreneur meetings in the next month.

“This year’s Sibos is Fintech’s coming of age, evidenced by youngest Fintech companies ever seen at a Sibos, and the huge interest and time freely given by all experts and executives during our Office Hours 2016. The feedback from both the startups and the experts has been outstanding.” – Eric van der Kleij, Special Advisor, Kickstart Accelerator

Sibos is one of the largest and internationally renowned financial services conferences held annually, organised by SWIFT. 2016 took Sibos to Geneva. This had us thinking – what if we could bring our startups together with the c. 10,000 executives, representing the titans of the financial services industry? So after two months of planning, as well as the generous support of some of our Global Partners, we formulated a bold and ambitious plan, our ‘Mission to Sibos’.

Below, Swisscom’s Digital Lab as part of a tour of EPFL’s campus and visits to some of our Global Partners’ innovation branches on Monday 26/09:ctsyq9ewyaa5n2v

And Credit Suisse’s Innovation Lab:whatsapp-image-2016-09-29-at-09-08-21

Sibos kicked off for KSAcc when Eric van der Kleij shared the Innotribe Stage with Fintech influencers Alexandre Gaillard,  Brigitte Baumann and Johann Gevers. The group educated the audience about Fintech Hubs in Switzerland.  To fully immerse the audience into the uniqueness of the accelerator space in Zurich, Eric was helped by the amazing visual design team at Sibos!

unbenannt

A core part of our Mission to Sibos was ‘Office Hours 2016’ in collaboration with Innotribe. We managed 40+ meetings in a space of 2 days! Some of our companies also got the opportunity to meet with journalists.

 

Day 2 begins…

…for the Mission to Sibos Team!

 

“Beware the Temptation of Technology!” – Futurist Gerd Leonhard speaking at the Innotribe in his session Man and Machine: The Future of Technology and Humans. A thought-provoking talk analysing the evolution of technology and its impact on human behaviours. Ultimately we must recognise that there will always be a human role to play and the real question is how comfortable are we with the change?

Technology is exponential, while humans are linear, as such our lives will change more in the next 20 years then they have in the last 400 years. We will witness the end of dying. Or at least our grandchildren will live to be 100-150 years old and may in fact never die but ‘upload’ themselves onto a cloud. And as such in 2050 there will be one computer with the power of all human brains!

Gerd closed with this advice for being a successful business: “is about staging experiences, for humans this means: value, trust, relationships with a layer of technology to support this e.g. Facebook owns no media, uber owns no cars, air bnb owns no rooms, they are all providing a [superior user] experience. Finally, that websites and apps will become obsolete, if we look at Amazon echo, a speaker which is permanently listening in your living room and will act on/recommend goods and services, it already has, 3m users in the U.S. after only a few months!

 

Some of our startups tell us of their Sibos experience:

“Our first meeting at Sibos resulted in a planned proof of concept!” – Marcos Monteiro, CEO – Veezoo

“At first sight, Sibos is overwhelming – impressive stands, 1,000s of delegates and panels featuring CEOs of multinational corporations… however, if you know where to start and where you want to get to, it becomes much easier to navigate. The Kickstart team did a great job connecting us with all the right people right from the moment we arrived at Sibos”. – Jānis Graubiņš, Co-Founder – Notakey

“The amazing Sibos provided us with an intimate audience with many investors and advisors who gave invaluable feedback on our business model, in particular how to make us a more attractive prospect for European investors. We talked to a range of companies about some fascinating topics including risk control, online payments, credit management and blockchain, all very insightful discussions to help us improve our products and services in Europe.” – Juliette Xu, COO – Surong360

We brought Vlado Petrushev Founder & CEO of Minebox (Smart and Connected Machines) along for the ride and asked how Sibos was for him? ‘Excellent! I had a great time with the Fintech vertical and I learned a lot about the finance industry from them. Some fantastic news, as a result of an introduction by one of the KSA team, Minebox is now a Partner company of Cloud28 (an open community of Cloud Service Providers, Cloud Resellers, System Integrators and government entities dedicated to accelerating enterprise cloud adoption across Europe, the Middle East and Africa)!’

 

Mission successful!
David Bufka from EY joined the Kickstart team at the conference, he told our team, ‘The ‘Mission to Sibos’ exceeded our expectations. The startups from the Kickstart Accelerator were introduced to EY’s global Fintech leaders and our clients at Sibos, where valuable contacts were made to further international cooperation.’ Sascha Gysel from UBS, another one of the sponsoring companies of the Mission to Sibos, emphasised: “We are very glad to have supported this unique opportunity for the start-ups, as there is no better place to meet banking industries leaders.”

Katka Letzing, Kickstart Accelerator’s Fintech Programme Lead summarised our Mission to Sibos:  ‘It was great to see our startups connecting with big ecosystem players at Sibos, as well testing their business models and getting feedback from the network of corporate partners, investors and many others.’

The question left for Katka and the Kickstart Accelerator Team is where our Mission to next year is? A huge thank you to the following Partners who made our ‘Mission to Sibos’ possible: Credit Suisse, EY, Raiffeisen Switzerland, Swisscom & UBS.

 

Major Swiss banks working alongside one another is unusual. Indeed, this is the aspect of the Kickstart Fintech Accelerator that most surprises people when they first come across it. Normally UBS and Credit Suisse are seen as competing organisations, but here at Kickstart they are together embracing an emerging business concept: coopetition. So we asked Andreas Kubli of UBS and Salvatore Iacangelo of Credit Suisse to explain what’s going on here – what does coopetition mean to them?

“It means to look further than competition and to collaborate with [similar organisations] to bring out the value and potential, which is not likely achieved alone. It is competition and partnership at the same time” says Salvatore. “In a coopetition concept, questions like what are competitors doing? and how do we protect ourselves from competitors finding out what we do? are out of scope, while questions such as what can we do together to make our business better? and how can we leverage our collaboration with competition as a benchmark and measurement of our own growth?” enter into the spotlight. The same is true for UBS, which also sees value in being “inspired by players that pursue similar goals”.

Yet coopetition as a concept remains new for banks. Andreas argues that the relatively small size of the market in Switzerland fostered some early collaborations, such as the formation of SIX, the financial infrastructure provider, by several Swiss banks. Certainly collaboration is becoming more common among financial incumbents. Looking internationally, he points to UBS’ recently announced blockchain project, the Utility Settlement Coin, “a digital cash model aimed at facilitating payment and settlement for institutional financial markets. We started this project together with the startup Clearmatics and are now supported by BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, ICAP and Santander.”

That said, Salvatore suggests that the finance industry lags others, such as the telecoms and automobile industries, in terms of collaboration. But things are changing: “coopetition is not broadly adopted within the bank today,” he notes, “but the concept is increasingly favoured with growing acknowledgement and understanding across this business.”

This is where accelerators come in, helping to foster and facilitate this new style of collaboration. The resulting program, Kickstart, is valuable from Credit Suisse’s perspective: “many companies try to run their own accelerators, which typically have limited exposure, reach and awareness. Since this is an exercise that benefits us all, joining forces can enable the initiative to reach bigger audiences and reach its ultimate goal – to promote Switzerland as a digital hub.” This is a goal the partners share. As Andreas puts it, “we as well as Credit Suisse and the other partners have a big interest in attracting innovative talent, strengthening the local startup ecosystem and in the long run also the innovative strength of the Swiss Financial Center.”

The approach is necessary, he adds, “where international fintech locations compete as fiercely as today. Together we can attract better startups and better mentors, for example, we can define more relevant Proof of Concept Cases with startups, and there is much higher overall chance that the program will lead to the success that we’re both striving for.”

There is, however, another reason why these banks are emphasising the need for collaboration now. Somewhat ironically, it’s startups like those found in Kickstart’s fintech stream that in part precipitated this. Credit Suisse cites the combined competition from new “technology giants” and fintechs as inspiring them to join forces with other banks, giving them the “momentum and strength” to address these entrants.

Working closely with those over whom you are supposed to maintain a competitive advantage goes against traditional corporate thinking, and this can cause reluctance to explore collaborative opportunities. Yet UBS and Credit Suisse are optimistic.
Andreas argues that “there is always room for differentiation, even if such players exchange and cooperate on certain topics. …Through collaboration we believe that we can, for example, increase our innovation capabilities and our internal skills, improve our service offering or bring it to market faster, and thus serve our clients even better – and this is what makes us competitive.”

Indeed, both companies cite Silicon Valley as demonstrating how well a collaborative approach can work. For Salvatore, “Silicon Valley is an outstanding example of an area that promotes collaboration. Consumers there are well adapted to new technologies and also maintain an open mind to try new things. This encourages testing of new offerings and identification of opportunities for businesses to cooperate. Secondly, the environment (in terms of regulations) supports innovation in businesses where collaboration comes into play most often.”

Furthermore, the ecosystem that has developed in Silicon Valley gives it the edge: “there is a powerful mix of venture capital, accelerators but also big companies interested in cooperating or even acquiring startups”, says Andreas. As such, it is the cultivation of a complete innovation ecosystem that Kickstart is striving for, and what collaborators UBS and Credit Suisse are driving.

There is, it would seem, a change going on within the banks. The financial industry, Salvatore suggests, should learn from the personal technology industry: “it is clear that when companies cover an ecosystem or large portion of the value chain, there will be opportunities for coopetition. For instance, tech giants used to see owning certain IP or having a closed ecosystem to be their key competitive advantage. Although this is still true to some extent … the majority of the growth in their businesses and user base is driven by an open platform that enables innovation and development. Very often, these open platforms are also leveraged by competitors. In return, this enables the business itself to take advantage of the existing user base of their competitors… The financial industry should consider such experiences and apply similar theory to embrace the synergies of coopetition.”

To achieve these benefits, Andreas stresses, careful management of relationships is crucial. “Collaboration is always a question of good relationships between people with an open mindset. …If the set-up is done correctly and the collaborating partners both display the necessary collaborative ethos, then we believe the potential will be reaped. But of course, executing on this approach is not always easy or straightforward, as with any other approach.”

Nevertheless, it’s embracing these opportunities that will put Switzerland and Swiss companies in a strong position: “with initiatives like ‘digitalswitzerland’ and especially the Kickstart Accelerator, Switzerland made a broad leap forward during the last year. It is unique that so many partners come together and support a program like that,” Andreas says. However, he cautions that there is still more to be done to secure the gains made so far in creating an innovative environment. “In terms of government support we are still lagging behind other locations like London or Singapore where a lot of government money is flowing into directly supporting a healthy ecosystem.”

But how far are Kickstart’s partners willing to go in their support for collaboration? What if it were some of their own suppliers or partners, perhaps graduates of this diverse accelerator, who were collaborating?

Both UBS and Credit Suisse, it would seem, are fairly relaxed about this, as they expect increased benefits for all parties. Andreas refers to their current collaboration with Bexio, an online accounting tool for SMEs that connects to their e-Banking. He suggests that a collaboration between Bexio and a third party provider should enhance the functionality of its platform, and thus increase the value of the UBS collaboration

Salvatore, meanwhile, says that Credit Suisse’s approach is that collaboration between suppliers or startups is a great demonstration of “delivering the 1 plus 1 equals >2 theory”:

“There are times when it makes more sense for startups to collaborate with each other. Startups may have limited expertise and capabilities in-house, mostly focusing on their key product. This means there is a gap of expertise and know-how, unfilled with their individual skillsets. Therefore, coopetition is anticipated to drive value for all companies.”

Andreas seconds this, emphasising that “early stage startups can learn a lot from each other and profit from valuable experiences to refine their business model. Therefore programs like the Kickstart Accelerator are vital as a platform of exchange and collaboration for startups”.

“In a program like Kickstart Accelerator,” Salvatore adds, “we do not make startups ‘compete’ with one another. Rather, they are driven to focus on their own growth and progress to get the maximum seed funding. In this setup, startups are not being compared to other startups, which promotes the collaborative environment even more.” Indeed it’s in this, by fully embracing the spirit of collaboration, that the true benefit of Kickstart and similar initiatives is found.

Startup insights into the life at Kickstart Accelerator

Life at Kickstart Accelerator is heating up and some of the #kickstarters16 are feeling the burn with Midterm Demo Day looming less than a week away. With backstage access to the action, we decided to find out how the entrepreneurs are holding up and get a more personal perspective of life at Kickstart Accelerator.

Luis and his team from Mergims, a Rwandan start-up in the Fintech vertical, are feeling positive about the upcoming deadline especially with the “needed push” they received from the experts to transition from “proof of concept to viable business model status.”  Life at the #kickerstarters16 hostel has them feeling like they are back in their college days spending late nights dreaming about possibilities.

Unlike their African peers Piomic, a local startup in the Future and Emerging Technologies vertical, knows Zürich well and was excited to discuss the lunchtime food trucks that arrive each day to feed the throng of hungry entrepreneurs. Piomic’s unanimous favorite: the Sri Lankan Kottu Roti. When not discussing the superlatives of Kottu Roti, Piomic is pushing to finish the clinical prototype of their device. This will allow them to take the next step in being granted permission to test their device in clinical trials based in Switzerland.

Equally busy, Viscopic, from the Smart and Connected Machines vertical, is a startup on the move. We were able to secure few minutes with them to discuss their focus for the Midterm Demo day. Presenting well is their first objective as they hope to impress important, potential contacts who could help further and improve their pilot project. Viscopic appreciates the cohesive work environment created by like-minded people all striving to accelerate their innovative ideas.

Social entrepreneurs Project Aqua, from the Food vertical, couldn’t agree more about what an incredible ecosystem Kickstart Accelerator has created by bringing together 30 startups – that’s over 90 entrepreneurs! They are enthusiastic about the opportunity the Midterm Demo Day gives them to share their business model with influential people and scale it with the intention of helping more people. “Time is flying” and the startup plans to use the midterm date to look back on what they have achieved and project what they want to achieve in the remaining time left. Project Aqua has been particularly thrilled that the Zürich Street Food Festival coincides with their time at Kickstart Accelerator.

Sound interesting? Come and have a look for yourself! View days left to sign-up for the exclusive Midterm Demo Day Morning Session at ewz-Unterwerk Selnau, Selnaustrasse 25, 8001 Zürich. Space is limited, see you!

About the most innovative country and it’s journey to become an excellent place to start a venture today.

The Global Innovation Index ranks the innovation performance of 128 countries and economies around the world, based on 82 indicators. Switzerland is the most innovative country in the world – for several years in a row now.

So one would think that Switzerland then is the startup hub par example!  Well, one is for sure – innovation alone is not enough, but that’s why there are programs like the Kickstart Accelerator.

Switzerland and its innovators

Let’s begin from the start. Back then when Switzerland, a small, poor country full of mountains, lacking raw materials, had no choice but to be innovative, continually. When innovation was a must to develop alternative sources of income, such as agriculture, tourism and the service sector. When Switzerland freshly established as a liberal, federal state would attract political and other refugees who then helped make Switzerland famous for its watches, the financial center, highly ranked school system and the universities of today.

That’s when Switzerland became the innovation-driven country. So Switzerland’s high ranked positions today rely on the heritage of well-educated people and the legacy of the strong and significant business, banking and research sectors – not to be forgotten, also on the openness towards foreign business partners, investors, workers and entrepreneurs.

Nothing major has changed about these facts. Switzerland is still this innovation-driven country, even has been the most innovative country for the last six years. But if Switzerland is to maintain its top position internationally, it must ensure that the necessary conditions for innovation remain in place.

Only now, in the time of digitalisation, Switzerland and particular Zurich realizes the lagging when it comes to boosting young and new innovators too, especially compared to other European cities. Clearly a tremendous opportunity here.

Where in Switzerland the majority of all innovations come from the established institutions it’s the startups and young entrepreneurs driving innovation in other countries mostly because of political and economic difficulties. In the Bloomberg interview Marc Walder, CEO Ringier and initiator and chairman of the board of DigitalZurich2025 rightly said that Switzerland did not have any major crisis. Therefore there had not been any particular need for supporting startups until now nor an important aspect of inviting local organizations to invest in new ideas.

So let’s quickly change this. There is enough resources in this country and a lot of capable supporters when it comes to innovation, thus a real stable soil for young innovators, right?

Right, but to becoming the most preferred place to start a venture today requests more than that. For example business-friendly regulations, a reasonable system of taxation, as well as free access to foreign markets and their innovators.

So far, Switzerland attracted international talent mostly at the top-ranked Swiss universities. And when talented students graduate, they are either recruited by large corporates or leave the country again. Switzerland loses out on what is a key factor for Silicon Valley’s success story. Some same scenario with local talents.

Programs like the Kickstart Accelerator help to build these strongly needed bridges to the international entrepreneurship scene and also bring local organizations close to new, different innovations.

“The Kickstart Accelerator program allows EY to identify innovation from startups at an early stage. This way, we can add to it through the expertise of our EY experts and mentors,” says Marcel Stalder, CEO of EY Switzerland. “The unique approach of the Kickstart Accelerator, where even competing companies join forces, will allow for bigger innovation to come through. Advisory companies such as EY act as a platform, a facilitator, that helps connect the dots between the new solutions and the needs of the corporate partners. This increases the overall innovation power of the Swiss economy,” elaborates Stalder.

So Switzerland is the startup hub par example? Well, we’re definitely getting there!

Robots are building our cars, artificial intelligence is answering our questions (we call her “Siri” or “Cortana” or “Alexa”) and thanks to 3D printing and rapid manufacturing, individualized and tailor-made products are now part of our everyday lives. Many areas have already been revolutionized (or disrupted) thanks to the use of Smart & Connected Machines (SCM). Yet, there are still lots of possibilities for improvement, as we have learned during our evaluation phase of nearly 100 startups applying for the first batch of the Smart & Connected Machines vertical of Kickstart Accelerator.

SCM in Industry Applications
The manufacturing industry relies heavily on the use of robotics and automation. No wonder, many of our applications are trying to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the machines and robots involved in these processes. This could be – for example – a high-precision robotic gripper, developed by one of our finalists – BOTA. After coming up with a very affordable yet accurate torque sensor design and refining its capabilities, they decided to take a step forward and put their invention into practice. Our next finalist – Viscopic – provides an all-in-one communication and documentation solution when your machinery enters a maintenance cycle or needs to be fixed. It brings together technicians and experts with the customer’s maintenance staff and helps them to solve issues quickly and sustained.

SCM at Home
It sounds somehow obvious: home automation and energy efficiency should go hand in hand. Smart Home Technology assists you in getting your standby power consumption down to zero using their crypto-secured home automation appliances. Speaking of crypto: do you own a network attached storage (NAS) device? Have you ever thought of renting out drive space on your NAS and getting Bitcoin in return? Minebox wants to revolutionize the way we store and safely distribute our data – and therefore avoid the loss of data due to a single point of failure issue.

SCM for Leisure and Fun
How do we teach robotics and automation to our future engineers? UK-based Tio has an answer to this question – their robotic building blocks are suitable for kids at the age of 5 and let them explore the world of sensors and motors, lighting and signaling in a playful way. What about the big kids? Please meet Drofie – the flying selfie stick! The Latvian startup will bring selfies to the next level, developing a pocket-sized drone that will position itself based on visual reference so you won’t need any tracking device or GPS to lead its way.

So – throw away that selfie stick and say hello to the future!

It is hard to imagine the world without the internet and mobile devices, which have become core elements of our lives. Technology has also brought a high degree of disruption to the financial services industry, and transformed financial products & services – and we are at just the beginning of this trend. “FinTech” describes the phenomenon that lies at the intersection of finance & technology. As a financial services hub with a strong tradition of innovation, Switzerland in an ideal place to explore the potential of FinTech. The Kickstart Accelerator FinTech Vertical is a very good example of FinTech gaining momentum in the country of banks.

During outreach, we received 800 applications out of which 162 applications were from FinTech startups from all over the world. More than 40 evaluators followed a vigorous selection process, resulting in 20 shortlisted companies. The quality of these companies and thus the level of competition was extremely high.

The final selection took place during a two-day Bootcamp, where more than 60 entrepreneurs from the 20 shortlisted startups were invited to pitch their businesses in Zurich.

The jury, composed of more than 30 entrepreneurs, investors, corporate partners’ executives and experts, selected the following 10 cutting-edge companies:

Let me begin with Surong360, a peer-to-peer lending platform for university students in China to borrow money from alumni and Mergims, an online bills payment aggregator for basic urgent services and products in Rwanda. These companies in the 2016 cohort are a great example of FinTech becoming an enabler of economic inclusion. By addressing previously excluded consumer demographics, the industry is in a position to drive innovation and economic & social change.

Since the Kickstart Accelerator FinTech Vertical also has important emerging FinTech trends on its radar, two blockchain technology based startups made into the program: Gatechain, a solution that redefines trade finance by removing paper and using digital exchange of documents and Nivaura, a modular Digital Platform Solutions, for commercial and investment banking, to enable faster, cheaper, easier and safer issuance, execution and administration of complex financial products.

Banks are adopting new solutions to improve and simplify operations, which fosters a move away from physical channels and towards digital/mobile delivery. The best examples offering this trend in the 2016 cohort are Notakey, which utilizes hardware-based key storage for authentication, authorization and document management; Veezoo, a business Artificial Intelligence tool to explore data by asking questions and James, which brings the power of Machine Learning to Credit Risk Departments. The enhancement of credit underwriting/decision-making is the core preoccupation for Lenditapp, a cloud-based, business solution for the alternative small business lending marketplace.

While during the hot summertime people may be enjoying a day at the lake, FinTech is riding a different wave – the one of disruption with solutions that can better address customer needs and the pursuit of customer centricity. Zoa gives consumers a tool to protect digital privacy and offers a marketplace to allow these consumers to choose what kind of information about themselves they want to sell to companies.

Another wave of disruption is hitting the insurance sectors. That is why one InsurTech startup is also in the program: Sureify, a platform that bridges the gap between insurance carriers and their current and future policyholders.

Soon it will be hard to imagine how financial services worked before the age of FinTech. And, thanks to the Kickstart Accelerator, together with 2016 cohort, the financial sector (notably Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young, Global FinTech Association, Six, Swisscom, Swiss Life, UBS) and many other international and national actors from the FinTech ecosystem, the country of banks will play an important role in the FinTech story.

What is future and emerging technologies? Well, literally… future and emerging technologies. It’s the sort of things imagined in Star Trek, Star Wars and the like. Ok, maybe not that far into the future but definitely things which will impact the world within the next decade.

During the outreach, we received roughly 300 applications from startups all over the world which turned into a gigantic task of screening them transparently and fair. For a decent opinion making, you need to spend at least an hour per application, and that’s a whole lot of Game of Thrones episodes. After slashing the number down (nobody got harmed or killed), we proceeded with 18 teams. Next phase was the jury calls. We locked some brilliant minds into a room and reached out to the selected startups to chat and let’s just say; there was a lot we learned during these three days of jury calls:

Insides we craved knowing and well things we better shouldn’t have heard. It was an emotional roller coaster including hard arguments behind closed doors, genuine joy of experiencing a high degree of professionality, pitches which didn’t lack on humor and much more. It was highly exciting but equally intense and challenging.

So that’s how we ended up with a bunch of Finnish guys, bolting together farming technologies for high-quality alternative proteins, a German duo destined to teach computers the human language and a Swiss crew working their magic on healing wounds. A Bulgarian attempt to change the way how we pay for public transport, a team from the French-speaking part of Switzerland meshing together veins, watches and IDs and local representatives, a startup introducing blockchain technology ensuring your meds are safe.

All in all a bunch of super smart and talented people building the world of tomorrow! Welcome to the future and the emerging technology vertical.

From African food bikes running on new technology and engineered microbes to enhance the nutritional quality of fermented food.

It goes without saying, 176 applications from food startups coming from all over the globe were more than we expected for the first version of Kickstart Accelerator. We were amazed about applications from startups creating a high protein algae-based snack, nutraceutical food additives or an online marketplace for artisanal food, just to mention a few.

Why having a food vertical in Kickstart Accelerator?

With an ever-growing world population, we’re in need of finding innovative solutions to nurture everyone today and in the future. So we took this decision for granted to also invite food startups, which are revolutionizing each step from production to distribution, in packaging, services and gastronomy to this Kickstart experience – adding that to the fact of Switzerland’s attractiveness as a location for innovation in the field of food.

At the same time, Kickstart Accelerator is backed by some of Switzerland’s biggest companies including the largest food retailers and producers Migros and Coop. So having them joining forces and providing mentors and experts, we’re also able to offer food startups a rich program in this accelerator.

While upholding their competition, Migros and Coop still support each other in the regional environment. Working with and learning from startups together makes them role models for other corporates worldwide and we’d love to see this in every vertical everywhere.

So it’s a give and take!

The diversity of business ideas submitted was fantastic which also meant that the selection process was going to be hard.

That’s why it took more than 20 people of the Kickstart Accelerator core team, mentors, academia, corporate partners and the wider startup ecosystem of Zürich and Switzerland investing countless hours in selecting the teams with the best fit for Kickstart Accelerator 2016.

The applications came from all over the world.

From Europe, a total of 89 food startups applied. 29 from Switzerland, 5 from Germany, 11 from the UK, 6 from the States, 9 from Africa and 16 from Asia!

And so we are extremely excited to soon welcome the teams of Scoodit, Project Aqua, Food Powder, Pantry Ace, Dalou, Faitron and myAllergy to Zurich.

Let the Kickstart begin!

With Kickstart Accelerator, we place our bets on collaboration and internationalisation to accelerate Switzerland’s development towards a leading entrepreneurship ecosystem across the globe.

On collaboration: It requires a collaborative effort amongst many actors to build and grow an ecosystem. For the past two decades, individual startup programs have been successfully established to support startups in a particular niche. These programs are pivotal for some founders, and Impact Hubs in Zürich and Geneva, along with many peers such as CTI startup, IfJ, VentureKick, Swiss Startup Invest, Startup Campus, Swiss Startup Factory, Venture, startups.ch, etc. have contributed to this emergence of program-level support. However, it now may seem as if there are more programs in Switzerland than startups that actually make a difference. For breakthrough successes, it requires a critical mass of actors, first and foremost startups, to come together and collaborate rather than compete over limited public, philanthropic or private resources.

On internationalisation: Thus far, we have attracted international talent mostly at the Federal Institute of Technology or St.Gallen University. And when talented students graduate, they are either recruited by large corporates or leave the country again. We lose out on what is a key factor for Silicon Valley’s success story, i.e., the majority of Silicon Valley’s renowned founders being direct immigrants or born to immigrant parents. If we want to develop Switzerland to a global leader of entrepreneurs, we need to build stronger bridges to the international entrepreneurship scene.

Building on DigitalZurich2025, Kickstart Accelerator is the largest collaborative effort to welcome top international startups to Switzerland. With many corporates, leading universities and public institutions joining forces, we have the unique opportunity for our country to take a leap forward in entrepreneurship.

Both collaboration and internationalisation require a distinct mindset. Being part of the global community of over 90 Impact Hubs with 14’000 entrepreneurial members, our team at Impact Hub Zürich has continuously proven this mentality – as we have recently articulated in our Co-Manifesto. We are honoured and proud to be asked to lead Switzerland’s most ambitious effort in startup acceleration, corporate open innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem building. And we are thankful to the many partners and supporters who reach out to us with their helping hands rather than falling back to silo-thinking and traditional competition.

So which collaborations are happening exactly?

DigitalZurich2025 is already a remarkable initiative convening over 25 large corporates, several leading institutions and public players. Building on such an orchestrated power, Kickstart Accelerator now sees competitors working side-by-side for a shared ambition: UBS and Credit Suisse, along with half a dozen of other industry leaders, supporting the Fintech Vertical. Migros and Coop doing so in the Food Vertical. During the selection process, several C-level executives have debated over which corporate is first to initiate a PoC (Proof-of-Concept) with which startup in the program. This, to my knowledge, is very rare in startup programs. It is the openness that is required in order to build something meaningful.

Never before have we actively welcomed so many startups from abroad to Switzerland to establish long-lasting relationships, both with large corporates and institutions, as well as with other Swiss startups. While the majority of participants come from all over the world, about one-third are Swiss startups. And they will not only compete with each other but also collaborate within and across the four thematic verticals. Fortunately, all partners have recognised the innovation potential of not building four different accelerators, but to connect four, and soon more, verticals under one joint acceleration program.

Swiss startups, who do not participate, will also benefit from Kickstart Accelerator. We are curating world-class educational content with Masterclass coaches such as Joachim Schoss, Curdin Janett and Pascal Mathis, in which Swiss startups will also have a chance to join. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Finally, we collaborate intensively behind the scenes. To build a global leader in fintech acceleration, for example, we are working together on a day-to-day basis with Eric Van der Kleij and the team at DV2C, former founder of London’s Level39 and not to forget the many managers and intrapreneurs from our corporate partners rolling up their sleeves to become operationally involved with us.

While all this may both sound exciting and promising for Switzerland, it is also extremely demanding work. Earlier this year, an experienced international acceleration provider had informed one of our partners that it takes at least nine months to put together an outstanding program and only if one has done so before. Well, we have had less than half a year to get the first batch off the ground. And it is due to an extraordinary Kickstart Accelerator team, all of them entrepreneurs in their own regard, strong support by our Steering Committee and office at DigitalZurich2025 and its partners and an incredible backing from Impact Hub Zürich’s 40 people team to make it happen in record time. Before the program officially starts on 22nd August 2016, I would like to thank all of you who make Kickstart Accelerator a reality.

Christoph Birkholz

A few weeks ago I attempted a brief street survey to get an idea of the general public’s take on robotics. I noticed two things: 1) Robotics is a seemingly misunderstood field. 2) The average person has no idea what was happening inside a robotics lab.

After compiling the four most common responses, I decided to speak to Professor Roland Siegwart, head of the Autonomous Systems Lab at ZTH, to get his take on the public perception of robotics. Here’s what I discovered from our conversation.

Robotics is just human looking robots.  Not really. While robots can be human like, most are designed in a manner most appropriate for their function.  Autonomous cars, drones, vacuums, and lawnmowers  are all commonly used robots defined by their functionality.  They use different sensors to perceive and understand their environment, develop a course of action,  and execute it.

Looks cool but I doubt it’s useful. Oh contraire! Autonomous Robots are gradually appearing in our daily environments. For example, mobile robotic technology is already being used to enhance existing systems – like making cars safer or to guiding people through cities. “Soft” robots are currently being developed that will change the way we do work. Expect robots to take on dangerous jobs like mining or physically demanding jobs in construction. They could even be used to make farming more efficient and sustainable.

 AI is a threat to human life. Nope. Artificial Intelligence (AI)  is very far from having the intelligence and creativity of human beings. It helps robots to learn through their experiences and make appropriate decisions. AI helps us to sort and classify information faster and more precisely. It is meant to complement human capacities not to threaten them.  

Nothing is getting done in a timely fashion. Things are definitely happening in the field.  We already see robots being used in our daily lives and this trend will continue. While we may never materialize a robot that can perform all the daily functions of a human, we can expect robots to continue to share our environment and make our lives easier.

When people think of Switzerland, they tend to think of banks, watches, and chocolate. But many groundbreaking inventions and startups were created here too.

You can thank Switzerland for…

If you’ve ever used Velcro, you can thank Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who came up with the concept after a hike in the Jura Mountains. He created the “zipperless zipper” in the 1940’s, though he didn’t release his invention until the 1950’s and it didn’t become popular until NASA began using it in their space program in the 1960’s. But parents of small children all over the world are grateful for this Swiss invention.

Interestingly, the modern zip also has Switzerland to thank for its existence. While the zip was invented in the United States, it was perfected in Switzerland in the 1920’s with the invention of the coil zip, which is the design still in use today.

And you’re reading this post thanks in part to an invention that also came out of Switzerland: the World Wide Web. The original web server, NeXT, was created and used here at CERN.  And in 1993 when CERN released the software behind NeXT into the public domain, the entire world was changed forever.

But we’re more than inventions…

One of the most successful startups created in Switzerland is Doodle. Developed by a computer scientist and electrical engineer in 2007, Doodle was one of the first digital schedulers available. This online platform was created to radically simplify the process of scheduling events, and in 2014 was being used by more than 20 million users a month.  

Doodle may have been one of the first successful startups in Switzerland, but they’ve hardly been the last. Switzerland is becoming one of the hottest places for startups in the world. According to Yannick Guerdat, a member of the Alp ICT, that’s because “beyond having the right people, technical solutions and infrastructure, the country’s heritage in banking and confidentiality surely contributes to some extent.”

Perhaps that’s why many of the successful startups coming out of Switzerland today are related to security.

One such startup is ProtonMail. Heralded by Forbes magazine as “the only email system the NSA can’t access”, the company was created in 2013 at CERN. While some of the ProtonMail team is based in the United States now, the company itself (as well as the servers) remains in Switzerland. Security and privacy are of the utmost importance, which is why ProtonMail will remain in Switzerland, according to Andy Yen, one of the founders. “One of the key things we want to do is control our servers and make sure all the servers are in Switzerland which will increase privacy because Switzerland doesn’t do things like seize servers or tape conversations.”

Another startup focused on privacy and security is Silent Circle. This company created the Blackphone, which is a smartphone that was specifically developed to be more secure than any other device on the market. They also offer other software and services, all designed to keep your information private and secure.

From Doodle to Velcro, it’s clear that Switzerland has more to offer than what most people think. These are just a few of the creative inventions and successful startups that have come out of Switzerland, but they definitely won’t be the last.  If you think your startup has what it takes, apply to Kickstart today. 

We’re building Kickstart, Switzerland’s most ambitious acceleration program for startups, which will happen for the first time this year in the beautiful city of Zurich. We can promise you that it will be amazing — but it might not be the right thing for every startup. So to help you decide, we have put together our top ten reasons of why you shouldn’t apply:

  1. Your company wants to be the “next Google” or the “next Facebook”. Don’t get us wrong — we love the ambition. But Google and Facebook have already been built, and they’re successful at what they’re doing. We’d much rather have you focus on building something that doesn’t exist yet.
  2. Your startup doesn’t fit into one of our four thematic verticals. If you are building a great company in a different field, Kickstart is not for you. However, feel free to reach out to us, and we will help you find an accelerator program that might be a better fit. There are so many great ones out there!
  3. Your product will only work once you have a million users. Dream big, but start small. If the first ten users or customers of your product aren’t madly in love with it, the remaining nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety will never show up.
  4. You’ve spent the first three months building a pitch deck instead of a product. We don’t want to hear about how you will change the world. We want to see you f**king do it.
  5. Your startup is one of your hobbies. Getting started is hard. And we have tremendous respect for people who build companies while still working their day jobs. But to get the most out of our program, you should be able to focus at least 80% of your time on your idea. We hope that the support we provide you will at least ease some of the pain that initially causes. And we promise it will be worth it!
  6. Your plan is to sell your startup for a ton of money two years from now and then retire on a yacht. Because startups aren’t only about making money. They’re about solving problems. (Not that there’s anything wrong with making tons of money of course.)
  7. You want us to sign an NDA before you apply so no one can steal your idea. Because it’s not about the idea. It’s about executing it flawlessly.
  8. You don’t believe in supporting other startups. At Kickstart, we believe in community. That’s why we ask our startups to put 2% of their equity into a shared pool. If they are successful, the other startups from the batch (and their mentors) will benefit from it. (Yes, that’s the only equity we ask you to give up, and no, we don’t benefit from it.)
  9. You run a startup that is already incredibly successful. Your product is amazing, your growth is through the roof, and investors are basically camping in front of your house to invest in you. In that case, congratulations — you probably don’t need us. However, we’d love to have you give back a little and join us as a mentor or expert. Email us!(Seriously.)
  10. You don’t like chocolate, cheese and amazing mountain views.Because we have plenty of those ready for you!

If none of these apply to you, and you’re ready to build your startup, we’d love for you to apply to Kickstart! If you have any more questions, you can email, facebook, tweet, linkedin, call or text us at anytime.

As the World Economic Forum 2016 concludes, what are the big take-aways? And what might be one of the most promising answers to the question of its Global Agenda: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond?”

In early January, World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab summarized the topic as follows:

“An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.”

But what are these “drivers that constitute a source of constant surprise” if not entrepreneurs? It is, after all, the entrepreneurs among us who “accelerate innovation” and push forward the “velocity of disruption.” It is because of founders Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick that the world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own any taxis (UBER). It is because of founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk that the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (AirBnB). And it is because of founder Jack Ma that the world’s most valuable retailer owns no inventory (Alibaba). The Digital Transformation that drives the Fourth Industrial Revolution is happening because entrepreneurs have found ways to turn innovation into business.

So back to Klaus Schwab’s question: What the Fourth Industrial Revolution means, how to respond? After listening to world leaders for three days, I believe there are two ways to respond: Fight it or improve it. Switzerland has chosen to focus on the latter. It is using its number 1 position as most innovative country in the world to attract entrepreneurs from around the world and build a bright and prosperous economic future.

A very concrete step in this direction happened only hours before the opening dinner of the World Economic Forum. At the Investor Summit at Zurich airport,Kickstart – The Swiss Accelerator launched its application on January 19, 2016.

The idea is simple: Switzerland is bursting with incredible resources for young startups. Starting in July 2016 the Kickstart Accelerator will welcome founders from around the world to live and work in Zurich for three months. They receive up to 25,000 Swiss Francs (approximately $24,606) in seed funding and 1,500 Swiss Francs ($1,476) per month for living expenses as well as mentoring, free office space and fast-track access to relevant industry partners. The program culminates on Demo Day, where each startup presents their company to Swiss venture capitalists, corporate leaders, and journalists.

Initiated by DigitalZurich2025, a cross-industry initiative founded by 14 multinationals – among them Google, UBS, EY and Ringier – the city and canton of Zurich as well as the Federal Institute of Technology, Kickstart is the largest and most ambitious international startup program to date in Switzerland.

By focusing Kickstart on those areas where Switzerland is particularly resourceful and has a competitive advantage, the DigitalZurich2025 can enable early-stage entrepreneurs like few others can. In particular, Kickstart will have four verticals: FinTech, Smart & Connected Machines, Food, and Future & Emerging Technology. Applications are currently open and close on March 31st, 2016.

Improving the Fourth Industrial Revolution sounds like a herculean task. But let’s not forget that in every industrial revolution, it has been the entrepreneurs who found ways to turn innovation into business. And this, in turn, created more jobs, more wealth and ultimately more life quality. So as we leave Davos and return to our respective corners of the world, let’s remember that the heart of Europe has opened its gate to business ideas from around the world, inviting entrepreneurs to kickstart their venture in Zurich. And even if we don’t all become entrepreneurs this summer, let’s meet and greet the Forth Industrial Revolution first and foremost as a great opportunity ahead.

This post was written by Sunnie J. Groeneveld, Member of the Kickstart Team, and was originally published on Huffington Post’s Business Blog.

We are thrilled to announce applications are now open for Kickstart Accelerator!  

Kickstart is a fast-track gateway by DigitalZurich2025 for entrepreneurs from around the world to access the Swiss business ecosystem, which has been rated by the World Economic Forum as No 1 for innovation in the 2015/2016 Global Competitiveness Report.

The accelerator is an 11-week program open to the best international early-stage startups with a promising business idea within our 4 verticals: Food, Smart & Connected Machines, FinTech and Future & Emerging Technologies.

Startups will live and work in beautiful Zurich, Switzerland for three months starting in July 2016. We provide founders with up to 25’000 Swiss francs (approximately $24,606) in seed-funding, a monthly founder stipend ($1,476), mentoring, a shared office space and fast-track access to relevant industry partners and the Swiss startup ecosystem. The program culminates in Demo Day where each team presents to investors, corporate leaders and the media.

Unlike most other accelerators, Kickstart charges no fees. Click here to start your application now!

Why an accelerator? VentureBeat recently published a study that showed companies graduating from top accelerators returned 11.3x on capital invested. Additional research also indicates companies that complete an accelerator grow faster than those who don’t. Ruedi Noser, Council of State of Zurich and President of the Steering Committee of Kickstart says about the program: “Switzerland is bursting with incredible resources for young startups. We have countless established, high-level organizations that are interested in assisting young startups both financially and via mentorships. Kickstart is a really exciting opportunity for international startups to experience all of the incredible expertise Zurich has to offer.”

Applications for Kickstart – The Swiss Accelerator are currently open and close on March 31st, 2016. If you’re a young startup considering joining an accelerator this year, there’s no better place to spend your summer than Zurich with some of the best industry experts and mentors in the world.