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:
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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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 cities of Zurich, Bern and St. Gallen, are discussing further collaboration and sharing of knowledge with different startups, e.g. with BikeLook from Dublin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://kickstart-accelerator.com/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.