How Canton De Vaud, Switzerland has become one of the most innovative regions in the world

March 7, 2018

Even though Seedstars has activities all around the globe, the group remains deeply Swiss in its identity. Switzerland is often seen as one of the most innovative countries in the world, supported and led by Canton de Vaud region, which witnesses the birth of many promising startups every year.

Indeed, Canton de Vaud region has always supported Seedstars activities abroad and in Switzerland. As the Summit in Lausanne approaches, Seedstars Team took the opportunity to interview Raphaël Conz, the Economic Promotion Manager at SPECo (the Office for Economic Affairs at Canton de Vaud) so that he can tell us more about what turned the region into a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship of Canton de Vaud in a few numbers*:

  • A quarter of the 100 top Swiss startups are based in Vaud, including 6 of the 10 top best ones in 2017 as well as about 2000 high-tech companies
  • Vaud ranks 1st in fundraising in comparison to other cantons and for the 4th consecutive year
  • Vaud startups raised CHF 1.2 billion over the past 5 years, of which CHF 298 million in 2017
  • About CHF +27 million financial incentives have been distributed from the State of Vaud to startups/SMEs since 2012 to support their economic development
  • The 10 biggest startups (scaleups) based in Vaud have created 143 jobs in 2017

→ Seedstars: How do you think governments can best support innovation and technology in their country? Can you tell us more about best practices you have observed abroad in regards to the Swiss policies?

Raphaël Conz: I have had the occasion to travel to several countries throughout the years and it’s no easy task comparing innovation support policies between one country and another as it strongly depends on each country's political system. Some have a centralised or decentralised system, which ultimately shapes their business scene and culture. One approach can work well in one specific country but will not elsewhere. It’s a cautious process that needs to be taken as a whole.

For example, the European Union possesses several and substantial public financial assistance as well as R&D support programs. The Israeli government demonstrates a strong sense of voluntarism when it comes to stimulating the creation of new startups in the field of technology.

Raphaël Conz

Regarding the Swiss government, it is first and foremost dedicated to its framework conditions, which are about education and training, research, taxation and facilities. With that being said, some of the chosen measures such as Innosuisse offer a wide range of support tailored for SMEs and startups willing to get involved with research centres for their innovation projects. Indeed, the Swiss federalism system allows a significant level of freedom to the cantons so they can implement their own concrete support measures for their resident companies.

Vaud is no exception and supports innovation through an assistance strategy based on the four following approaches:

  1. Financial assistance in the form of grants and loans as well as investments through partial coverage of bank interests
  2. Assistance in the form of mentoring and coaching to entrepreneurs, particularly regarding the setup of new business models
  3. Assistance for innovation parks development
  4. Assistance with networking and business development. As a matter of fact, we are also running an ongoing program to help both our economy and resident companies with their digitalisation transformation.

→ S: Switzerland is often described as the most innovative country in the world, whereas it’s much smaller than the US and China, has fewer resources than other countries in Europe, etc.. What do you think is the secret for Switzerland and especially Vaud’s success in this field?

RC: There are many factors but the most prominent one is our political system. Switzerland is a federal state where power is shared on three levels: municipalities, cantons and the Confederation. It rests upon a direct democracy and consensus, which guarantees a productive stability and allows the Swiss economy to thrive. Indeed, according to the World Economic Forum, Switzerland is also ranked as the most competitive economy in the world. Its potential for innovation as well as the efficiency of its workforce is often regarded as the best in the international scene. It is then no wonder why Switzerland massively invests in research and development, which is about 3.4% of the Swiss GDP.

Regarding Vaud, our economy is largely open to the world and exports 20% of its production, mainly throughout the European Union. About 36,000 companies are based in Vaud and are present in various fields of activities, mostly services with high-added value such as life, health and precision industries, ICTs, cleantech and nutrition. Additionally, Vaud has managed to keep one of the lowest and most stable rates of unemployment for years, which currently is about 4.7% and has simultaneously become a cherished location for a large set of companies including startups, SMEs and multinationals.

Vaud is also the largest canton as well as the most heavily populated in western Switzerland, with more than 750,000 inhabitants. One-third of our population is from abroad adding up to a mix of 170 different nationalities. Indeed, great working conditions along with an internationally renowned excellence for its academic institutions and scientific innovations have already appealed to a significant part of foreigners. Vaud is also one out of the two cantons with Zurich to possess a state university as well as a federal institute of technology and several universities of applied sciences on its territory.

We managed to get there over the years by setting up an innovation support program to boost knowledge and ideas with the very objective to turn them into concrete applications. This program eventually aims at highlighting the existing potential within our region, whether it is coming from research institutes or companies. Additionally, six innovation parks were born about a decade ago and now offer a unique access to a breeding ground of new technologies for any company willing to strengthen its innovation process.

→ S: What are the actions you take to support innovative entrepreneurs and startups in Switzerland and abroad?

RC: As previously mentioned and in regards to our political system, we cannot really comment on any other canton dispositions but our own as we all have the liberty to handle our economic policies differently. Nonetheless, we work hand in hand with the Confederation as well as many stakeholders from the private sector to offer a targeted support to companies willing to innovate and develop their activities in new technologies. Indeed, several programs to promote innovation within SMEs and startups have been successfully implemented over the years on both national and local scales resulting in a growing technology transfer between universities of applied sciences and industries.

Our day-to-day job is to make sure we remain in tune with an ever-changing ecosystem so we are able to provide entrepreneurs with a free and tailored access to our network. Our overall activities aim at:

Providing financial support

  • Developing and financing R&D projects
  • Promoting collaboration with research institutes and innovation parks
  • Helping companies with their personnel recruitment
  • Informing companies on the taxation system
  • Guiding entrepreneurs in their search for sites and premises
  • Hosting and organizing themed events throughout the year
  • Supporting local, national and internationals networks

→ S: Can you tell us more about the grants you award to startups?

RC: We – the Office for Economic Affairs (SPECo) - allow a direct financial support to SMEs and startups based in Vaud and whose economic activities are involved with industrial production and advanced technologies. These grants are intended to support entrepreneurs in the creation and establishment of their existing or new business as well as improving their innovation processes, R&D and production opportunities and reaching out to international markets. Precisely, our grants cover innovation (acquisition of intellectual property rights or certifications, new product development), marketing and internationalisation (through the participation into major exhibitions and business conventions or market studies) and technical/scientific staff training.

Here’s an additional list of various organizations supporting innovation and startups in Vaud:

  • Innosuisse and Alliance support several R&D projects on the national and regional scale
  • Innovaud bridges companies and research institutes in order to set up innovation projects. Additionally, Innovaud connects project promoters with appropriate actors within its network and facilitates their access to available assistance, whether it is in terms of accommodation, finances or coaching.
  • The Foundation for Technological Innovation offers loans with and without interests to startups in the field of technology and collaborating with universities of applied sciences or research institutes. Financial supports go from CHF 100'000 up to CHF 500'000 maximum depending on their stage of development and objectives.

→ S: Can you explain your interest in supporting Seedstars World Competition and how it aligns with your strategy?

RC: We support Seedstars World as it promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in emerging countries. Indeed, we pay a specific attention to SMEs and startups developing new technologies. As a result, our support to Seedstars initiative is perfectly aligned with our vision, which is to bring new solutions for society and to create more job opportunities that will eventually help to shape a sustainable economic development.

→ Several Swiss companies that benefited from your support participated in our events abroad. Do you want to explain the reason why these entrepreneurs decided to explore this market ?

WeGaw is a platform that matches and connects people who like climbing, hiking, biking or skiing. Knowing that Latam is a $677 million market for Sports & outdoor activities in 2018 with a growth of 12.7%, it made sense for Ion Padilla, CEO and founder of the company to join the Vaud delegation. As he explains it: « the purpose of this trip for our startup was to test how the South American market would react to our solution. Based on these first feedbacks, we are planning now a possible expansion and figuring out which strategy we will implement for a fundraising tour with local investors ».

Emotion Food Company solves the problem of dysphagia for people who can’t swallow. They provide a mixture (100% natural) that transforms an ordinary meal into a melting meal by keeping original taste, texture and shape of food. With more than 3’000 hospitals, Mexico is second largest hospital market in Latam. Gabriel Serrero, CEO and cofounder has already built a strong collaboration with a hospital in Spain. Their focus is to leverage the growth in Spanish speaking countries. As hospitals are a harder target to reach, his main goal during this Vaud delegation was to meet distributors that could open doors faster.

→ Do you have a special message to address to all the changemakers coming to Switzerland for the Seedstars Summit?

Welcome and congratulation to every single one of you for your vision and dedication to shaping your industry and ultimately the world we are living in. Indeed, entrepreneurship and innovation are vectors of peace, development and prosperity for both our economy and society. Therefore, thank you for your ambition and realizations so far and good luck to you all for this one-of-a-kind competition. Please know we share a common passion and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and innovation. Feel free to reach out to us!

*All numbers are provided by SPECo


SPECo

SPECo supports companies that are located in the State of Vaud, especially those involved in the sectors of advanced technology and industry. SPECo advises entrepreneurs and puts them in contact with organisations that are appropriate to their specific needs. SPECo can also provide direct financial support.

If you are interested in taking your business up to the next level in Vaud, feel free to reach out to us through our website or directly to info.speco@vd.ch.

As a member of the board of directors of the Office for Economic Affairs (SPECo), Raphaël Conz is responsible for the economic development policy of the State of Vaud including the innovation and entrepreneurship support as well as the financial and tax incentives dedicated to Vaud-based companies. Previously, he held different positions in the field of economic development as well as in the private sector. Raphaël Conz is currently a member of different boards of associations and foundations supporting SMEs and start-ups.


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