What is the DNA of innovations and where do opportunities come from? We had a chance to talk with Rico Baldegger, Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, Director of the School of Management of Fribourg (HEG-FR), and a serial entrepreneur to find out the answers to these questions.
How do you envision the future of global innovations? Where it’s all moving?
We often think innovation is something that happens in developed countries with manufacturing outsourced to emerging markets. Think again. More and more Swiss companies are going into emerging markets in order to discover innovations, or to adapt their behavior of innovation in the discovery of the needs of people. There is, for example, a large opportunity in an emerging market with adaptive innovation cycles; it does not have to be technology, or high technology all the time. A local network and international expertise, so you can act locally and globally and adapt to the local market is the main challenge for startups with small expertise and staff. Second, agility and speed are crucial for startups and their learning attitude to push you out of your comfort zone and be a bit local, and a bit global. It is an important advantage for your startup to have this sort of experience. Third, innovation and change are getting broader and worldwide, therefore it is not always easy to search for and search in the right place. China is investing tremendously in new prospects and innovation, for example in AI. It has become very difficult to predict and foresee the changes, as they can appear fast and everywhere.
What is the best soil for great tech innovations?
I think you will be able to innovate if you can bring together people from different backgrounds and with different competencies to jointly work on technological expertise and consumer needs. Technology without consumers’ needs is innovation with no impact. We often can witness that great tech innovations are created by teams from both sides, the tech-savvies with skills from the customer or business perspectives. In general, it is very rare to find people combining both of these skills, therefore I really encourage you to complete your team with skills and competencies you don’t have.
The internet is oversaturated with the success stories which create an idealistic image of what being entrepreneurs really means. What is your personal definition of the term “success”?
There are indeed a lot of success stories out there, however, how do we define the success of being an entrepreneur? Is it the happiness, the number of jobs created, capital raised, revenue of your companies? In an entrepreneurial way, I would define success by the impact you create in terms of social innovation, job creation, or the value to society. And how to define entrepreneurial impact? Imagine big wave surfing. First, opportunities come in waves. Our challenge is to find the right opportunity at the right place. Second, with the right place and right location, you need to be able to ride it. In entrepreneurial terms, once the good conditions are in place, your team needs the capabilities and determination to create the impact you desire to innovate.
What are the key factors that enable organizational rapid growth? Can you name an example of your favorite company that grew from zero to a sustainable and profitable business in a short period of time?
Of course, there are quite a few examples out there. One of my favorite companies is the Swiss running and sports company On. In a very short time, they attracted runners and athletes from all around the world, combining unique technology and IT-driven distribution and sales. Some of the key success factors are a dynamic and agile founder team with multidimensional and multi-oriented competencies that are able to align strategy, structure and culture in order to be fit for growth.
Switzerland is considered to have a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. What does it entail and what challenges does the country still face nowadays?
Switzerland’s entrepreneurial framework and ecosystem is at a very high level. Also, compared to other countries, the level of risk taking and the ability to raise money for the business is remarkable. However, I would identify two main challenges in the support services available in Switzerland: First, there is a lack of support for and funding to entrepreneurs in the low and non-tech sectors. Much entrepreneurship funding is oriented toward life sciences and technology, however, outside these sectors numerous business opportunities also exist. Second, and this is the main challenge: Switzerland has a good and secure job market with many opportunities for young and experienced professionals. In other words, it is not easy to leave your comfort zone to pursue your entrepreneurial ambitions.
How does the School of Business Management Fribourg prepare your students for the challenges of the complex and uncertain world? What are the key disciplines every entrepreneur should learn in the first place?
The engagement with Seedstars, for example, shows and tells our students, that they can be resourceful with their own creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial aspirations. To do so, at the School of Management Fribourg, we show them what it really means to run a business and try to show the entrepreneurial reality. We also think that tomorrow’s leaders need to have social skills, multicultural exposure and development to be prepared for their future jobs. Finally, as entrepreneurs, you have to sell your product or service and lead people, therefore the key disciplines are: sales, sales, sales, and emotional intelligence.