“Swiss start-ups need to keep on thinking bigger and dare to take more risks.”


Dominique Gruhl-Bégin is Head of the Start-up Division at Innosuisse. On the occasion of the TOP Swiss Startup Award on 9 September in Zurich, the head of the Swiss Startup Network shares her views on the development of the startup ecosystem in Switzerland. In her opinion, the coordination of the support offer for start-ups and the collaboration among players in the ecosystem with one another marks an important change in recent years.  

Every year, the Top 100 Swiss Startup Award celebrates Switzerland's most promising start-ups. The ceremony takes place on 9 September in Zurich. The most innovative start-ups are selected by a jury of 100 investors and start-up experts. This year, the competition, which is organised by Venturelab, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Now is our chance to ask Dominique Gruhl-Bégin, who, as Head of the Start-ups and Next-Generation Innovators Division at Innosuisse, keeps a weather eye on the development of start-ups in Switzerland, for her views on the evolution of the ecosystem. Interview.  

What is Innosuisse’s mission and objective with regard to supporting start-ups?

Innosuisse promotes the innovative capacity of Swiss start-ups, SMEs and other innovative organisations by offering them support so that they can position themselves at the forefront of international technological or scientific advances in their field, in the interests of the economy and society. The Swiss Innovation Agency offers start-ups targeted, personalised programmes adapted to the digital age and supports them in all phases of their development.

Exactly what support does Innosuisse provide to start-ups?

There are many things on offer for start-ups. Innosuisse offers the Training programme to help entrepreneurs develop their business idea, set up their company and implement a growth strategy. The four training modules, ranging from entrepreneurship awareness events to five-day intensive courses, are led by experienced entrepreneurs and take place all over Switzerland.

Entrepreneurs who are developing a business idea or who have founded a start-up can sign up for the Coaching programme. This is a personalised coaching programme designed to support promising companies in the field of science or technology. After being accepted into the programme, start-ups receive a voucher that allows them to call on the expert advice of coaches with expertise and experience in starting a company.

In order to develop a young company internationally, Innosuisse also offers camps in ten locations around the world, including the USA, China, India and the UK, to help young companies penetrate these markets. In addition, Innosuisse allows young companies with global ambitions to participate in international trade fairs as visitors or exhibitors.

Finally, if a start-up with at least five FTEs has entered a growth phase and is looking to accelerate its development significantly, Innosuisse also offers support through Scale-up coaching. The coaches will help the company to carry out networking, financing and internationalisation activities for up to two years.

The TOP 100 is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How has the start-up ecosystem evolved over the past decade?

The Swiss ecosystem has changed a lot and has become much more active. We have seen the number of start-ups created increase significantly each year and the support on offer has multiplied not only in terms of the number of players supporting young entrepreneurs but also in terms of the type of support they can receive. Whether in the form of awards such as the TOP 100, theoretical courses on starting a business, coaching, assistance with internationalisation, advice on legal or regulatory matters or on presenting your business idea to investors, nowadays, there is a wide range of support on offer for start-ups.

The coordination of the support on offer for Swiss start-ups and the collaboration of members of the ecosystem with each other, for example through the SwissTech initiative, is another development worth mentioning. This collaboration aims to better define the offer and, above all, to join forces to better position the Swiss ecosystem on an international stage. We thus gain both visibility and recognition. This common impetus promotes the development, financing and growth of Swiss start-ups domestically and abroad. The power of innovation in Switzerland is extraordinary, and joining forces allows this potential to be exploited to the fullest.

In your opinion, what role does the TOP 100 play in the ecosystem?

The TOP 100 plays a central role. The event helps to present start-ups to and promote them among numerous investors in Switzerland and abroad. Our country is home to some of the world’s most innovative start-ups and this type of ranking gives them the visibility they deserve to receive the funding and support they need from business partners, foundations and public stakeholders. Investors recognise the quality of the ranking and the event is among the best in Switzerland for allowing local start-ups to make themselves known.

How do you see Swiss start-ups 10 years from now?

The model whereby start-ups are taking over part of the role once played mainly by established companies, i.e. bringing the results of R&D projects to market, will continue to develop. An ever-increasing number of young scientists feel capable of starting companies and show interest in this venture. At the same time, start-ups are recognised as being more flexible, more agile and dynamic in how they respond to market demands. As a result, I believe that the number of start-ups created each year will continue to increase over the next decade. In the future, start-ups will potentially gradually seize market opportunities and grow faster. I also think they will take relatively more risks. The failure rate could thus increase, but it will be offset by the increased energy of the ecosystem and thus by the increase in the number of corporate foundations.

Furthermore, Switzerland’s international recognition will be further bolstered in certain sectors in which it is particularly strong; for example, biotechnology. Finally, I believe that the number of start-ups springing up from a combination of different disciplines and those with mixed-gender management teams will increase as they will be “on the radar” of more investors. As a result, I expect an increase in the number of women managing or co-managing start-ups in Switzerland.

How will the TOP 100 start-ups shape the next decade?

I certainly hope that the benefits of their innovations and the future development of their products and services will be felt by the economy and society! In addition, they will act as a role model and inspiration for future start-ups through their various successes as well as through their failures. I also hope that some of the current founders will start subsequent businesses and/or act as mentors or coaches for the next wave.

How can the ecosystem of Swiss start-ups be helped to innovate even better?

In my opinion, Swiss start-ups must keep on thinking bigger, dare to take more risks, act faster and accept a loss of some control in favour of exponential growth. Conservatism is always too present in development strategy and jeopardises brilliant ideas. Start-up managers sometimes focus so much on the technical development of their innovation that they forget about the customer and the actual market launch.

Furthermore, the interdisciplinary and diverse nature of the founding team should be included from the start of any business. Finally, business models based on responsible environmental, social and governance goals will, in my opinion, set the winning companies of the next decade apart and play a key role in their sustainability and resilience.

Last but not least: What are you most looking forward to from the TOP Startup Award 2020?

Supporting and showcasing our best start-ups so that they find the right financing and partners to succeed and grow!

Last modification 26.08.2020

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