AI at the centre of the Startup Days

The Startup Days this week once again provided a wide range of topics and tips and facilitated intensive networking. But despite all the variety, the topic of AI clearly stood out during the event.

This year's Startup Days once again attracted well over 1000 visitors. The entrepreneurial energy in the Kursaal in Bern was palpable throughout the day. The arena was already packed with visitors for the introductory keynote speech by Berkeley Professor Stuart Russell, which started before nine in the morning. Attendees listened attentively to the lecture, which focussed on the potential and problems of general purpose AI systems. Russell emphasised that such systems must be safe by design from the outset, meaning that they must always pursue further human interest and not their own goals.

AI was one of the central themes of the entire event. At the ETH AI Centre's AI stage, visitors learnt more about the SwissAI initiative and its plans to support start-ups or the AI disruption in law. The panels where AI start-ups shared their experiences were very well attended. For example, representatives from Largo and reported on their founding and their expansion into the USA.

AI was also at the centre of a roundtable with Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin. Together with 16 representatives from the ecosystem, he discussed the question of how Switzerland can ensure that local AI startups can play a leading role worldwide.


Three companies honoured as Catch of the Jury

Many of the startups present at the Startup Days use AI in very different ways. This was evident, for example, in the startups' pitches in the newly created Youngsters competition - as well as in the three startups that were honoured as Catch of the Jury. The three start-ups are:

Manukai is an ETH Spinoff dedicated to bridging the gap between design and production in metal machining. The startup offers an AI-powered CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) Copilot that simplifies the programming process within CAM software by learning from programmers' preferences and providing suggestions. The solution offers geometry validation, feature recognition, automatic toolpath generation, and optimization to enhance manufacturing efficiency. Manukai’s applied technology is envisioned to transform how several Swiss manufacturing companies work, an aspect that impressed the jury.

Lightium, a 2023-founded Zurich-based startup is developing a thin-film lithium niobate (TFLN) technology for photonic integrated circuits (PICs) with ultra-high speeds, low power consumption, and a range of new functionalities. The TFLN Platform is designed for applications in telecommunications, datacom, and beyond. The startup impressed the jury particularly with its level of innovation and thus was found to have a high potential to scale. Lightium is the first to enable mass production, and is currently working in Switzerland and the U.S. where it is working with selected partners to be closer to the end user. Part of its plan for the next 12 months is to have a complete qualified process, reach CHF 3 million revenues, and win the first customer in production.

Inveel, founded in 2024 as a spin-off company from the Paul Scherrer Institut by Barbara Horvath and Chris Turpin, specializes in developing technology for low-cost and high-speed production of extreme-high resolution printed electronics. Their core technology enables the creation of circuits and electrodes with line widths down to 100 nanometers with minimal resistivity, setting a new benchmark for flexible nanoelectronics. Inveel's printing solutions are highly customizable to meet unique customer needs while maintaining high resolution, low cost, and high-speed production advantages. By introducing highly sensitive sensors and smart devices at significantly reduced production costs, Inveel is setting a new benchmark for flexible nanoelectronics in the industry. The team is currently in the middle of prototyping, with plans to introduce the first skin prototype in the third quarter of this year.

What else was noticeable

As every year, there was great interest in the panels. However, there was no longer just strong demand for panels providing tips on financing start-ups with investors. Entrepreneurs also wanted to know more about how to be successful on the market, for example with the right product-market fit. There were also several offerings that addressed challenges such as pivots or the work-life balance of entrepreneurs. The interest in these topics shows the increasing maturity of the start-up scene.

The Collective Gathering took place on Wednesday as part of the Startup Days. A group of more than 120 people, mostly females, gathered in Berne to discuss female entrepreneurship in Switzerland.  The program was diverse: Marisa Tschopp, Rita Sevastjanova and Isabelle Siegrist delved into the deep intersection of artificial intelligence and technology with empathy. Ursula Oesterle shared personal stories highlighting a life full of innovation providing a provocative presentation on the state of innovation in Switzerland. You can find out more in our Linkedin post.

The Startup Days videos will be online from the middle of next week in the content hub of the website.

Reviews, photos and more can be found via the Startup Days LinkedIn channel.

(Stefan Kyora / Ritah Ayebare Nyakato)