High-calibre Deeptech Investor Summit brings contacts and new insights

The first Deeptech Investor Summit, the new flagship event of UBS and ETH’s joint initiative to promote entrepreneurship, took place at ETH Zurich at the beginning of March. More than 50 ETH spin-offs had the opportunity to network with 150 selected investors. In addition, a top-class programme allowed investors, entrepreneurs and experts to share surprising and valuable experiences and insights with deeptech founders.

The partnership between Switzerland’s largest bank and the country’s most prestigious university aims to promote entrepreneurship at ETH and STEM subjects at primary schools through various initiatives. UBS invited 150 active investors to the first Deeptech Investor Summit and ETH selected more than 50 spin-offs for the event. In total, well over 300 people took part.

The high number of participants was no surprise, as both the university and the bank have been active in start-ups for years. ETH has produced more than 500 spin-offs and UBS supports young technology companies not only with banking services, but also with access to its international network and contacts with private investors. Accordingly, the start-ups at the event were just as promising as the high-profile investors. The event offered numerous networking opportunities with start-up stands and pitches, and the opportunity for one-to-one meetings.

The programme also featured successful entrepreneurs and experts as speakers, including the heads of ANYbotics, Planted and Verity, Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS, and Thomas Zurbuchen, former head of research at NASA and now head of the ETH Space Initiative. The programme was completed by two panels that included renowned investors.

In addition to many contacts, the event provided numerous insights for deeptech start-up founders. These are the most important:

  • Successful deeptech start-ups do not focus on one application area from the outset, but rather build up a portfolio and then gradually develop the most lucrative business opportunities.
  • Start-ups should bring experienced people into the company at an early stage. They are more useful than accelerator programmes.
  • The ‘winner takes all’ rule does not apply in deeptech markets. If a start-up wants to bring a deeptech innovation to market, it will be easier if its competitors are trying something similar.
  • Before B2B customers buy large numbers of a new deeptech product, they must be convinced of the ROI. They will test the product extensively and thus it can take years from the first contact to a major order.
  • Beware of bootstrapping: trying to generate sales as early as possible is often not appreciated by investors – they see the danger of getting bogged down. They are more likely to invest if a start-up already has professional backers on board.
  • Numerous funding programmes are available to finance deeptech innovations. These should be taken advantage of before approaching investors.
  • Traditional forms of financing such as loans or leasing can also be an option for deeptech start-ups. Guarantees can make it easier to access credit financing.
  • Further tips for finding and attracting investors can be found in this article for UBS Impulse.

 

Building a deeptech start-up is challenging. However, the examples of ANYbotics, Planted and Verity show that it is possible to overcome these challenges in Switzerland. All three companies now employ more than 150 people and are growing strongly. ANYbotics and Verity have each generated over CHF 60 million in venture capital, while Planted has raised about twice that amount.

The event acknowledged that Switzerland also has disadvantages for ambitious founders, such as a lack of talented people with experience from fast-growing companies, investors’ need for high security and the lack of availability of growth capital.

In general, however, Switzerland offers good conditions for deeptech start-ups. And now is a good time to found one, not least because they are urgently needed in order to combat the consequences of climate change. The tenor of the event was that these problems cannot be solved without technical innovations.

This is one of the reasons why UBS and ETH will continue to jointly support deeptech start-ups. It is part of the strategic partnership between the bank and ETH, which in turn is part of UBS’s commitment to entrepreneurship at Swiss universities. Find out more about the engagement, current projects and highlights in this overview.

The Investor Summit will take place annually from now on, with the aim of creating a community that exchanges ideas throughout the year. With more than 300 visitors at the first summit, the critical size required to build such a community has already been reached.