“Start-up interest is rising in Ticino”

Alcide Barberis has recently become a member of the board of trustees of the Startupticker Foundation. The co-founder of biotech company Esbatech is now head of the Ticino incubator CP Start-Up and the support organisation AGIRE. We talked to him about the start-up ecosystem in Ticino and the strengths of the canton.

Mr. Barberis, you have been a biotech entrepreneur for more than 20 years, with Esbatech, Telormedix and Humabs among others. What motivated you a year ago to switch to start-up promotion?
I wanted to share my experience with founders. I used to teach on the courses for biotech start-ups at the University of Lugano and that gave me a lot of pleasure. When I was asked if I would be interested in leading CP Start-Up as a successor to Roberto Poretti, I did not hesitate for long.

You have been running CP Start-Up for a year now and the AGIRE Foundation for 8 months. What are the two organisations doing?
CP Start-Up is an incubator that supports start-up founders from universities with coaching, consulting, premises and access to the network; for example, to investors. AGIRE went through a reorganisation last year and today it manages the Ticino regional innovation system, which links companies, universities and support organisations. It also manages technology transfer and the Tecnopolo Ticino, the local technoparks currently in Manno and Chiasso. In addition, we are currently developing a coaching offer for young companies in tight collaboration with the CP Start-Up.

Some voices in Switzerland say there are more support organisations than start-ups. What does it look like in Ticino?
We have no statistical figures on the precise number of start-ups in the canton. What I can say, however, is that last year CP Start-Up had more than 60 applications – and the quality was generally high.

How many of these did the incubator take over?
About 20%.

Is there an emphasis on specific sectors in Ticino?
A lot is happening at the moment in the life sciences; ie, pharma and medtech. But, incidentally, not only in start-ups – also in established companies. Then there has been recent activity in fintech, an area that traditionally has been quiet in Ticino. We also see a clear trend in the connection between fashion and technology.

The Fashion Digital Lab near Lugano deals mainly with e-commerce. Is this what you mean when you talk about the connection between fashion and technology?
Yes, but not only – it is also about topics such as smart textiles and wearables. An example is the start-up Clara, which has developed a smart jacket for cyclists. It recognises when the rider wants to turn or brake and then automatically gives an indicating signal. In the fashion technology sector, I expect big opportunities in Ticino. It could become the central sector and would then be unique in Switzerland. We are actively promoting this theme and trying to find companies that will support this initiative.

Milan springs to mind when one thinks of fashion. Is proximity to the fashion capital a particular strength of Ticino?
Absolutely – and the Milan region is, of course, also strong in other sectors. On the other hand, the new Gotthard tunnel has made Zurich much closer.

What other cantonal strengths are relevant for start-ups?
The proximity to Italy means that we have a large reservoir of nearby talent. Then, the cantonal support of young businesses is certainly significant, and last but not least Ticino is a pleasant place to live.

How has the start-up scene in Ticino developed in recent years?
As I have been running CP Start-Up for only a year, I do not have a very comprehensive overview. What I can say, however, is that interest is increasing: we had many newspaper and television reports, for example, on the last StartCup Ticino. And interest has certainly also risen among potential investors.

Will there be an expansion of the support offers?
Yes. In Lugano, for example, another technology park with a focus on medtech will emerge. In addition, there is a plan for a fourth Tecnoplo in Bellinzona, which would specialise in biotech. And we have revised the StartCup Ticino offer. The next edition this year will include a three-month acceleration phase for candidate companies in addition to the actual award. This phase will take about 20 to 25 start-ups to be closely followed by coaches and therefore create a clear added value for the mostly very young projects.

A final question: why do you support startupticker as a member of the board of the Starticker Foundation?
I think startupticker is a good showcase for the Swiss start-up scene. And it is very important that Ticino is connected to the rest of Switzerland and that such connection is recognised as strategically very important for the whole country.