Swisscom Startups Challenge honours five sustainable start-ups

With its tenth StartUp Challenge, Swisscom was looking for young companies with solutions and services to help reduce greenhouse gases. The winners were Almer Technologies, ECCO2 Solutions, mobileup, SmartHelio and Swiss Vault. The spectrum of solutions was broad, ranging from IoT applications to Industrie 4.0 tools and platforms for the circular economy.

More than 200 start-ups from 30 countries applied for the funding and support programme this year. Yesterday the ten-member jury, comprising representatives from Fastweb, ETH Zurich, South Pole and Swisscom, selected the five winners of the Swisscom Startup Challenge. In the final, the start-ups had to demonstrate team spirit and determination, alongside smart, sustainable ideas and a convincing business model.

The five winners are:

Almer Technologies Ltd
Almer Technologies focuses on providing businesses all over the world with high-tech augmented reality glasses featuring Swiss-made hardware and software. This offers several solutions to various problems: it eliminates the time experts have to spend travelling to a factory abroad, reducing transport costs and the company's environmental footprint. Almer works together with several large pilot customers.

ECCO2 Solutions Ltd
With its data-based IoT/AI solution, ECCO2 reduces heat energy consumption in buildings by an average of 15 percent, as well as compiling ESG-relevant building data. High energy consumption is a challenge for property owners: energy costs, legal obligations and social pressure are a real issue. Energy efficiency has an impact on market value for tenants and investors alike. The ECCO2 solution is fast, affordable, universally deployable and subsidised by the Swiss government. The solution is currently deployed in several hundred buildings.

mobileup is a platform for buying and selling used smartphones and tablets. All devices are sold with a 12-month warranty and a 30-day return policy. Price and product range are the most important criteria for customers. To offer buyers a wide choice, the company has built up an international network of suppliers. A proprietary algorithm identifies the devices with the best cost-benefit ratio to help match supply with demand.

SmartHelio Sarl
Supported by Bcorp and Y Combinator, SmartHelio is the world’s fastest-growing cleantech data intelligence company. The company’s solution is used by leading solar developers in Europe, Asia and the US to make solar installations profitable and sustainable. After investing USD 15 million in research and development, SmartHelio has developed software that predicts PV system faults in real time – avoiding downtime and increasing turnover by up to 10 percent.

Swiss Vault Ltd
Swiss Vault is a data innovation company that helps the world manage its data in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. Swiss Vault provides companies with technologies that combine hardware and software solutions for better, economical, resilient and environmentally sustainable data management. Compared to conventional servers, Swiss Vault’s software and hardware reduces energy consumption, footprint and TCO clearly. At the moment the software of the start-up is tested by three potential large customers.

The five winners secured a place in a one-week exploration programme with Swisscom sustainability and ICT experts, as well as access to the Swisscom ecosystem. In addition to workshops, coaching, a network of climate protection and energy-efficiency entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, the winners also have the chance to partner with Swisscom, which aims to save one million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2025 in addition to its climate-neutral target by offering private and business customers innovative ICT solutions they can use to massively reduce their carbon footprint.

Tenth Swisscom StartUp Challenge: Investments, acquisitions, failures
“We rehearsed with them until far into the night before the winners of the first StartUp Challenge pitched their business cases to the major venture capitalists in Silicon Valley the next day,” recalls Stefan Kuentz, co-founder of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge. That was in 2013. Since then, visiting Silicon Valley has opened up a whole new world for the nearly 40 winners of the funding programme. “We had been in Palo Alto with our Outpost since 1998 and wanted to bring a little Californian entrepreneurial spirit to the Swiss start-up landscape and, of course, find candidates in whom Swisscom Ventures could invest,” says Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler, who launched the initiative in 2013 together with Stefan Kuentz, Urs Stender (now Blue Lion) and Beat Schillig of Venturelab.

Since then, around 2,000 start-ups have applied for the Challenge in ten years, and 45 have completed the funding programme. Almost 100 young entrepreneurs have travelled to the Swisscom Outpost and pitched their business cases to major venture capitalists and Internet giants. These include start-ups such as Ava (2015), Creal (2019), Ecorobotix (2017), Geosatis (2014), Gmelius (2019) and Nanolive (2016). Swisscom Ventures, a division of Swisscom, has also invested in these six companies.

Six of the winning start-ups have sold their companies, including the regtech start-up Qumram (2016) to Dynatrade, or Fashwell, the intelligent image recognition company (2016) to Apple. Several of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge alumni are now among the top 100 young companies in Switzerland. Unfortunately, four of the 45 have already had to break off their entrepreneurial journey. “Compared to the statistics in the US, the failure rate in the Swisscom StartUp Challenge Hall of Fame is much smaller,” explains Beat Schillig of Venturelab. “Either the selection process was very good or we take less risk in Switzerland than start-ups in Silicon Valley and yet still have access to a great deal of untapped innovation potential. After all: who dares wins!”

(Press release / SK)